Drug Tests Have Friends--and Enemies--Behind Padres’ Scenes
For the most part, they are ordinary people in ordinary jobs. They work, pay taxes and hope the home team wins. They’re some of the last folks anyone would think of under the heading:
If baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth has his way, however, they will soon be the object of mandatory testing for drugs. It makes no difference how conservative, law-abiding or patriotic they are, they will have to submit to medical tests for evidence of cocaine, heroin, PCP and other illicit drugs.
And if they don’t, they won’t work for the San Diego Padres or any other major league club again.
At the moment, Ueberroth’s proposal is just that. Some say it’s only a tactic, one of many salvos in a war of wills with the Major League Baseball Players Assn., which opposes drug tests.
Got to Start Somewhere
Chuck Adams, a spokesman for Ueberroth, said by telephone from New York that no timetable has been set for implementation of the program. But, he said, Ueberroth is as serious about this as he was about making the 1984 Olympic Games a success. Ueberroth simply believes, Adams said, that drug abuse is so pervasive, so harmful, that prevention has to start somewhere. So, why not baseball?
That’s fine with John (Doc) Mattei, a gravel-voiced, Runyonesque character who has served the Padres for 16 years as traveling secretary. Mattei calls himself “senior man” of the company.
“Mr. Bavasi (Buzzie Bavasi, the original general manager) was the first guy hired (when the team began play in 1969). I was the second,” said Mattei, who hopes seniority makes him first in line when mandatory testing takes place.
“It’s the greatest idea I’ve heard of on how we can stop this thing,” he said, meaning drug abuse. “I’m for it 100%. It’s a must. How can anyone wanting to keep the game at a high caliber possibly vote against it? I can’t understand it.”
Mattei was one of 25 Padre employees interviewed by The Times last week in response to Ueberroth’s proposal. They are not athletes. They include ticket takers, clerks, equipment men and writers of press releases. But they’re the ones Ueberroth wants to start with. Mattei and 22 other employees support the commissioner’s stand, and most claim to have taken tests in a voluntary program started by the Padres two years ago.
Team Is a Leader
“Nothing new here,” Bill Beck, Padre media director, said of such tests. “If you want to know the truth, the Padres are the leaders in this thing.”
Beck added that Padre owner Joan Kroc and team President Ballard Smith, Kroc’s son-in-law, were primary forces behind Ueberroth’s proposal. (Adams, Ueberroth’s spokesman, said all major league owners were asked for “input,” but that the idea was Ueberroth’s own.)
Reached at home this week, Kroc said Padre input had come mainly by “demonstration” (through the voluntary program). Asked if mandatory testing could be construed as an invasion of privacy, Kroc sighed before answering.
“I think there are times when all of us have to give up something for the good of most--the betterment of all,” she said. “This is one of those cases.”
But when asked what she hoped the impact would be, the players’ role came up again. “If I were a player and clean and knew other people on my team who were suspect, I’d be happy to test for drugs,” she said. “Hopefully, I’d be a leader showing the way.”
Are some people on the payroll justified in saying they feel “used,” as though Ueberroth is holding them up as a weapon in a war with players?
“He’s not after any player,” Kroc said. “He’s after drugs. He’s interested in the betterment of the game, in the mental and physical well-being of players.”
Current Plan’s Not Working
Mattei said he didn’t care if Ueberroth’s plan was a tactic in a war with players. “The current plan, whatever it is, isn’t working,” he said. “How could it possibly be working? Guys are dropping off all the time. It didn’t work for Alan, did it?” (Padre second baseman Alan Wiggins has been in and out of a drug rehabilitation program in recent weeks.)
Mattei said that “in no way” did he consider Ueberroth’s plan an invasion of privacy. He, like many employees, claimed he has nothing to hide. But two co-workers said “nothing to hide” sidesteps the issue.
Athanasia Pilafas, 22, works in the Padres’ gift shop at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. “I’ll do it,” she said with a frown, “but I don’t think it’s right. I work for a baseball team. Why should I be involved with drug testing?”
Asked if such testing would be an invasion of privacy, she replied, “In a way, it is. Different jobs require different things of people. I’ll go along with it as part of my job, but I don’t like it. Not for a minute.
“I can understand Mr. Ueberroth’s and Mrs. Kroc’s efforts to stop the spread of drugs in baseball--among players . But this is the gift shop. And I’m sorry, it is an invasion.”
Kroc is chairwoman of Operation Cork, a La Jolla-based anti-alcoholism educational foundation. Many Padre employees--who number 85, not counting minor- and major-league players--said Kroc was the force behind the voluntary tests instituted two years ago.
Jack Stanger, 57, an aide in the press box during games, said he didn’t mind voluntary or mandatory tests. He’d cooperate either way.
“Younger people go through different trends,” Stanger said. “Some of them might have a different feeling.”
