Death of a Prospect: Steve Bechler, 1979-2003

by Darrell Carter

Pitching prospect Steve Scott Bechler, 23, died February 17 from multi-system organ failure while participating in Baltimore Orioles spring training workouts in Fort Lauderdale.

Dr. Joshua Perper, a Broward County, Fla. medical examiner, discovered during the autopsy the remnants of three capsules containing ephedra, also known as ma huang—an herbal derivative that contains the stimulant ephedrine. Bechler used the over-the-counter diet supplement, named Xenadrine RFA-1, on a regular basis to control his weight.

Bob Chinery, head of Cytodyne Technologies in Manasquan, New Jersey, which manufactures Xenadrine RFA-1, did not return phone calls when this reporter contacted his office to inquire about his company’s product.

A company advertisement states that the product can be used as an energy booster or for weight loss. A warning label on the product states that if you are at risk or being treated for high blood pressure, liver, heart condition, depression and other symptoms, the product should not be used.

Steve Bechler’s blood pressure was slightly high at 145 over 90 when taken the week before he died. (A normal blood pressure reading is 120 over 80.) According to Dr. Perper’s autopsy, Bechler had an abnormal liver. It is also known that Bechler was on a diet.

Physicians recommend that appetite suppressants and conventional or alternative diet supplements have medical clearance before use. It is not yet known if Bechler had such clearance.

A third-round selection in 1998, Bechler made his major league debut last September. He pitched in three games. In four innings, he walked four, struck-out three, and gave up three homeruns. He posted a 13.50 earned-run-average during his brief major league stint. He showed promise during his minor league career, posting a 35-48 won/lost record, while posting a 3.82 earned-run-average.

A 1998 graduate of South Medford (Ore.) High School, Bechler was team captain his final two years. He earned first team all-conference honors as a junior and senior, and was honorable mention all-state as a junior. He earned the Bob Feller Pitching Award at the American Legion World Series and was first team all-tournament.

Known as "Beck," Steve Bechler was married, and he and his wife were expecting their first child when he died.

Ephedrine is banned in the National Football League, National Collegiate Athletic Association, the International Olympic Committee, and FIFA (soccer). However, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League have taken no position on the substance.

Steve Bechler’s death has sent a warning through the sports world that supplements and boosters can have fatal consequences.

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This story was published on March 5, 2003.