Baseball and ADHD?

Do baseball players have ADHD?

You bet they do.

The story of one such player, Andres Torres, the NY Mets talented centerfielder and lead-off hitter, is so inspirational that a documentary movie is being made about his life. Due for completion this summer, “Gigante” is the story of a poor kid growing up in Puerto Rico, determined to make it to the major leagues.  Andres starts the minor leagues at age 20, but despite a world of talent and determination, he flounders there. Making matters worse, he genuinely seems to be a really good guy.  As one of the owners of the Giants (and a major force behind making the movie) put it, “Andres was one of the most charismatic and caring individuals I’d come across.”  His frustration and lack of success were all the more disheartening.  He would struggle this way for nearly ten years, an eternity for an aspiring major leaguer and usually the sign of a player who will never get to the “bigs”.

There was some hope five years into his minor league career, after he was diagnosed with ADHD.  He finally understood the reason for the inconsistencies that held him back.  While this must have been a relief to him and his coaches, his effort to try medication did not succeed and, perhaps not fully accepting the diagnosis, he continued to struggle.  Five more years of futility followed, and another baseball official (from his fourth minor league organization) suggested he should try medication again.  Now he was more accepting of it and this time, thankfully, the medication worked. The next season he hit over 300 and shortly thereafter got his big break: a major league call up to the San Francisco Giants. A rookie at 30 years old!  He ended up playing there for three successful seasons, including being an integral part of the World Champion Giants in 2010, before his trade to the Mets last year.

Andres Torres is a wonderful and inspiring example, not only of successfully overcoming the effects of ADHD, but also of how persistence, dedication and overcoming obstacles can help to achieve a dream.  He also appears to be as much a hero for his willingness to go public about his ADHD as he is for his long struggle to get to the majors.

As he told the NY Times (in an article by Andrew Keh, December 17, 2011): “A lot of people who have this condition, they don’t want to talk about it, and that’s fine, and I respect that,” said Torres, who hopes his candor about ADHD will help remove its stigma.  “But I am who I am, and I don’t feel bad about it.  That’s why I’m doing this.”

I think the term “hero” is used much too loosely when it comes to athletes these days, but in this case, Andres Torres is a hero in more ways than one

Major League Baseball deserves a lot of credit too.  In that same NY Times article there was a remarkable statistic. Given the controversy over performance enhancing drugs in the past, it would not be surprising to learn that Major League Baseball bans the use of stimulant medication (and drugs, of course, like steroids) and randomly tests for them. Last year, there were 111 major league players who were granted a “therapeutic use exemption” to take otherwise banned substances.  One hundred and five of those exemptions were for players getting medication for ADHD.  Yes, one hundred and five! By our calculation, that would represent between 7% and 8% of all major leaguers. In other words, if you look closely into any major league dugout, two or three of the players on the average (out of 25 at any given time on a major league roster) will be using stimulant medication to treat their ADHD. That’s about what you would predict based on a conservative estimate of the percentage of people in the general population who likely have ADHD.

Major League Baseball, perhaps more than many other organizations, seems to have moved past the fears and prejudice many in our culture have about ADHD and taking medication for it (please see previous blogs on this page citing several media articles this year alone railing against the use of medication).  Baseball should be as proud as Andres Torres for its’ support and understanding.

Doug Pentz, PhD
Affinity Center Co-director

Watch Dr. Pentz discuss ADHD, baseball, and Andres Torres.