Tim Lincecum Busted for Marijuana

You may have missed the news that San Francisco Giant superstar Tim Lincecum was busted for marijuana possession — heck, I’m about a week late in hearing about it. Which brings up the obvious question posted originally by my pal Ted Berg: Does anyone care?

I’m a little unnerved that this bit of news flew under the radar. Lincecum is among the best three pitchers in baseball right now, and at 25 has a potential Hall of Fame future ahead of him. And he broke the law by possessing a controlled substance. Yet no one seems to care.

Maybe because he plays in California, where marijuana is grown and embraced by Left Coasters. Maybe it’s because marijuana is now legal to use with a medical prescription, and therefore it “seems” like a lesser crime than, say, being caught with cocaine. Or maybe it’s because he didn’t have a seizure after smoking pot.

grant-roberts-potSomething just isn’t sitting right with me in regard to the complacency and acceptance of this news. It could be because I clearly remember the Mets’ front office doing major damage control when it was discovered in 2002 that “several” of their ballplayers were pot users. You may remember the photo to the left of Grant Roberts that sent everyone into a tizzy — and led to Tony Tarasco being jettisoned from the ballclub.

Then again, maybe I’m confused why no one cares about Lincecum’s crime, yet so many people are outraged by Andre Agassi’s recent admission to using crystal meth, and were talking for days on end when Michael Phelps admitted to smoking pot. Or perhaps I’m confused because Lincecum gets a slap on the wrist, while Ricky Williams lost millions of his bonus and a few years of his NFL career for smoking marijuana. There should be some consistency, shouldn’t there?

I vividly remember the big-time drug problem in baseball in the early 1980s, an ugly black mark on the game that was completely exposed during the Pittsburgh Drug Trials. Star players such as Keith Hernandez, Lee Mazzilli, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Willie Aikens, Vida Blue and a host of others admitted to buying and using drugs — be they cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana, or substances. They weren’t the only ones, though — through the 80s several other players were exposed and/or reprimanded, including Dwight Gooden, Darrell Porter, Steve Howe, and Pascual Perez (among others). This was around the same time Nancy Reagan was preaching “Just Say No to Drugs”, and high schoolers such as myself were treated to anti-drug education and scare tactics from our health teachers, David Toma, frying-egg “your brain on drugs” commercials, and the “Scared Straight” program. Twenty years ago, it was a big deal if an athlete was caught with illegal drugs — partially because kids presumably looked up to pro athletes, and also because having drug-offendng criminals on your sports team or in your league was tarnishing to your image. It took MLB many, many years of suspensions, rehabs, and outreach programs to clean up its image in regard to cocaine and marijuana use — or, was it simply replaced by steroid use?

According to the MLB drug policy, marijuana is a banned substance. However, MLB does not test for it, because it is “not a performance-enhancing substance” (we know this because of the Geovany Soto incident during the WBC). By focusing solely on PEDs and ignoring marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, and other “drugs of abuse”, it appears that MLB doesn’t have a drug problem. Maybe NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can learn something from that policy — by ignoring everything other than PEDs, and thereby turning the other way when the Ricky Williamses, Randy Mosses, and Pac-Man Joneses do drugs, his league would have a much cleaner image, dontcha think? Hmm ….

Are you at least slightly concerned that MLB doesn’t particularly care whether their players are using “drugs of abuse”? Comment below, and please indicate whether you remember what MLB went through in the 1980s to “clean up the league”.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Maggie November 9, 2009 at 9:09 pm
    I think (hope) the MLB has better things to occupy themselves with than a 25 year-old sparking up over vacation. He’s not hurting anyone and it isn’t a PED. Call me when he’s busted during the season.
  2. Andy November 9, 2009 at 10:14 pm
    I agree with Maggie. Non-PEDs just don’t seem like any of the MLB’s business. All the examples you cite, Joe, seem unfair compared to how Lincecum’s usage is allowed to slide, but I think it is more a reflection of the general shift in cultural attitudes towards recreational drug use.

