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Pittsburgh drug trials: Wikis


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The Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985 were the catalyst for a baseball-related cocaine scandal which resulted in the harshest Major League Baseball penalties since the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Several Pittsburgh PiratesDale Berra, Lee Lacy, Lee Mazzilli, John Milner, Dave Parker, and Rod Scurry — and other notable major league players — Willie Mays Aikens, Vida Blue, Enos Cabell, Keith Hernandez, Jeffrey Leonard, Tim Raines, and Lonnie Smith — were called before a Pittsburgh grand jury. Their testimony led to the drug trials, which made national headlines in September 1985.



The players were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony. Ex-Pirate John Milner talked about getting amphetamines from Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Willie Stargell. Milner added that he bought two grams of cocaine for $200 in the bathroom stalls at Three Rivers Stadium during a Pirates-Houston Astros game in 1980. Keith Hernandez revealed he'd used cocaine for three years. Hernandez added that about 40 percent of all Major League Baseball players were using cocaine at the time. Hernandez however, quickly backtracked by saying that he might have been "grossly wrong." Tim Raines told how he'd keep a gram of coke in his uniform pocket (as well as revealing that he snorted during games), and that he only slid into bases headfirst as not to break the vial.[1]

Testimony also revealed that Rod Scurry once went looking for cocaine during the late innings of a Pirates game. Drug dealers frequented the Pirates' clubhouse. Even the Pirate Parrot, Kevin Koch, was implicated for buying cocaine and introducing a few of the ballplayers to a local drug dealer.


Curtis Strong and six Pittsburgh men were convicted and found guilty of 11 counts of distributing cocaine. Strong received a 12-year prison sentence but was ultimately released after serving just four years. Dale Shiffman from Pittsburgh was indicted on 111 counts, pled guilty to 20, was sentenced to 12 years and served twenty-four months.


On February 28, 1986, Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth handed down suspensions to 11 players—seven for a full season. All avoided the suspensions by agreeing to donate a small percentage of their 1986 salaries to a drug program and do community service work. The players who were suspended for a full year were allowed to play under the condition that they donated 10 percent of their base salaries to drug-related community service, submitted to random drug testing, and contributed 100 hours of drug-related community service:

In July 1987, Smith told the Kansas City Times that under his agreement with the Commissioner of baseball he was supposed to be tested six to eight times per-year but had not been tested to-date in 1987. More so, he strongly disagreed with Ueberroth that baseball was free from drugs.[2]

The four players who were suspended for just 60 days were allowed to play if they donated 5 percent of base salaries and contributed 50 hours of drug-related community service:

Peter Ueberroth also asked every player to submit to voluntary urine tests. Ultimately, the Players Association thwarted that plea.

The dealers

Seven drug dealers pleaded guilty or were convicted of selling cocaine to players:

  • Shelby Greer, 49, of Mt. Washington: Pleaded guilty to seven criminal counts.
  • Dale Shiffman, 54, of Baldwin: Pleaded guilty to 20 criminal counts. Spent 24 months in the federal penitentiary.
  • Thomas P. Balzer: Pleaded guilty to selling cocaine. Sentenced to 18 months in prison.
  • Kevin M. Connolly: Pleaded guilty to selling cocaine. Sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.
  • Jeffrey L. Mosco, 49, of Shaler: Pleaded guilty to three drug-related counts. Spent 18 months in prison.
  • Robert W. "Rav" McCue: Convicted on seven counts of cocaine distribution.
  • Curtis Strong: Convicted on 11 counts of selling cocaine.

In September 2006, Shiffman & Koch were interviewed on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in a segment entitled Under the Influence.


Several players went on to rejuvenated careers in the wake of the scandal:

Others continued to struggle with substance abuse:

  • Rod Scurry died from a cocaine-related heart attack in 1992 at the age of 36.
  • Willie Aikens was convicted in 1994 of selling crack cocaine and sentenced to 20 years in prison (Was released on June 4, 2008).
  • Lary Sorensen, after a sixth drunk driving conviction, was sentenced to more than two years in prison in 2005.[3]


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