Major League Baseball

America’s Stoner Pastime

Shhh… This is just between us, OK? America’s family-friendly, national pastime gives Major League players a free pass to light up whenever they wish.

Baseball is the unspoken hash Heaven of professional sports, but there’s a dark side too. Turns out, professional baseball enforces a kind of class system, not just with money, but also in the freedom to use cannabis, medicinally or otherwise.

Here’s how it works. Major League Baseball (MLB) has three social classes: owners/managers (the upper class), major league players (the middle class), and minor league players (the working class). Owners and managers are basically beyond the gaze of the rest of us mere mortals, enforcing the rules for the other two classes. Players on a major league roster are governed by player-friendly union rules that prohibit random drug testing, while the minor league players work without the protection of a union, underpaid and randomly tested. “High Times” called minor league pay “so low it should be illegal.”

The set-up is rigged to protect America’s national pastime from being tainted with tales of the demon weed. Major league players can enjoy and medicate with cannabis all they like. It’s “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The working class guys on farm teams are easy scapegoats, one or two sort of ritually slaughtered each season when they test positive, taking the fall, suffering fines and suspensions to prove, over and over again, that MLB has zero tolerance for cannabis.

Baseball has had a long, well-documented history of drug abuse, but it’s all been about performance enhancement. Stories abound of jars of amphetamines in the dugout. Steroid use was so rampant the U.S. Congress got involved, pressuring the industry to institute drug testing in 2003. And, of course, there’s the legendary abuse of alcohol among baseball players of every era. Can’t blame them though. The wear, tear and injuries suffered in professional sports always lead players to seek relief.

How ironic that the most benign of self-medication substances, now legal as medicine in a majority of states, is seen as so evil. It’s a completely 1950s attitude.

Look a bit deeper though and even that antiquated attitude makes some sense from the owners’ perspective. Many minor league teams are in small, Southern U.S. cities, places known for their staunch, anti-cannabis attitudes. And, there’s the brand to protect, enshrining baseball as the squeaky-clean, family-friendly entertainment for all ages.

Baseball owners and managers are safeguarding an image, but the consequences are terribly unfair. Minor leaguers are randomly tested and someone takes the fall every so often to prove the image still stands, while the 40 players on each major league team roster do as they please. Definitely different social classes.

Rarely, a major league player steps into, or is shoved into the limelight. San Francisco Giants pitcher, Tim Lincecum, became a cannabis poster boy in 2009 after he was given a civil infraction and fined for possession of a pipe and approximately an eighth of flower. This happened off-season in his home state of Washington, mind you, but the fans know no seasons or state lines. Right away, the slogan “Let Timmy Smoke” sprang up on shirts, hats and on social media. If he had been in the minors, most likely he would have faced fines, drug rehabilitation, and a suspension. No punishment seems to have descended from the suits in the office though, and Lincecum, then an All-Star and two-time “Cy Young Award” winner, led the Giants to win the next World Series.

Other than Lincecum, a few other players stand out as cannabis poster boys. Dirk Hayhurst (San Diego Padres) claims in his 2012 book, “Out of My League,” that some guys play better ball on cannabis than without it, echoing claims of men in other professional sports. Hayhurst wrote, “a lot of guys… would otherwise be bouncing off the walls… [they are] better focused when they’re toked up.”

Retired player Ryan Tucker, whose baseball career was cut short by injuries, was reportedly planning, as of last spring, to open a cannabis greenhouse and dispensary, though no grand opening announcement seems to have been made yet. Tucker said to Leafly correspondent Donnell Alexander, “I got into the cannabis industry because it saved my life.”

Going back a few years to the heady 1970s, we had the cannabis champion Bill “Spaceman” Lee. The beloved Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer was always outspoken about his love for cannabis. He even ate it on his pancakes. It is part of his zany, party-dude persona to this day. In 2016, he was reported to be planning to run for the Vermont governor’s seat. Old news for him; he ran for president in 1988 on the Rhinoceros Party ticket. Perhaps he’d like to try for the White House again in 2020, this time on the Party Party ticket. We could all use some humor coming out of D.C. these days.

Emerald contributor since July 2015


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