NEW YORK -- Mets general manager Steve Phillips denied there is widespread drug use on the team following a report that at least seven players smoked marijuana this season.
"In my opinion, there is not rampant drug use on our major league roster," Phillips said Friday.
Tony Tarasco, Mark Corey and reliever Grant Roberts were identified by Newsday as among those who had used marijuana. The paper, which did not name any other Mets, cited unidentified sources close to the team.
"I guarantee you no one was in uniform and smoking marijuana, unless they were running around with a whole lot of Visine in their eyes," manager Bobby Valentine said. "I grew up in the '60s. I think I could tell by looking in a guys' eyes if he was smoking dope."
Valentine said he couldn't understand why a player would use marijuana before a game, and he did a silly impression of what it would be like to get in the batter's box while under the influence.
"Marijuana is not a performance enhancer. I don't think anybody would want to get in there and try to dodge a 95-mph fastball," he said. "Maybe I'm naive. Maybe afterwards. I don't know. I don't party with the guys."
A picture of Roberts smoking marijuana appeared in Newsday. Phillips said it was taken in the winter of 1998, while Roberts was in the minors.
The 25-year-old pitcher was visibly shaken as he spoke.
"I'd like to start by saying I'm sorry," Roberts said. "I'm embarrassed. I made a mistake. I apologize to the New York Mets organization and their fans. I love and respect this game. The picture you all saw, the woman who gave up the picture has also threatened me and tried to get me to give up other things, which I obviously have not."
Sam Levinson, Roberts' agent, said his client was the victim of extortion.
"Major league baseball security was notified about a month ago about this incident," Levinson said. "Grant was told that if he didn't pay, the picture would be released to the press. Obviously, he didn't pay, and the picture was released."
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Corey, traded to the Colorado Rockies in July, told Newsday he smoked marijuana just before having a seizure in a parking lot outside a hotel near Shea Stadium in June.
Phillips said the Mets have not traded players because of suspected drug use.
"We make baseball trades for baseball reasons," he said.
Several newspapers reported that Tarasco, who drove Corey to the hotel and was with the pitcher when he was stricken, had used marijuana with Corey.
"All I can go on is what I know -- and what I know is, two players had an incident earlier this year, and there is a picture in the paper of another player from four years ago," Phillips said.
Players on 40-man major league rosters are not subjected to random testing for marijuana. As part of their new labor agreement, players agreed to mandatory random testing starting next year for illegal steroids.
Players with minor league contracts are tested for drugs.
"I've been in the front office since 1990, and I've been aware of the results of every drug test since then," Phillips said. "There has never, never been significant evidence of rampant drug use in the New York Mets' minor league system. We know what's going on with our club. Our minor league system is the place we know."
Phillips would like to see big league players tested as well.
"I think it would be good for baseball if the rules were changed," Phillips said. "I would welcome it if the door was opened."
The general manager also took issue with the Newsday story.
"The Newsday report is based solely on anonymous sources," Phillips said. "We urge these sources to come to us with proof of their accusations so that we can investigate them. We're committed to doing everything we can to let our players, on both the minor league and major league levels, know of the danger to their careers of using drugs."
He denied a report in Newsday that minor leaguers were tipped off about supposedly random drug tests, calling the claim "ridiculous."
"I completely refute that," Phillips said. "As an organization, we want from top to bottom, a drug-free environment. The other unfortunate result of this is it kind of paints with a brush all of the players in that locker room, and that's not fair to them."
Newsday reported Valentine confronted Roberts about his suspected usage. The manager said that was untrue.
"If I told you guys I talked to Grant Roberts, maybe I was the one smoking that stuff," Valentine said. "I'm sorry if I miscommunicated that. For the record, I never talked to Grant."
New York (73-79), already eliminated from postseason contention, is ending a disappointing season that began with talk of contending for the playoffs.
The Mets, who lost 6-1 to the Montreal Expos, were obviously concerned by the report. They kept the clubhouse closed before batting practice, and did not allow reporters in until after a news conference to address the issue.
"It's like being charged with something and you're acquitted, but you're still charged," first baseman Mo Vaughn said. "We're going through so much all the way around, to wake up in the morning and see that, too, was kind of crazy. It's like every two weeks, every once a month, there's something. The organization doesn't need that. The game's hard enough without anything else going on."
Tarasco was unavailable for comment.
The Associated Press News Service
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