BALTIMORE, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- It appears the use of the controversial stimulant ephedra has been banned by Major League Baseball in the minors.
Ephedra is an herbal supplement linked that has been linked to the recent death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler.
The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday that the ban was implemented Monday, and has been transmitted to the front offices of the 30 major league teams over the past two days. The ban covers all players in the minor leagues and those not on 40-man rosters.
"It's great news," Orioles Vice President of Baseball Operations Mike Flanagan told the paper.
Players on baseball's 40-man rosters are governed by the Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement, which does not include the ban. Minor league players are not in a union, and have been tested for drugs by baseball for several years.
Ephedra has been mentioned as a contributing factor to the death of Bechler, who collapsed from heatstroke on Feb. 16 during a spring training workout in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and died the following day.
The substance has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and seizures.
Ephedra, which is available without a prescription, is banned by the NFL, NCAA, and the International Olympic Committee. The Players Association has voiced its opposition to any ban, and it was not part of the new collective bargaining agreement reached last summer.
The union said it will wait for the toxicology reports from Bechler's autopsy before re-examining its stance on ephedra.
Bechler's widow said this week that she plans to sue the manufacturer of the dietary supplement Xenadrine RFA-1, which contains ephedra. Bechler was believed to be taking the supplement before his death.
Cowboys say goodbye to Emmitt Smith
IRVING, Texas, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The Dallas Cowboys Thursday released veteran running back Emmitt Smith, the most accomplished player in the illustrious history of the franchise.
Like many other veterans, his release was a salary cap move.
There had been speculation for months about Smith's status with the Cowboys because of his age and contract. He turns 34 in May and was due a base salary of $7 million next season, with a salary cap figure of $9.8 million.
Even with his release, Smith still will count $4.9 million against next season's salary cap.
Smith rushed for 975 yards and five touchdowns last season, his least productive campaign since his rookie year in 1990. He did surpass the late Walter Payton as the league's all-time rushing leader in October.
Smith, who has rushed for 17,162 yards and 153 touchdowns in his career, had expressed a desire after last season to continue his playing career, either with Dallas or another team.
The 11-time 1,000-yard rusher and four-time rushing champion was a member of three Super Bowl winning teams for the Cowboys in the 1990s.
The 5-9, 212-pounder also is one of the NFL's most durable backs, and widely is recognized as one of toughest and hardest working players in league history.
Perhaps the best example of Smith's work ethic and determination came in the final game of the 1993 season when the Cowboys faced the New York Giants.
With the NFC East title and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs on the line, Smith separated his shoulder late in the first half, but remained in the game. He finished with 32 carries for 168 yards and 10 receptions for 61 yards, including a five-yard touchdown, in a 16-13 overtime win.
Smith followed by averaging 93.3 yards in three playoff games, culminating with an MVP performance against Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVIII, when he rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
The eight-time Pro Bowler never has played in fewer than 14 games in a season since he burst onto the NFL scene as a rookie in 1990 out of Florida.
Chargers axe Conway, Fletcher
SAN DIEGO, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The San Diego Chargers freed up some salary cap space Thursday by releasing six veteran players.
Conway joined the Chargers as an unrestricted free agent in 2000. His best season came in 2001, when he had 71 receptions for 1,125 yards and six touchdowns.
Conway made 57 catches for a team-high 852 yards and five touchdowns last year, but missed two games and parts of four others with a shoulder injury.
In three seasons with the Chargers, he had 181 receptions for 2,689 yards and 16 scores, and also rushed 17 times for 200 yards.
Fletcher began his tenure with the Chargers as a second-round pick out of Wisconsin in 1995. He was used both as a receiving and rushing threat during his eight seasons with the team.
Fletcher ranks 10th on the Chargers' all-time receptions list with 259 for 1,943 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also rushed 526 times for 1,871 yards and 10 scores.
San Diego also tendered contract offers to offensive tackle Damion McIntosh, defensive tackle Leonardo Carson, wide receivers Dondre Gilliam and Eric Parker, fullback Joey Goodspeed, and guards Michael Keathley and Kevin House.
They did not tender offers to running back Ronney Jenkins and cornerback David Sanchez.
Peterson waived by Steelers
PITTSBURGH, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers made another major roster move Thursday, releasing veteran placekicker Todd Peterson.
He joined the team last year as an unrestricted free agent from the Kansas City Chiefs.
