November 18, 1979|
|Died: February 17, 2003
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
|Batted: Right||Threw: Right|
|September 6, 2002 for the Baltimore Orioles|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 22, 2002 for the Baltimore Orioles|
|Earned run average||13.50|
After starring for the South Medford High School baseball team, the Orioles selected Bechler in the third round of the 1998 MLB Draft. Following five seasons in Minor League Baseball, Bechler made his major league debut with the Orioles in 2002. Attending spring training in 2003, he died of heat stroke while participating in conditioning drills.
A medical examiner found that Bechler's use of ephedra as a weight-loss supplement contributed to his death. Following this revelation, the Food and Drug Administration opened an inquiry, which resulted in the banning of ephedra products in the United States.
Bechler was born on November 18, 1979, in Medford, Oregon, to Ernest and Patricia Bechler. He had three brothers. At the age of seven, he began playing baseball. As a youth, he competed in the Medford American Little League, Babe Ruth League, and American Legion Baseball. He was a member of the 1997 American Legion World Series champions. Bechler suffered from asthma as a child, and endured heatstrokes while in high school.
Heading into the 1998 Major League Baseball Draft, Baseball America rated Bechler the best high school prospect from the state of Oregon. The Baltimore Orioles selected him in the third round draft. Bechler signed with the Orioles, receiving a $257,000 signing bonus. He made his professional debut in Minor League Baseball with the Gulf Coast Orioles of the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League that year. He pitched for the Delmarva Shorebirds of the Class A South Atlantic League in 1999, and for the Frederick Keys of the Class A-Advanced Carolina League in 2000. In 2001, he pitched for Frederick, and was named a Carolina League All-Star. He did not appear in the All-Star Game, as he was promoted to the Rochester Red Wings of the Class AAA International League. After struggling in two outings for Rochester, he was demoted to the Bowie Baysox of the Class AA Eastern League, where he remained for the rest of the season. After the 2001 season, the Orioles assigned Bechler to the Maryvale Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League. The Orioles added Bechler to their 40-man roster to protect him from being eligible in the Rule 5 draft.
In 2002, Bechler pitched for Bowie and Rochester. He had a 2–1 win–loss record with a 3.42 earned run average (ERA) with Bowie and 6–11 record and a 4.09 ERA with Rochester. At the end of the minor league season, the Orioles promoted Bechler to the major leagues. He appeared in three games for the Orioles, pitching 4 2⁄3 innings, in which he allowed six hits, four walks, three home runs, and recorded three strikeouts. He suffered a strained hamstring in his final appearance.
On October 22, 2002, Bechler married Kiley Mae Nixon at Community Bible Church in Central Point, Oregon. The couple was expecting a child at the time of his death. His daughter, Hailie, was born in April 2003.
On February 16, 2003, towards the beginning of Orioles' spring training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Bechler collapsed while participating in conditioning drills. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, and died the next day. His body temperature had reached 108 °F (42 °C). An autopsy performed by Dr. Joshua Perper, a toxicologist serving as the medical examiner for Broward County, concluded that his death was caused by "'abnormal liver function and mild hypertension', his weight problem (he weighed 230 pounds and was exercising hard), the fact that he was not used to south Florida's warm weather and the toxicity of ephedra. He was using the supplement ephedra, against the advice of his trainer, and probably had not eaten in two days in an effort to lose weight.
At the time of Bechler's death, ephedra was banned by the International Olympic Committee, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the National Football League, but not by Major League Baseball. Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball, called for a ban of ephedrine in the wake of Bechler's death. Numerous teams banned the use of ephedra in team clubhouses. Following Bechler's death, the Food and Drug Administration, which had previously chosen not to ban ephedra, re-opened its efforts to regulate ephedra use. The United States Congress dropped its objections to banning ephedra, and Bechler's parents testified in front of Congress. The FDA announced its decision to ban ephedra on December 30.
Bechler was cremated following his death. On the six month anniversary of his death, Kiley scattered his ashes on the pitcher's mound of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. She filed a wrongful death claim against Nutraquest, the manufacturers of the supplement, seeking $600 million in damages. The lawsuit against Nutraquest was suspended in October 2003 when the company filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the United States Code.
The Steve Bechler Scholarship Fund was begun by Bechler's parents in his memory. The fund receives money from South Medford businesses to help South Medford High School graduates afford college.
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