    If it’s a non-PED, it’s not cheating, so the worst the player can do is ruin his own life/career. That’s his problem, not mine, and not the MLB’s.

  3. joejanish November 9, 2009 at 10:55 pm
    Andy and Maggie – neither of you mentioned whether you were around / remember the MLB drug issue in the 1980s. I’m specifically curious about that point — because back then, there was a different thinking in regard to drug use in sports. I’m wondering if people have changed their feeling about things since then.

    Also, Maggie, Lincecum may not have hurt anyone this time, but it’s clear that he was “sparking up” while driving — and/or had the intention to do so. Don’t you think getting high and driving could be dangerous to others on the road?

    I won’t call you when he’s busted during the season. I’ll call you when his marijuana use leads to cocaine use or worse. Hopefully, though, I won’t call you, ever.

  4. Taylor November 10, 2009 at 1:29 am
    Consistency is your concern? How about fairness. How about a punishment that is appropriate to the crime. Its foolish to perpetuate past overreactions. People overreacted to Phelps and Williams and are overreacting to Agassi’s ‘revelation’ because Americans are puritanical and squeamish about drug usage. Repeating the mistake in the interest of consistency is ridiculous.

    Was recreational drug use replaced by steroid use? Of course not. The two are completely different. One is not a substitute for another. Recreational drugs are used to party, steroids are used to make you stronger and as a result, the user hopes, a better player.

    Whether it should be or not, marijuana is illegal and anyone caught using or possessing them is subject to legal punishment. What would be the reason for MLB to pile on and institute a punishment of their own. These drugs are used outside of the realm of baseball, in the players free time.

    Major League baseball cares whether the players use drugs in exactly the way it should care. It has a treatment program to help those who have a drug program. Its not on witch hunt to root out recreational marijuana use and nor would it be appropriate for it to be.

  5. Brian November 10, 2009 at 2:45 am
    I was born in 1987, so have little idea about what happened back then and find myself twisted about this. On the one hand, why does he need to be out driving with weed and a smoking device in his car in the first place-that’s just stupid-but then to be speeding too-what an idiot! He is acting too irresponsible for anyone, especially a star and someone who young kids look up to.
    Still, it is just weed; something Timmy could go buy at a vending machine in SF. It is something that almost everyone in my generation accepts as ok, and something that could be legal. I am not advocating its use here, but it seems to definitely have a more milder effect on people than alcohol, and thats legal and enjoyed by almost all players after most/lots of the games during the season. I would be more upset if my set-up man decided to stay out late drinking and then got in a car crash; or my first basemen got drunk, arrested and scratched up right before the playoffs.
    As for the slap on the wrist by the law and MLB, maybe that is where you can find the only smart thing Timmy did: the law in Washington is lax on pot in small amounts and so he doesn’t deserve more punishment or news time.
  6. isuzudude November 10, 2009 at 10:18 am
    I hope I’m not hearing justification for the crime by the likes of Maggie and Andy. But I can see the point in that Tim was punished according to the law and MLB has no obligation to further punish him. What’s most scary is that MLB would be viewed as the villian for jumping on the dogpile when Lincecum was the one caught with dope and driving recklessly in the first place.

    Brett Myers beat up his wife, but MLB didn’t suspend him. La Russa was caught drunk driving, but MLB did nothing. Both of those things are just as illegal as possessing pot, so, again, I can see why it’s acceptable for MLB to stay out of this one.

    Still, no one should be condoning Lincecum’s actions, or making excuses for him. And whether the culture thinks marijuana is more acceptbale nowadays than 20 years ago is regardless, because the substance is still officially illegal and it still impairs your judgement. And it certainly isn’t something I’d like my 7 year old son to think he could emulate because Tim Lincecum is his favorite player and the culture thinks he was just toking up on his own time and not doing anyone else any harm. Just try talking to the loved one of someone who was killed or seriousy hurt by a stoner who got behind the wheel and didn’t think he was hurting anyone either.

