Bowie Kuhn “Freaked Me Out”: Commissioner’s War on Drugs Exacted Heavy Psychic Toll
Former MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn caused more paranoid freakouts than a punch bowl spiked by Timothy Leary.
BOCA RATON, FL (The Sportsman's Daily Wire Service) – If there was one thing Bowie Kuhn hated more than the end of indentured servitude (formerly known as the reserve clause that predated free agency), it was players using – or appearing to use -- drugs. While years later, well into his retirement, he admitted to enjoying an occasional marijuana cigarette with his after-dinner drink, he was unrelenting in his pursuit of known or alleged drug users, handing out stiff fines and lengthy suspensions. But Kuhn’s merciless witch hunt took its toll, turning scores of recreational drug users into wild-eyed fear freaks.
Royals' catcher Darrell Porter revealed that during the winter of 1979-1980 he was convinced that Kuhn knew about his drug use, was trying to sneak into his house, and was planning on banning him from baseball for life. According to the AP story, Porter would often sit up at night in the dark watching out the front window, waiting for Kuhn to approach, clutching billiard balls and cradling a shotgun.
Porter was not alone. Since Kuhn’s passing last week, several former players, all admitted drug users, have come forward to share similar tales of Kuhn-fueled paranoia.
“Looking back, 1981-1983 was one long cold sweat – the man completely freaked me out,” said Keith Hernandez, then with the St. Louis Cardinals. “The paranoia got so bad, I’d see guys wearing suits, sitting along the first baseline or behind the dugout and I’m thinking they have to either be narcs or plants from the Commissioner’s office. By the time the third inning rolled around (Manager) Whitey (Herzog) would have to literally push me out there. I developed such an insane fear of dark suits I’d carry a semi-automatic anytime I had to pull a jacket or pair of slacks out of the closet.”
“I remember seeing Commissioner Kuhn at a function during the off-season and getting crazy paranoid,” said Dale Berra, whose unremarkable career with the Pittsburgh Pirates was cut mercifully short by his admitted cocaine use. “I wanted to run, but every exit was blocked – officials from the league office and from other clubs were fanned out everywhere. I knew Kuhn was eyeballing me the whole time, sending signals to his lieutenants and for all I knew, undercover narcs. Suddenly I have an idea – I make my way to the kitchen, swapped a two gram bag for a waiter’s uniform, and for the next hour and a half served cocktail franks and egg rolls until all the guests left. It was then that I realized how lucky I was to have Yogi as a dad and getting to play baseball for a living – rather than doing what I would have been doing otherwise: busing tables.”
Kuhn-driven paranoia also got to former Montreal Expo Tim Raines, who used to slide into bases headfirst so he wouldn’t break the vial of cocaine he hid in his uniform pocket. “Then I got it into my head that the Commissioner not only knew I was using, but in which pocket I kept my blow. I had the equipment manager add another pocket to my double knits. Then another. And another. The more pockets the less chance Kuhn knew where I was keeping my stash – the problem was that, with eleven pockets, I had trouble keeping track myself. One time someone asked for change of a dollar, I reached into one of my pockets and accidentally handed him a half gram. Another time I was trying to sneak in a snort or two in between innings and wound up sticking two dimes and a nickel up my nose. That sucked.”
Former Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Dave Parker insists that beneath Kuhn’s officious exterior was a “major ball buster.”
“He was a serious dude, but also a practical joker,” said Parker. “Years later, I was in Boca (Raton, Florida) for some baseball function and I ran into him – he retired there. He spotted me across the room, flicked his nose with his index finger and pointed toward the men’s room. I followed him into one of the stalls and we tooted up. For the next hour I’m on the toilet, my bowels are on fire. Turns out the motherfucker cut his shit with ex-Lax. He said it was to keep him regular, but I think he just wanted to remind me who’s boss.”
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said that baseball owed a great deal to “the many seeds that were planted and the many plants that were harvested,” during Kuhn’s tenure.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to go through all that,” said Barry Bonds. “All that paranoia. I may be defensive, surly and unapproachable – at times – but not paranoid. Why are you looking at me like that?”
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