At 6 a.m. on April 7, Pirate reliever Don Robinson was awakened by a knock on the door of his room in the Los Angeles Biltmore. When he answered it, he saw his best friend standing there. Rod Scurry looked at Robinson and said, "I need help."
Six weeks and a stay in Aliquippa, Pa.'s Gateway Rehabilitation Center later, the mask that hid Scurry's five-year addiction to cocaine is gone. The 28-year-old Pirate lefthander had pitched around his dependency for a long time—in 1982, he was one of the best southpaw relievers in the National League (1.74 ERA and 14 saves in 76 games)—but last season (5.56, seven, 61) it caught up with him. Scurry's face still has a hard edge to it, but the windows to his newly cleansed soul are again a soft, clear green. "Cocaine started making my body feel so good, I got to where I depended on it," he says. "I didn't want coke, but my body did."
Before the Pirates chose him No. 1 in the June 1974 free-agent draft, Scurry had drunk beer only twice in his life. In time—bored and lonely—he was knocking down as many as 12 a night. While at Class AAA Portland in 1979, he decided he wanted a new drug. "Sure, I remember the first time," Scurry says. "I went fishing at 5 a.m. I had one gram of cocaine with me. I just wanted to try it. It was kind of like having your first beer. The stuff I had that day wasn't that good. I wanted to try something better."
And so it began, slowly at first, then two or three toot sessions a week. Eventually, it became a daily obsession. "At the end," Scurry says, "the stuff I was doing was enough to kill you. I tried to quit 15 or 20 times. I would think, 'You don't have a problem. You don't have a problem.' I would quit for two or three days to reassure myself. Then I couldn't go without it any longer."
May 27, 1984
In 1982, Scurry snorted a gram before a game against Houston, came on in relief and held the Astros scoreless. "I said, 'Well, it won't affect me when I pitch,' " he recalls. "In '83, I was trying it before games and it started to take its toll. I would do a bit of running and figure I'd sweat it out. But it got to where I was so tired, I was dozing off while standing up in the outfield when I was shagging flies. I fell asleep in the pen anywhere from 20 to 25 times. They would wake me up when it was time to pitch."
Nobody knew what he was doing because Scurry, by nature an introvert, wasn't talking. Says Kent Tekulve, Scurry's bullpen mate, "I've got three young kids. If I don't notice it in a guy who I work with every day for several years, how am I going to notice if my kids get in trouble?" Even Robinson, who has been Scurry's best friend since 1977, two years after they met in the Instructional League, had no idea. "Last year I didn't really confront him," he says. "I didn't think there was a problem."
When Scurry returned to his parents' home in Sparks, Nev., where he lived, after last season, "I had all that free time to get into trouble," he says. Scurry rented a room at a local hotel when he wanted to get high, which was about four times a week. "I never slept there," he says. "I sat there with the TV going, doing cocaine. I would go back to my parents' home in the morning, when nobody was there, and try to sleep. I didn't dare answer the phone. I'd have had to talk to somebody. When they did come home I'd tell them, 'I have to go meet somebody.' "
Early in February, Scurry decided he had had enough. "I did so much one night—I was sitting in my hotel room and I wanted help so desperately and I couldn't go get it—I sat there and cried, hoping somebody would come get me. I went home the next morning and talked to my parents, and I decided to quit baseball. I wasn't strong enough to get help. I figured I'd quit drinking and that would make me stop. I went four days, and I couldn't take it. I started drinking again."
On Thursday, April 5, in Pittsburgh's second game of the year. Scurry came in with a 6-3 fourth-inning lead, the bases loaded, and walked two Padres on eight pitches. One of his runners scored, and the Pirates lost 8-6. "We went to L.A. that night, and I had it all set up to get more coke," Scurry says. "I called my dad, and I thought I said goodby, but I just passed out on the phone. My dad called Don up and said, 'You better go check on Rod.' "
"I gave him four choices," Robinson says: "1) Quit on your own, and I'll room with you, 2) keep doing it and screw all of us, 3) keep doing it and get caught, or 4) get help." They talked for two hours and Scurry called his connection and canceled his order. To celebrate, Scurry and Robinson walked across the hall to Robinson's room and ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon, cheese and crackers. Then, Scurry returned to his room, closed the door, went to the phone, called his connection and told him to send the coke.
The next night, after the Pirates beat the Dodgers 3-1, Robinson warned Scurry, "If you show up at the park Saturday like you did Thursday, that's it. I'm going to Chuck [Tanner, the manager]." Robinson sat in his room with the door open, watching Scurry's room to make sure no one arrived with coke. He closed the door and went to sleep at 1:30 a.m., not knowing that Scurry had already gotten the stuff. The next morning, having snorted 15 to 20 grams of cocaine in the past 2½ days, Scurry knocked on his teammate's door.
"Baseball used to be the only thing I cared about," Scurry says. "Now I pray in the morning and I pray at night. The Lord is No. 1, then myself, then my family and friends." But he holds a special place for Robinson, who invited Scurry to live with him, his wife and two children for a while. "I love Don Robinson," says Scurry.
Last Thursday, having made two successful relief appearances since being reactivated four days earlier, Scurry sat in the lobby of the Nashua (N.H.) Country Club during a reception for the Pirates, who were in town to play an exhibition with their Class AA farm team. A woman walked over and asked him to sign his picture for her son. "Dear Shawn," he wrote. "May all your-decisions in life be the right ones. Rod Scurry."