On a cold 1980 morning in Pittsburgh, Sam McDowell, formerly a
six-time major league All-Star and one of the most dynamic
pitchers of his generation, was coming out of a drunken stupor.
He was living with his parents in his childhood home, selling
insurance from nine to five and drinking ravenously. His wife had
taken their two children and left him, and he was $190,000 in
debt. He made himself a pot of coffee and sat on a couch. For the
next six hours he stared at the wall and muttered, "You beat me!
You beat me! You beat me!"
"I had no idea what I was doing," he says now. "I was miserable
with what I'd become." When he finally sobered up, McDowell told
his parents something they'd been anxious to hear for many years:
"I need help." That afternoon, McDowell entered an alcohol
rehabilitation center. He has been sober ever since.
Known as Sudden Sam for his blazing fastball, the 6'5" lefthander
pitched in the majors from 1961 through '75--with the Cleveland
Indians, San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees and Pittsburgh
Pirates--and over the last six years of that career he rarely met
an alcoholic beverage he didn't guzzle. Although he says he never
drank on the night before a game, McDowell, who struck out 325
batters in 273 innings in 1965 and won 20 games in '70 before
struggling with a torn rotator cuff, considered the other
evenings of the week endless happy hours.
He retired after baseball's 24 franchises unofficially
excommunicated him for his uncontrollable drinking. Though he had
a 141--134 career record and a startling average of 8.86
strikeouts per nine innings (fourth best in big league history),
he was unwanted.
February 17, 2003
Shortly after he entered rehab, he earned an associate's degree
in sports psychology and addictions from Pitt, and became a
certified addictions counselor. From 1981, the year of his
divorce, through '98, he served as a sports psychology and
employee assistance counselor for the Texas Rangers and the
Toronto Blue Jays, while also working as a consultant for the
Baseball Assistance Team and the Major League Baseball Players'
For the last seven months McDowell, who remarried last May, has
been chairman and CEO--and a resident--of City of Legends in
Clermont, Fla., a new retirement community for former athletes
and others. "I don't think there's an athlete over 50 without a
limp," says McDowell, 60. "It's the kind of place a lot of us
One thing he doesn't need is adulation. He declines to appear at
autograph shows or reminisce about his playing days. "I could
have been a better player had I not drank," McDowell says. "But
recovery brought me to a new place in life. I regret
nothing." --Jeff Pearlman
McDowell won 20 games in 1970 and averaged 8.86 strikeouts per
nine innings in a career that was curtailed by a drinking