    If Lincecum gets busted for pot again, then MLB should step in, because at that point it’s starting to damage their reputation as well. But, as a first time offense, I guess I’m willing to let it slide – though in no way am I turning the other cheek.

  7. joejanish November 10, 2009 at 11:05 am
    Taylor, I’m going to assume you weren’t around for the Pittsburgh Drug Trials either. Back then, it WAS a witch hunt because MLB was gaining an image as a league full of “druggies”. MLB then did what it could do to rid itself of that image — and it took a good ten years. If you were a Mets fan back then you would remember the suspensions issued to Dwight Gooden among others — and would remember that the main reason the Mets were able to trade for Keith Hernandez was because he admitted to cocaine use at the drug trials, something that didn’t sit well with his manager and the St. Louis Cardinals.

    So I’m wondering if people who remember MLB in the 1980s have the same perceptions of drug use now. Also wondering if those same people are concerned that MLB no longer cares about an issue that was central to a negative image only 20 years ago.

  8. Matt November 12, 2009 at 12:11 am
    Seriously? It’s marijuana, it really doesn’t matter. Lincecum could spark up every 5 days after a game and he’d probably still be a dominant pitcher.

    As far as baseball players as role models, I agree that if a player gets busted for cocaine, or a more severe substance, it’s a big deal. I just don’t see weed as being in that category.

  9. joejanish November 12, 2009 at 12:40 am
    Matt – seriously? It’s marijuana, which is illegal in the USA w/o a prescription. That means it’s against the law, regardless of how you judge the substance. It’s illegal because it can affect a person’s judgment and performance, and can be habit-forming, and can lead to other addictions, such as to cocaine — which you agree is a “more severe” substance.

    Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter on LSD, but that didn’t make it OK.

    But you’re missing the point. As with the others who don’t think it’s a big deal, I’m going to assume you don’t remember or weren’t around for the major drug problems of the 1980s. Letting Lincecum and Geovany Soto and others skate is letting a small snowball gain in size as it rolls down the hill.

    Also what you are not getting is that the MLB drug policy prohibits marijuana, cocaine, LSD, and GHB, YET THEY DON’T TEST FOR IT ! That’s akin to posting a speed limit but letting everyone drive as fast as they want. What’s the point of a policy if you’re not going to “police” it ?

    Finally, MLBers make more money in a year than most people will see in their entire lives. They’re told they can’t take drugs. Is it such a difficult sacrifice, considering the money?

    I’d be very worried as a baseball owner or GM if someone I pay millions to play baseball needs to find an illegal way to “escape” or find temporary happiness. It’s a big red flag signifying a major personality flaw or weakness in character.

    But that’s just me — I’m one of those weirdos who gets “high on life” — so don’t read too much into it.

  10. isuzudude November 12, 2009 at 10:26 am
    “But that’s just me — I’m one of those weirdos who gets “high on life” — so don’t read too much into it.”

    Count me in as one of those weirdos as well.

    If nothing else this teaches us that the current culture – especially the younger generation – is more ‘tolerable’ and ‘receptive’ of potentially damaging, controversial, offensive, and illegal actions. They envision the ultimate liberty as being able to do whatever in tarnation you want, as long as you are not ‘directly’ hurting anyone else. And then we see the slippery slope develop, or the cascading snowball as you put it Joe, in which marijuana is viewed as ok, and then it’s cocaine, and then it’s shrooms, and acid, and meth, and on and on. Hey, as long as you’re not hurting anyone by getting high then no one should have a problem with it, right? I guess you have to be a stoner to buy into that logic.

  11. nc January 4, 2010 at 9:30 pm
    If I’m paying some 25 year older millions (or will be sooooon enough) its MY business where when and how he takes a shit……get over this “none of their business crap” He WORKS for me…..I OWN him. He doesn’t like it…..well, he can go work as a waiter somewhere.