Willie Mays, Amphetamines, and Caffeine: Say Hey, Leave the Kid Alone

Harold FriendChief Writer IApril 27, 2011

A More Mature Willie Mays, the "Say Hey Kid"
A More Mature Willie Mays, the "Say Hey Kid"Michael Nagle/Getty Images

America holds the most freedom of any other country in the history of the world. Each individual has the right to make his or her own choices.

No one has the right to regulate the use of caffeine, which is a harmless substance if one is in good health. The same is true of amphetamines.

Both are stimulants; it is not the place of the government—which really does want to protect Americans from themselves—to limit the use of either.

One of the greatest players of all time, Willie Mays, had a liquid form of an amphetamine in his locker during his days with New York's most beloved team, the New York Mets.

Teammate John Milner said that amphetamines were so pervasive during his era that when he went into the clubhouse, there were "greenies" waiting for him in his locker.

Milner defended him, saying that he never saw Mays drink or hand out the liquid amphetamine.

Amphetamines are "restorative" drugs. They merely allow an individual to overcome the effects of fatigue. Such drugs are taken with the intent of restoring an athlete's skills—not to enhance his or her skills.

Amphetamines have been used by American combatants defending freedom with the full blessings of the military.

One must conclude that Mays did not use the liquid amphetamine Milner saw, but that is merely one instance in which Willie must have had access to amphetamines.

Those who will jump on this fact in an attempt to defend Willie's godson, the great Barry Bonds, are on shaky ground.

If Wilie used amphetamines, he used a stimulant that was a restorative drug. Barry, although he didn't know it at the time, used one or more performance enhancing drugs.

As long ago as 1971, it was claimed that "...there is probably no type of athletic activity of a highly competitive nature where athletes do not use drugs."

Jim Brosnan, a highly intellectual pitcher, was the first baseball player to expose the use of amphetamines by major leaguers. In his diary, The Long Season, Brosnan discussed how amphetamines helped players make it through the season.

Former New York Yankees' pitcher Jim Bouton broke new ground with Ball Four. Bouton confirmed Brosnan's claims.

Chuck Dobson, who played a small role in the Oakland A's skein of three consecutive World Championships from 1972-74, was one of the first players to admit using amphetamines.

"When you've got the flu and you've got to pitch, what are you going to do?" Dobson said to some reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle.

When Dobson was told that Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn might prohibit "greenies," an arrogant but realistic Dobson reacted strongly.

"I'd like to see him put on a uniform for 162 games in 180 days, and then see what he says."

There is a vast difference between using performance enhancing substances and using amphetamines or caffeine. The position that a fatigued player no longer has his original skills is specious.

Those who disagree must explain how a sore-armed player being treated with cortisone—which is a steroid—is different from a tired player popping caffeine tablets.

It is not up to those who run Major League Baseball, the Players' Union, or even the paternal government under which we live to determine what individuals—whether they are professional athletes, professional warriors fighting for freedom or students competing to get into the best schools possible—put into their bodies.

That's what makes America great.


Hirsch. James S. Wilie Mays: The Life of a Legend. New York: Scribner, 2010.

Scott, Jack. "It's Not How You Play the Game, But What Pill You Take." New York Times. 17 Oct. 1971. p. 40.