At least seven Mets have been suspected of using marijuana
this season, part of an alleged pattern of drug use that reaches from the
team's minor league system right up to the major league roster, sources close
to the team have told Newsday.
Manager Bobby Valentine acknowleged he worried about the drug problem on
his team as early as spring training and said he spoke to general manager Steve
Phillips about his concerns, although Phillips yesterday said he didn't recall
such a conversation.
"I've seen signals, but nothing definitive," Valentine said yesterday.
A top team official, however, said the manager confronted rookie reliever
Grant Roberts over his suspected drug use this season.
Valentine said he met with his team to discuss the "foolishness" of drug
use when rookie pitcher Mark Corey was hospitalized with seizure-like symptoms
June 26 after smoking marijuana with teammate Tony Tarasco mere blocks from
Tarasco, Corey and Roberts are three of at least seven major league Mets
who have been suspected of using marijuana this season. Most of the players
involved came up through the Mets' farm system. In addition to Corey, a number
of those suspected are no longer with the team.
Phillips disputed there is a problem yesterday. "I don't think we have
rampant drug use on our major league team," he said.
Interviews with a high-ranking team official, a former prospect and two
people close to players in the organization in the aftermath of the
Corey-Tarasco incident raised new allegations.
According to one friend of some Mets players, marijuana has allegedy been
mailed into Shea Stadium inside a jar of peanut butter and at least one Met
regularly smokes marijuana in the players' parking lot. The same source also
said that a number of Mets players have been known to share a marijuana-filled
limousine ride rather than taking the team bus from one city to another while
on the road.
A former prospect and two friends of current Mets confirmed that the team's
minor leaguers have been warned in advance of supposedly random drug tests and
have learned how to avoid drug detection.
One of the friends said that Mets minor leaguers have been known to buy
marijuana and drug paraphernalia near hotels on the road in order to access it
on the next trip to town.
A team official and a friend of the players said in addition to marijuana
Ecstasy was another drug of choice among Mets minor leaguers.
Valentine recounted how he talked to his team after Newsday reported the
Corey-Tarasco drug use in June.
"After the one incident we had, I addressed the team about this stuff
specifically, about how foolish it was, how it was illegal and how embarrassing
it could be for it to continue," Valentine said.
In order to evade the bomb-sniffing dogs that occasionally patrol Shea
Stadium, a source who refused to be named said one player instructed an
accomplice to pack the marijuana in partly-filled peanut-butter jars.
"They leave about a half inch to an inch of peanut butter on the outside
wall and then they just throw the bag inside the peanut butter," said the
source, who also has knowledge that two of the young Mets may have provided
drugs to teammates and players on other teams during spring training.
Told of the drug allegations, catcher Mike Piazza said, "It's kind of
disturbing if that's the case. I'm not against having fun. For me, it's having
a few beers, if you're of age. You have to blow off steam somehow. But you'd
think guys at this level would be completely focused on their careers."
First baseman Mo Vaughn said yesterday: "I personally was never into drugs.
It's hard enough to play this game if your brain is normal. I don't know if
it's a problem on this team. I hope to God it's not. If there's something going
on, we need to correct it."
None of the Mets contacted made any connection between the team's miserable
2002 season and drug use. However, medical experts say marijuana use can
While major-league players are not subject to random drug testing, as
stipulated in the collective bargaining agreement, minor leaguers do undergo
drug tests, although the results are not released to the public. One source
said star prospects are sometimes warned in advance about coming drug tests or
let off the hook after failing tests.
Phillips said that while team officials know when tests will be
administered for coordination purposes, he doubted whether any club official
has tipped off players. The general manager estimated that no more than three
to five Mets minor leaguers test positive for drugs each year. Two former Mets
prospects who have been sent home after failing drug tests are outfielder Rob
Stratton and pitcher Erik Hiljus, sources said. Bill Pulsipher also was caught
smoking dope by club officials.
Phillips strongly disputed any preferential treatment within the minor
league ranks, citing the rigorous testing administered throughout the season.
He said minor league players are tested for drugs by an outside agency up to
four times a season.
"In my opinion, we have to be among the best organizations in addressing
and educating our players on this. And we have among the least number of
positive tests in the game," Phillips said.
The former prospect said that certain minor league players are not only
given a heads-up about pending drug tests, but have learned how to cheat
detection, using concoctions that flush traces of drugs from their system or
mask it with bleach, ammonia or herbal teas. Many of these quick fixes are
available over the counter at fitness stores.
"I've seen guys get busted even though they knew they'd be tested," one
former Mets prospect said. "Everyone's going to test the waters, even if they
know there are sharks."
The source blames the organization. "What ticks me off is that they know
this is going on and they're not doing anything about it," said the close
friend of a Mets player. "I've seen that firsthand, the lengths the team will
go to protect the player."
When confronted before yesterday's game with a December of 1999 snapshot of
Roberts, then a minor-leaguer, dragging on a bong, an apparatus used to smoke
marijuana, Roberts was silent for a long time before saying, "I can tell you
that wasn't recently."
Asked whether he still uses drugs, Roberts kept his head down and shook it
"No" before walking back into the clubhouse.
The former Mets prospect said that many minor leaguers take advantage of
promotion to the 40-man roster to more freely use drugs.
"A big goal is to make the 40-man," he said. "The players' association
doesn't allow them to test if you're on the 40-man, so guys are more apt [to do
drugs]. Guys lower down [in the minors] don't do it as much just because of
the fear of getting caught. My first year out of school, I got caught. I never
saw the result, but I confessed when they told me."
Phillips said that active enforcement is near-impossible once a player is
put on the 40-man roster and no longer subject to random drug testing.
"Unless you have firsthand evidence, there's nothing you can do about it,"
Phillips said. "If we had definite evidence, we would act ... We want a
drug-free environment for our players at the major-league and minor-league
level. Unfortunately, the rules don't allow that right now."
The Corey incident, which took place on June 26, is an example of what can
happen under the current system. Both Tarasco and Corey, who were called up
from Triple-A Norfolk earlier this season, smoked marijuana during a short
drive, and Corey suffered from seizure-like symptoms before collapsing in front
of his hotel, the Ramada Plaza, located a quarter-mile from Shea.
While Corey said later that doctors described his sudden illness as nothing
more than an "anxiety attack," a Newsday source who is a friend said he had to
be revived by the hotel's security guard using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
before an ambulance rushed him to New York Medical Center in Flushing.
Corey and Tarasco have been put into the Employee Assistance Program and
will be subject to drug testing as first-time offenders. Corey was sent to the
minors then recalled to the Mets and was traded July 31, along with Jay Payton,
to the Rockies. Tarasco has remained with the team. People close to Corey said
they had never seen him smoke marijuana before.
Tarasco, who reportedly admitted his marijuana usage to police, declined
comment when reporters approached him the next day. After three days of medical
tests, including one by a neurologist on July 1, Corey was medically cleared.
The Mets said that doctors were unable to uncover a cause for Corey's
seizure-like symptoms, but the friend believes Corey reacted badly to whatever
the street-bought marijuana was laced with.
"I was kind of hoping it would be a wakeup call for everybody else," the
source said. "Unfortunately, it's not. Not at all."