Peterson converted 12-of-21 field-goal and 25-of-26 PAT attempts with a long FG of 46 yards. He was placed on the reserve injured list Nov. 19 after fracturing his ribs in the Nov. 17 Tennessee contest.
In nine NFL seasons, Peterson missed two extra points in 260 attempts while converting 77.8 percent of his field-goal attempts (182-of-234).
The team also made one-year qualifying offers to four players -- defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy, linebacker Clark Haggins, fullback Dan Kreider, and cornerback Hank Poteat.
Pittsburgh has the right to match any offers from other teams. They would also receive compensation for everyone except Keider, who originally was not drafted by the Steelers.
Walls, Carolina part company
CHARLOTTE, N.C., Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Tight end Wesley Walls, the career touchdown leader of the Carolina Panthers, Wednesday was released by the club.
By releasing Walls, the Panthers will save $2.3 million against the 2003 salary cap.
General Manager Marty Hurney indicated there is a possibility that Walls could re-sign.
"Wesley has been a special player for the Carolina Panthers and one of the best tight ends in league history," Hurney said. "We respect everything he has accomplished, and hope that it works out that he will be back with us."
Coach John Fox said the decision reflected a philosophical change at tight end.
"Blocking is emphasized at tight end in our system, and Wesley's strength is receiving," Fox said. "He is one of the best of all time. I have only had the opportunity to work with Wesley one season, but saw the work ethic and determination that made him a great player."
Walls, 36, spent seven seasons with the Panthers, garnering Pro Bowl honors a team-record five times. He had 324 receptions for 3,450 yards and 44 touchdowns during his tenure at Carolina.
Last season, he had just 19 catches for 241 yards and four scores in 15 games.
Walls, who also has played for San Francisco and New Orleans, is one of five tight ends in NFL history with more than 400 receptions and 50 touchdowns. In 14 seasons, he has 430 receptions for 5,069 yards and 53 touchdowns.
Bears dump Miller, Williams
LAKE FOREST, Ill., Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Quarterback Jim Miller, who keyed the Chicago Bears' playoff drive in 2001, was released Wednesday, along with offensive tackle James "Big Cat" Williams.
The oft-injured Miller led the Bears to an 11-2 record as a starter in 2001, setting career highs in passes (395), completions (228), yards (2,299), and touchdowns (13).
Originally signed by Chicago for the final four games of the 1998 season, Miller posted a 15-11 record over the last four years. He was limited to eight starts in 2002 because of a series of injuries, and ended the season on injured reserve.
Three of Miller's four seasons with Chicago ended prematurely.
He also finished 2000 on IR, and was suspended for the final four games of the 1999 campaign for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, an alleged use of steroids that he denied.
Williams has spent his entire 12-year career with the Bears, starting the past nine seasons at right tackle after being signed as an undrafted defensive lineman in 1991.
The 6-7, 332-pounder, whose release had been expected, started every game in 2002, extending his string of consecutive starts to 134 and games played to 144.
Williams, who made the transition to offense midway through the 1992 season, was elected to the Pro Bowl following the 1991 campaign, when the Bears won the NFC Central Division title with a 13-3 record.
He was the longest tenured player on the Chicago roster, and was due a $500,000 bonus on March 1 as he entered the final year of a four-year, $17 million contract.
"It's unfortunate that these types of decisions have to be made," said General Manager Jerry Angelo. "Both players are highly regarded and well respected by our fans and obviously by our organization. We wish them well and have nothing but positive feelings. Both professionally and personally they've been great contributors to our football team and our community. We've agonized over these things really the last couple of months. We made sure that we talked through them thoroughly, gave ourselves some time to think about it. We had to make a decision and (Wednesday) was the day to act."
Ward, Russell let loose by Dolphins
DAVIE, Fla., Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The Miami Dolphins have terminated the contracts of linebacker Twan Russell and wide receiver Dedric Ward.
They were among five cuts made by Miami as teams make moves to get down to the estimate salary cap limit of $74.8 million.
The other cuts were guard James Wagstaff, wide receiver Joey Getheral, and offensive lineman Jim Bundren, who failed his physical.
A team spokesman told the Miami Herald that the Dolphins now are under the cap.
Meanwhile, the talks with the agent of star linebacker Zack Thomas remain unsettled.
Rick Spielman, the team's Vice President of Football Operations, told the paper that reaching a deal with Thomas before Thursday's cap deadline is unlikely.
"We told the Dolphins we'd be willing to be flexible on the payout in a new contract," Thomas' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told the paper. "Zack doesn't have to have an eight-figure signing bonus."
