Dr. Forrest Tennant, the Dodgers’ drug adviser, caused a stir Friday when it was reported that he said the team’s success this season was partly because management had tackled a drug problem that, as recently as five years ago, was unchecked.
Tennant, however, said that a newspaper account of his Thursday speech to the Juneau-Gastineau Rotary Club in Alaska misrepresented some of his comments.
Tennant was reported as saying that when Dodger President Peter O’Malley contacted him in 1983, Tennant found drugs widely abused by players in the minor and major leagues. The Associated Press disseminated the report after it appeared in the Juneau Empire Friday.
In the report, Tennant said players brought cocaine, marijuana and alcohol onto the field, into the dugout and to their hotel rooms. He said that in 1983, 45% of the Dodgers’ minor league players tested positive for marijuana, cocaine or a high level of alcohol. This year, he said that figure has been reduced to less than 1% or 2%.
“The drug problem wiped us out,” Tennant was quoted as saying.
Tennant, reached in Anchorage, where he is lecturing, said the report had taken his statements out of context. He denied crediting the Dodgers’ 1988 success to a decrease in substance abuse.
Carl Sampson, editor of the Juneau Empire, wrote the story and said he quoted Tennant accurately.
Tennant did not deny that the Dodgers previously had a substance-abuse problem among nearly half of their minor league players. He said he was speaking specifically about the Dodgers’ teams in the minor leagues, where he has collected data. “I didn’t make the claim that the team won by solving their drinking and drug problem,” Tennant said. “But I can tell you that they did solve their drinking and drug problem. In the amount of time I have spent in their (the Dodgers’ teams in the) minor leagues this year, I have seen excellent management and a group of well-disciplined athletes who are substance-free.”
Tennant said that in 1983 drug use was far more prevalent in sports than today, and that a figure of 45% was not unusual for an athletic team.
“My comments were meant to be positive,” said Tennant, who is on retainer with the Dodgers. “The Dodgers are leaders in this area--give them the credit.”
Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president, said he was disappointed with Tennant’s comments as carried by the Associated Press. Claire could not be reached later to discuss Tennant’s explanation.
“I think they are totally out of proportion,” Claire said Friday at Dodger Stadium. “I don’t want to deal in specifics, because confidentiality is one of the most important aspects of the program. We became very active a number of years ago in a drug educational and testing program at the minor league level and it has been very beneficial.”
Though Claire would not concede that there had been a substance-abuse problem, he said: “It was an area we have addressed and made great strides in. There has been improvement. We are no longer coming up with positive results, and I credit that to an ongoing testing and education program.”
Tennant also said the report misrepresented his comment that players would bring drugs and alcohol onto the field, into the dugout and to their hotel rooms.
“I was not referring to only the Dodgers,” Tennant said. “But these things were reported to me by any number of players, of different teams, in both the minor and major leagues, when they would come in for treatment. They would say that they used this or that--even while they were playing, in some cases.”
Claire denied that players in the Dodger organization played under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Tennant, however, said an athlete under the influence of a drug cannot always be detected, adding: “These are things that management may not know--things that the players will tell me.”
Tennant said what the players tell him is confidential, and he is not required to inform management.
Because drug testing is not allowed on the major league level, Tennant said he began working with the Dodgers’ minor league players. The Dodger organization uses Tennant’s clinic in West Covina to process drug tests.
“Dodger management spotted the problem in their organization, and the problem was confirmed by the players and coaches that I spoke with,” Tennant said.
“In the early ’80’s, nobody thought they had to worry--they thought they didn’t have to deal with the drug and drinking problem. But the Dodgers wanted to make their players the best, not only as players, but as people.”
Times staff writer Ross Newhan contributed to this story.