The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Cocaine Scandal

The Pittsburgh Pirates cocaine scandal remains the second biggest scandal in all of Major League Baseball (MLB) history.

Through the drug trial, a federal grand jury found 20 different players guilty in the process. Of those 20, at least 11 were suspended and made to pay fines, participate in several hours of community service, and even serve jail and prison sentences.

What makes this case even more difficult to understand are the very many moving parts all slowing shifting about.

The drug dealers selling to the players were then indicted in the following proceedings that ultimately, because of the drug war at the time, suffered far greater consequences and harsher punishments than the players they served.

Many different baseball and overall sport historians regard this individual case as the precedent to all later drug related sport scandals. They believe that the way the drug testing system is run for all different sports and even the Olympics, all started because of this massive drug trial in Pittsburgh. They consider this moment the catalyst that started the sport drug culture.

Other baseball and drug historians believe that the strange public and law enforcement reaction to this event, forever shaped how incidents like this were to be treated in the future and what to expect in a public relations aspect too.

To understand the situation going on in Pittsburgh, there needs to be an understanding behind the growing drug culture around the time.

Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” Brought Cocaine from Vietnam

It should be understood that the war on drugs was a generic label popularized by the President Richard Nixon in 1971. The reason behind the label was an overall name for the sweeping changes and overhauls taking place in law enforcement to further combat drug usage and possession. In fact, Nixon in a public message to congress considered the name for war on drugs so fitting, because he believed that drugs in general were “public enemy number one.”

Perhaps President Nixon’s hyperbolic statement might be better understood if one looked at the drug scene when he gave the speech to congress.

From 1955 to 1975, the Vietnam War was tearing apart the country in partisan politics and a misunderstanding of our involvement in different parts of Asia at the time.

Whether one believes that this rising anti-war movement was the main reason or not for the drug war, the fact hardly changes. A drug craze took over much of the country starting in 1970, five years before the end of the war.

The main drug to take the stage throughout much of that time was a relatively cheap drug: cocaine.

Even though cocaine was already fairly popular in the United States as a medicinal drug and was even in beverages, such as Coca-Cola, its purest form began hitting the streets in the late 1960s.

This purer cocaine was soon becoming the drug of choice for many of the most wealthy Americans around the country.

It’s in those wealthy numbers that this story begins to step into the spotlight. During the early 1980s, the MLB started growing into one of the largest professional league’s in the United States.

From its inception, there was no time where more money, more fame, and more changes were made to the MLB than in those years. Nevertheless, with its great rise came its monumental crash into the lives of several different baseball players thoroughly indulged into this new drug crazed America.

Rumors of Pittsburgh Pirates Cocaine Scandal Start

During the early to mid-1980s rumors started circulating around the country, about this massive and lavish cocaine-fueled binges many baseball players started to engage in.

Nowhere were these rumors more prevalent than when talking about Pittsburgh’s own baseball team: The Pittsburgh Pirates.

In fact, there were so many cases being reported and heard, that the police even attempted to go undercover in some of these clubs where it was reported to have happened. However, for obviously dubious reasons, the police department and others involved failed to properly go after the substantiated reports of massive drug dealings.

It’s in the failure of the state to properly go after the reported cases of drug abuses by several players that soon sparked media interest.

Media Involvement Prompts FBI Investigation

Soon after more reports were found to be ignored by the police department, the story began to gain national attention. The attention was not much about the fact that cocaine was being used by so many players at the time, but that rumors about some drug abuse were getting louder in the public ear.

Like a lit match to gasoline, the breaking news about the fact that drugs were actually being bought and sold in the locker rooms of the Pittsburgh Pirates Stadium, unraveled the severity of the issue.

By this point, the federal government had to step in because the story gained so much national attention, and because it involved a nationwide sports league. Once the federal investigations began to be run, people started talking.

During the investigations, it was even found that the Pirate’s parrot mascot was also involved in the selling of cocaine in the locker rooms.

The court proceeding lasted several days where eventually federal agents, with the help of the players who talked, were able to find out which dealers were supplying the cocaine to the players.

After a highly publicized court hearing, forcing the MLB to start implementing some sort of drug testing system, the federal grand jury gave a verdict.

Several players were then indicted. Some were given jail sentences, fines, and even community services.

The lasting impact about the scandal was hardly to end with the closing of those court hearings.

Pittsburgh Pirates Player Found Struggling with Addiction

The year is 1992 and the Nevada Sheriff’s office dispatch two of their police officers to a call for a complaint from a neighbor.

Once on scene, the Sheriff deputies found a man running outside his home once they arrived, screaming and yelling that there were snakes in his home. Although the man was visibly impaired and jittery, he managed to complain about his skin crawling with bugs and snakes.

When the deputies attempted then to handcuff the visibly deranged man, he became violently physical with them in the process breaking his hands and injuring himself several times.

He was then transported to a hospital where he died a week later due to a cocaine-induced heart attack.

That man was Rod Scurry, the leading pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. One of the 11 players indicted.

The news ran again nationwide but failed to get the attention it had a few years back. By this time, it was believed that drug use was so rampant, that controlling it in just the MLB was a task seemingly more and more impossible.

The MLB was then trying to run a campaign to try and redeem its name by having nationwide drug tests voluntarily. The MLB commissioner believed that if the players were willing to get drug tested by their own free will, their own image would change.

Only a tiny fraction ended up getting ever getting tested, leaving the vast majority of the MLB players untested, creating an untrusting public image.

Somehow still, with the odds of being caught doing drugs higher than ever before the pace sped up.

Criticisms About How Scandal Was Handled Come Up

Several years later are the steroids scandal with hall of famers: Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire.

Many critics of the MLB blame the city government for defending the players, in the beginning, denying the problem. It was believed that the only reason the cities in question ever defended the players in the first place, was because the revenue they created for the city.

It hardly seems like there will ever be a clear-cut solution to the drug abuse scandals that tend to plague our television screens every couple of decades. This is partly because the nature of giant business and sports leagues, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

The real reason these scandals become so large in the public eye and so irresistible for those doing the drugs is because of what drugs are at their core. Drugs are addictive, dependent, and manipulative chemical conductors for all our wants and desires. Breaking from addiction to any drug nearly always requires outside help.

Have More Questions About Addiction? Call Us Now

If you think a loved one may be struggling with addiction, but aren’t sure if the signs of drug addiction applies, then call us! Everyone is different, and depending on the substance a person is using, different symptoms will show for different drugs. Call our 24-hour helpline at (855) 619-8070 and one of our agents will gladly walk you through how to spot addiction, holding interventions, and getting your loved one into treatment. Call now.