FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A weight-loss drug banned by many sports leagues but not major league baseball probably contributed to the heatstroke death of a Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect, a coroner said Tuesday.
Steve Bechler, 23, had been taking Xenadrine, an over-the-counter diet supplement, said Dr. Joshua Perper, the Broward County medical examiner. He said Xenadrine contains ephedrine, which has been linked to heatstroke and heart trouble.
Bechler died Monday, less than 24 hours after a spring training workout sent his temperature to 108. Perper said preliminary autopsy findings indicate the pitcher died from complications of heatstroke and that high blood pressure and liver abnormalities also contributed.
Toxicology tests to confirm whether ephedrine was in Bechler's system will not be complete for two to three weeks. But Perper urged baseball officials to join the NFL, NCAA and the International Olympic Committee in banning the substance.
Baseball spokesman Rich Levin said: "We're going to wait until we know more about what happened,"
Perper, who interviewed the player's family and Orioles officials, said he was told Bechler took three tablets each morning of Xenadrine RFA-1. Cytodyne Technologies, which makes Xenadrine, noted the recommended dosage is two capsules twice a day.
"Physicians warn that many adverse events related to ephedra are due to people taking more than the recommended dosages," the company said, referring to the stiumlant's herbal form. It said Xenadrine is safe when used as directed.
A bottle of Xenadrine was found in Bechler's locker after he became ill and shown to paramedics, Perper said. The contents couldn't be analyzed because the bottle was inadvertently thrown away by someone with the team, he said.
Major league teams have cautioned players in the past about the dangers of ephedrine. Medical personnel with the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants were among those warning players Tuesday about the risks.
Orioles team physician Dr. William Goldiner said he hopes the coroner's findings trigger a baseball ban.
"This is not just a problem of major league baseball," Goldiner said. "This is a problem of over-the-counter supplements that are dangerous, and they are unregulated to the point where you don't even know what's in some of these things."
A native of Medford, Ore., Bechler made his major league debut last September and was expected to begin this season with the club's new Triple-A affiliate in Ottawa. He and his wife, Kiley, were expecting their first child in April.
The 6-foot-2 Bechler had battled a weight problem since joining the Orioles organization and weighed 249 pounds Friday, 10 pounds above his listed weight. Struggling with his conditioning, he was unable to complete running drills Saturday and was scolded by manager Mike Hargrove.
For Hargrove, the challenge of resuming a routine was painfully familiar. He was manager of the Cleveland Indians 10 years ago when two players, Tim Crews and Steve Olin, died in a boat crash during spring training.
"Every circumstance is different," Hargrove said. "What we're having to go through is not nearly as difficult as what Kiley and the rest of the family are having to go through."