Sconiers to Have Drug Evaluation : 'Substance Problem,' He Says, the Reason for 17-Day Absence

Times Staff Writer

First baseman Daryl Sconiers, in a brief visit to the Angels' training complex Monday morning, said his 17-day absence stemmed from a "substance problem" he thinks is under control.

Sconiers and his attorney, Nick Lampros of San Jose, left immediately after an informal press conference for Los Angeles. Dr. Gerald Rozansky, head of the Life Start program at Centinela Hospital Medical Center, will begin an evaluation of Sconiers' condition today.

Rozansky, speaking by phone, said he could not predict how long that evaluation will take.

Neither Sconiers nor the Angels identified the substance or the duration of Sconiers' involvement with it. Neither would they say whether Sconiers has ever been under medical care for the problem.

General Mike Port refused to speculate on how the development will affect Sconiers' chances to open the season with the Angels.

Port said a fine of $4,165, based on $245 a day, will stand, but that Sconiers now qualifies for baseball's joint drug program because he volunteered that he had a problem.

The program entitles a player who opens the season under full medical supervision to 30 days of full salary, another 30 at half salary and 30 more at baseball's minimum salary. After that, he is off salary completely.

Wearing brown slacks and a yellow T-shirt emblazoned with a Blue Max graphic, Sconiers made only a short statement during a 15-minute briefing with the Angels' press corps.

"What I'd like to say is that I want you all to know that I've had a substance problem," he said, his voice shaking a little. "Right now I feel that I have it under control and that's all I'll say at this time."

Sconiers, 26, did respond to one question. Asked how difficult it had been for him to report to the club, he said:

"This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do as far as pressure is concerned.

"If you're talking about hitting with a man on second, two outs, bottom of the ninth and down by a run, this is tougher than that.

"I feel, though, that I've taken a 100-pound weight off my shoulders."

Sconiers also said he had neither read papers nor watched TV news during his absence, but he would not expand on a statement in an Angel press release that he had been in the Southern California area during the last several weeks.

Port, who had not heard from Sconiers since Feb. 28, when Sconiers called the Angel office to ask permission to report three days late, met with Sconiers and Lampros for about 20 minutes Monday morning.

"We do not know at this time if the problem is one of substance use or abuse but Daryl deserves a lot of credit for coming in on a voluntary basis," Port said.

Port said that baseball's tolerance toward substance abuse is "very low," but that Sconiers had come in determined to have it treated--if necessary.

"I'm not sure how we would have reacted if we'd discovered this through our own investigation, or if a police sergeant had called in the middle of the night to say that one of our players was in trouble," Port said. "But Daryl deserves credit for the step he's taken. He deserves our help."

Port said that the Angels' drug program has been available for about two years. He had no comment when asked if Sconiers was the first Angel to consent to or seek evaluation. Attorney Lampros said that Sconiers' determination to deal with the problem can be reflected by the fact that "Daryl came to me with it."

That was late last week, ending what Lampros called a frustrating search for his client. Lampros called Port Friday to arrange the Monday meeting.

Asked what chance Sconiers has of being with the Angels when the season opens in three weeks, Port said: "That's an open question. We don't know what time factor is involved (with the evaluation).

"I'd like to be optimistic. From a layman's point of view, he seems fine physically and he told me that he doesn't think there's a problem with his legs (Sconiers has had surgery on both knees) or back (he missed most of the first half of 1984 with a disk problem).

"I don't like to put anything ahead of baseball, but at this point the situation has to be left to Dr. Rozansky."

Sconiers was drafted and signed by the Angels out of Orange Coast College after he had previously played at Fontana High. He is considered a natural hitter whose development has been hampered by the physical problems.

He batted .244 in 57 games last year, .274 in 106 games the year before and was again in line to back up Rod Carew, as well as serving as a designated and pinch hitter--if not packaged in a trade for pitching.

Manager Gene Mauch, prompted in part by Sconiers' absence and apprehension over Carew's susceptibility to injury, is planning to employ both Bobby Grich and Juan Beniquez at first, expanding his options.

On Monday's development, Mauch said: "I'm probably the only guy that's not going to pry into Daryl's personal affairs. Right now he's an item. I like it better when he's a ballplayer.

"But there's really no use of me ever commenting on something I don't understand."

Asked if Sconiers could make the team, providing the evaluation allows him to return quickly, or if his loss would be significant, Mauch said:

"I like Daryl Sconiers a lot and I think he knows that, but I can't answer the question. You're not discussing an established star. You're talking about one of the best hitting prospects around."

Sconiers did not meet with his teammates Monday, although a few, yelling at him from a distance as they headed for the batting cages, made uninformed and inappropriate remarks representing the sickest gallows humor.

"M.I.A.," yelled one.

"Lost in space," screamed another.

The mood changed when word of Sconiers' problem spread. Most expressed surprise, citing Sconiers' generally carefree personality. Some talked privately about the pressure he had been under during a difficult divorce last year. All said there had to be a genuine reason.

"You just can't imagine a player who has everything to live for and a great career in front of him just not showing up because he doesn't feel like it," pitcher Geoff Zahn said, adding that the group of players who meet weekly for study of the Bible had been praying for Sconiers.

Said third baseman Doug DeCinces: "A lot of people may criticize him for not reporting, but he can't worry about what's behind him. He's got to think about the future and get it straightened out. He's a heck of kid and a heck of a hitter. I'm really surprised. I can't believe it's drugs."

Center fielder Gary Pettis, a close friend, shook his head and said: "Daryl is such an easygoing guy that I didn't think his problem was of this nature.

"I didn't rule out anything but I didn't want to believe this was the problem. I'm really surprised.

"I just hope he doesn't let it affect him. I hope he doesn't always have the feeling that people are watching him, that he always has to be looking over his shoulder.

"It takes a strong man to admit he has a problem but it takes a stronger man to put it behind him and go about his job."

Pettis added: "I don't know what I can do for him because I've never been involved in this kind of situation, but if he ever needs me, I'll be there.

"The thing I'd most like to tell him now is that it's over and that we want him back, hitting line drives and helping us win a pennant."

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