Some do. Several even suggested that many of baseball’s problems--involving drugs and inflated contracts--were symptoms of a massive generational conflict between players and team owners. Some even see evidence of the generation gap on a lower level--their level.
Anna Harris, 24, divides her time between the Padres’ front office (on level 1A at the stadium) and Teleseat, a Padre-owned ticket agency whose employees will be expected to undergo the tests. Harris works as a receptionist for both. She opposes the tests.
“I don’t do drugs, so it doesn’t affect me that way,” she said. “What I don’t understand is why employees have to take it and players don’t. That just isn’t fair.”
The players’ collective bargaining agreement with owners keeps them from taking the tests.
“Yes,” she said firmly, asked if such testing would invade her privacy. “What I do on my own time--not to put it bluntly--is none of their business. As long as I’m not doing it at work--and it isn’t affecting my work--I think it’s fine. I mean, this is a democracy, isn’t it?
“Like I say, I don’t use drugs, not even aspirin. But if anybody should take the tests, it’s players. Why? Because they’re in the public eye. People look at them as heroes. Anyone involved in sports shouldn’t be involved with drugs anyway.”
Violates Civil Rights
Gregory Marshall, legal director of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), believes Pilafas and Harris are right in feeling that drug tests violate privacy, even basic civil rights. The ACLU has gone on record nationally, Marshall said, in opposing Ueberroth’s plan.
“We would have no objection,” he said, “to a voluntary program where employees were free to do it or not, and no sanctions would be imposed for refusing. Our objection is to the mandatory nature (of the proposal), which is clearly an invasion of privacy.”
If, say, a Padre employee refused a mandatory test and were then dismissed, Marshall is optimistic that that person would win in the courts. But, he said, the law itself is undergoing “vast change” in employer-employee relations, and the outcome remains a mystery.
“The question of how far an employer can intrude in a person’s private life is the next big question on the legal front,” he said, “and the baseball issue is merely evidence of that. The question is whether anyone has the right of making sure an employee’s private life satisfies the employer’s moral and ethical standards. If an employee is unable to perform a job, then the matter is more routine. But if he is able to perform, and he’s dismissed, well, then, we have a case.”
A similar outcry was heard last week about a similar proposal for employees of the City of San Diego. Attorney John Murphy called it “the first move toward a serious erosion of personal privacy. Today, it’s testing for drugs. Tomorrow it might be cameras in the bathrooms. Once you open the door, who knows where it stops?”
Exactly, Marshall said, pointing out that the ACLU does not condone criminal treatment for anyone suffering a drug problem. Drug abuse is essentially a victimless crime, he said. The ACLU suggests the alternative of counseling.
Welfare of the User
But it’s the welfare of the user, countered Adams of the commissioner’s office, that Ueberroth has in mind. “If one life can be saved,” Adams said, “then all our efforts have been worthwhile.”
He couldn’t have phrased it better, in the view of most of the Padre staff.
“It’s got to start someplace,” said Be Barnes with the Padre media office. “A lot of things start with the little guy. I’m for ‘The Commish’ all the way. If what he’s decreed pushes the major league players into a box, then maybe they should rethink.”
Charles Hrvatin, 22, an intern in the media office, agreed. He hopes something--"anything"--is done, he said, to curb the effect of drugs on society.
“I graduated from Pepperdine in April,” he said, “and I can tell you the colleges are full of drugs. Especially during finals week, everyone’s taking speed (amphetamines) to stay awake. It’s just incredible. I have friends who go to (San Diego) State, and I’ve heard of parties there that are really wild. I think Ueberroth’s plan could be a great steppingstone.”
Hrvatin said he felt the invasion of privacy issue had been supplanted by a larger, more cogent one. “What so many people fail to realize is that (the possession of) hard drugs is illegal--carrying felony convictions. This isn’t a traffic ticket we’re talking about,” he said. “This is reality, the bare facts.”
Worried About Son
Priscilla Oppenheimer, a receptionist, is the mother of a son who played ball for USC and has since been drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. She worries for his welfare, that a handful of teammates won’t be “clean.”
“Lord, no, they’re not invading my privacy,” she said. “When you go to the airport, you have to clear security. How is this different?”
Barbara Hendrix, another switchboard operator, has been with the club since 1971. She feels that baseball’s drug problem--and a possible strike by major league players--threatens the enjoyment of something she has waited for for years:
A winning team in San Diego.
“I don’t feel it’s an invasion of privacy,” she said. “Maybe I’d feel differently if I had a problem, but I don’t. I am, however, sad that it’s come to this.”
One of Hendrix’s favorite baseball memories was Dock Ellis’ no-hitter against the Padres several years ago. Ellis, then of the Pittsburgh Pirates, later admitted being high on LSD while recording a chapter in baseball history.
“I hated reading that,” Hendrix said, with obvious feeling. “It ruins that game, that moment, for me. These guys are products whether they like it or not. And it’s not like they have it tough . . . is it?”