MLB

The Tragic Death of Former Baltimore Orioles Pitcher Steve Bechler

Steve Bechler had finally gotten a taste of what it was like to pitch under the bright lights of Major League Baseball. He was entering spring training with a focus on making the Baltimore Orioles roster and not playing in their farm system any longer. Bechler was 23 years old and entering his sixth year of professional ball. During a spring training workout in 2003, Bechler collapsed and never recovered.

Steve Bechler’s baseball career

25 Feb 2002: Steve Bechler of the Baltimore Orioles poses for a picture at media day at Ft. Lauderdale Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Fernando Medina/Getty Images

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Steve Bechler was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the third round of the 1998 MLB draft. Bechler was a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher out of South Medford High School in Oregon. He made his pro debut with the Gulf Coast Orioles that season.

In 2001, Bechler pitched for the Frederick Keys of the Class A (advanced) Carolina League. For Frederick, he shined, becoming a Carolina League All-Star after going 5-2 with a 2.27 earned run average. Bechler, however, never got to pitch in the all-star game as he was promoted to the Orioles’ AAA team, the Rochester Red Wings.

After he struggled with Rochester, he was sent down to the AA Bowie Baysox. In 2002, Bechler split time between Bowie and Rochester and earned a September call-up with the Orioles. With Baltimore, Bechler pitched 4.2 innings over three games. He recorded three strikeouts and had a 13.50 ERA.

Bechler’s tragic death during spring training

According to ESPN, Bechler was 6-foot-2 and 239 pounds. His conditioning was “not good,” according to then-manager Mike Hargrove. He was with the Baltimore Orioles during a Sunday spring-training workout and the temperature was 81 degrees.

The workout left Bechler pale and feeling dizzy. When his condition worsened, he was taken from the clubhouse to an ambulance on a stretcher. He spent the night in intensive care and was pronounced dead at 10:10 a.m. Monday. Orioles team physician William Goldiner said Bechler died of “multi-organ failure due to heatstroke.”

According to Hargrove, the pitcher fell down during a workout and didn’t look that good. “He was about 60 percent of the way through it when we noticed that he was a little white-faced,” Hargrove said. “He was leaning against a fence … which isn’t unusual when guys get tired. We put him on a cart and brought him in and called the paramedics.”

Supplement led to Bechler’s death

Initially, Bechler’s death was thought to have been from heatstroke, but it turned out to be more than that. According to The Baltimore Sun, a medical examiner later ruled that the death was caused, in part, by an over-the-counter diet supplement Bechler was taking to lose weight. His death eventually led to the ban of products containing ephedra, a stimulant once common in diet pills.

That led to a lawsuit filed by Bechler’s widow against the manufacturer of Xenadrine RFA-1. That suit was settled out of court. William Goldiner, the Orioles team doctor who spent the night with Bechler at the hospital, was clearly affected by Bechler’s death. “I’m sure it will stick with me forever,” he said.

“If there is a good thing about the whole thing it’s the fact that the medical examiner came out very strongly, courageously, immediately implicating ephedra as the cause of this kid’s death,” Goldiner said.