Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Review of "The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven"

Every now and then, it is good to pick up an older book to read about some part of sports history that may not be remembered so well.  The cocaine scandals in baseball of the 1980's are one such incident, and this book from 2010 is a excellent account of it.



“The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven: How a Ragtag Group of Fans Took the Fall for Major League Baseball” by Aaron Skirboll
Baseball, Pirates, history, drugs, legal

Publish date:
July 27, 2010

296 pages

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)


While baseball’s most notable controversy over drugs was about performance enhancement drugs, there was one in the 1980’s over the rampant use of cocaine by major league players.  Many star players from that era, such as Keith Hernandez, Lonnie Smith and Dave Parker, were called to testify at the trials of seven citizens on felony charges stemming from their interactions with many of these players.  This book on the “hero worship” by some of these men as well as a vivid description of the trial of Curtis Strong (where the players testified) is an excellent account of that period.
The author, Aaron Skirbol, does his homework and his legwork in capturing the stories of many of these men, such as Kevin Koch and Dale Shiffman.  Koch was able to get close to the players as the mascot of the Pittsburgh Pirates and as a result he was able to invite others to the inner world of drugs, parties, women and fantastic nightlife.  Something that Skirbol does well is illustrate that these men, who eventually were all given prison sentences, didn’t make much money off of these deals. The interviews with them and several others paint the players as cheap and not paying the men the agreed upon price time and time again. 
Something else Skirbol does with some skillful writing is to connect the cocaine scandal of the 1980’s to the use of “greenies” in the 1960’s and 1970’s as well as the steroid use of the 1990’s.  One overriding theme made during the book – the player’s union resistance to allowing drug testing made these scandals possible. 
The best part of the book, however, is the trial of Strong.  His attorney stated that he would show that he was going to put Major League baseball on trial and show that his client was not the one who should be ashamed.  While Strong was eventually found guilty, Skirbol’s account of the trial illustrated that it was exactly as the defense intended – baseball itself was the true loser of this trial as the shine on many of its stars became very tarnished.  Readers interested in this slice of baseball history should read this book.
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle) 

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