The Herald reported that Thomas is due to count $6.914 million against the cap this season, the final year of his contract, which includes a combined base salary and roster bonus of $5 million this season.
The roster bonus of $300,000 is not due until March 15.
Ward, a 5-9, 185-pounder, caught 36 passes in two seasons with the Dolphins. He is a six-year veteran out of Northern Iowa who also has played for the New York Jets.
He has 159 career receptions for 2,196 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Russell, a University of Miami graduate who played predominantly on special teams, spent most of last season on injured reserve with a knee injury.
49ers axe Stubblefield
SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The San Francisco 49ers have released veteran defensive tackle Dan Stubblefield and guard Dave Fiore.
The moves were necessary for the 49ers, who were more than $6 million over the NFL's projected $74.8 million salary cap for the 2003 season.
"It's never an easy thing to do, but Dave and Dana handled it with class," said General Manager Terry Donahue. "We had great assistance from our seven other players who agreed to restructure their contracts to help us out. We're excited to get this plan over with and now we can move on."
San Francisco also restructured the contracts of seven players, including quarterback Jeff Garcia and defensive end Andre Carter, in order to get under the cap.
Donahue said the team now will focus heavily on the draft and will look at the available free agents, although he added he doesn't expect the team to be major players in the free agent market.
"We'd like to keep as many of our players as we can," said Donahue. "We're not going to be real active in the free agent market, but that doesn't mean we won't look at upgrading the team. We'll just do it selectively in free agency while we focus on getting younger, faster and healthier."
Stubblefield, the 1997 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, started 15 games last season, collecting 43 tackles and three sacks while playing alongside Bryant Young.
Fiore was a starter the last three seasons, but he played in just three games in 2002 because of a knee injury. He was a left tackle in 1999 and right guard in 2000 and 2001 before being switched to left guard last season.
Report: Celtics to suspend Baker
BOSTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Forward Vin Baker of the Boston Celtics is about to be suspended so that he can deal with problems that include alcohol-related issues.
The Boston Globe has reported that Baker will meet with his teammates and coaching staff Thursday morning and begin serving a suspension that will last at least two weeks.
"We're going to talk about some things," Baker, 31, told the paper. "Coach (Jim) O'Brien and I have some things to talk about. I haven't spoken to anybody yet. We're going to talk Thursday. There won't be anything negative. It will be full of positives."
Baker told the Globe that he is not retiring or taking a buyout from the team. When asked if he would be with the team for the remainder of the season, Baker said, "Yes."
He has not appeared in the Celtics' last three games, including a 71-69 win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.
A suspension would be another setback in an already disappointing campaign for Baker, who was acquired last summer in a trade with Seattle. He was given a four-year, $56.25 million contract, but is averaging just 5.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 18.1 minutes per game this season.
February has been a particularly difficult month for Baker.
He missed a home game against the Sonics on Feb. 5 for "lightheadedness," but later, it was revealed that he had heart palpitations.
The Celtics are 32-25, and in third place in the Atlantic Division, five games behind first-place New Jersey.
Dooling to IR
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The Los Angeles Clippers Thursday placed guard Keyon Dooling on the injured list with a foot injury and activated center Wang Zhizhi.
In his third season with the Clippers, Dooling is averaging 6.1 points and 1.8 assists per game in 48 contests this season. He missed the last four games with the injury, diagnosed as a left plantar fascia strain.
Wang sat out the past five contests with lower back spasms. He is averaging 3.8 points and 1.7 rebounds in 23 contests in his first season with the Clippers.
Kings put Chartrand on IR
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Center Brad Chartrand, who has missed the last three games with a back sprain, Thursday became the latest member of the Los Angeles Kings to land on injured reserve.
Including Chartrand, the Kings now have seven players on IR. Center Jason Allison, right wing Adam Deadmarsh, and goaltender Felix Potvin are among those currently sidelined.
Chartrand, 28, has appeared in 51 games this season, recording eight goals and six assists. He was signed by Los Angeles as a free agent on July 21, 1999. He has played in 151 career games in his NHL career, all with the Kings.
To take Chartrand's roster spot, the Kings recalled center Jerred Smithson, 24, from Manchester of the American Hockey League.
Smithson made his NHL debut on Dec. 29, 2002, but failed to score a point in four games.
He was signed as a free agent by the Kings in 2000, and registered four goals and 21 assists in 25 contests for Manchester.