A Tragedy: Steve Howe

In my research into great Michigan players of the past, I found some players with full biographies, others with just scraps here and there.  Steve Howe was one of the latter.  Being a fairly recent major league player, at least when compared to someone like George Sisler, much of what’s available on Howe is all in the newspapers.  Today, I went and searched the news from 1976 to 2006 to find out more about Howe.  For some of you older readers, his story should be easily remembered.  For those of you who are younger, like me, Howe was the first major league player implicated in rampant cocaine abuse.  He was given chance after chance (7 to be exact), but he never could get things right.  This passage will be far too long to use at VarsityBlue, so I’m posting it in its entirety here.

The story is amazingly sad, but at certain points, you just stop feeling for the guy.  He really didn’t learn from his mistakes.

Steve Howe was Michigan’s ace during the 1978 College World Series run.  The lefty was on top of the world.  He went on to become the closer of the Los Angeles Dodgers and win Rookie of the Year in the National League.  He was set.  Then, his addictive personality switched gears from baseball to drugs.  Howe’s is a sad story of the talented ball player who fell from grace, but unlike other similar stories, his had no lukewarm, happy ending.

Howe, of Pontiac, Michigan, was a phenomenal left handed pitcher.  He came to Michigan and immediately began to see playing time.  His sophomore year saw him take over the reigns of the pitching staff.  As the ace, he went 10-2 during the regular season.  The tenth win was a 4-hit shut out of second place Michigan State to clench the BigTen title.  He also threw a 5-hit, 8 K performance in a complete game over rival Ohio State earlier in the season.  In the 1978 CWS, Howe kicked off the classic with a one-hit shut out of a Baylor team that had hit .300 on the season.  During the CWS, he would again enter as a relief pitcher in one of the Michigan losses.

The 1979 season, his junior year, was his last at Michigan.  His year was equally impressive, earning him All American status from The Sporting News.  He would go 15-1 with a 2.27 ERA.  He was the winningest pitcher in Michigan history.  This also set him up well with the upcoming draft.  The Los Angeles Dodgers took Steve in the first round with the 16th overall pick, a pick they acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates (they used their actual pick to take UM’s Steve Perry at #25 overall).  Howe immediately reported to the AA San Antonio Dodgers of the Texas League and posted a 6-2 record with a 3.13 ERA.  He threw 5 complete games out of his 13 starts, one of which was a shut out.

The following year, Howe made the jump to the big leagues.  Hoping to follow the success of 1979’s Rookie of the Year Rick Sutcliffe of the Dodgers, Steve Howe entered the majors as a relief pitcher.  By the middle of the season he had established himself as the teams closer.  For the year, he earned 17 saves, a rookie record.  Howe became the second Dodger pitcher in a row to win the NL Rookie of the Year (they would win 4 in a row).  In 1981, he continued his dominance all the way to the World Series.  The Dodgers would win it that year.

To end the 1982 season, Howe’s performance started to dip a little, and there was rumor of a shoulder injury.  During the off season though, it came public that Howe was being treated by The Meadows in Wickenburg, AZ, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic used by the Dodgers for their players and personnel.  He started the 1983 season well, recording 18 saves for the Dodgers, but players, agents, coaches, and his wife started to notice Howe’s off field behavior changing.  He was missing flights, missing banquets, and would go missing for periods of time.  At first, they believed it to be alcoholism.  In late June, he was found to be doing cocaine yet again.  Howe went on the disabled list to attend rehab and was fined a then major league record of $57,000, or 30 days pay.

Howe was placed under probation by the Dodgers who twice suspended him for arriving late to team functions.  The first time, he only missed two days, but he tested negative for narcotics.  The second time happened in September, and this time, it wouldn’t turn out so well.  Howe tested positive again, and this time, MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Steve for a year.

The suspension really hurt Howe, and not just mentally.  Howe had just had a baby in March of that year.  A week after the suspension was announced, Howe was forced to file for bankruptcy with over $100,000 in debt.  His wife also filed for divorce during the 1984 season he sat out.  The divorce was never finalized; the two remained together

After sitting out the 1984 season, he would return the Dodgers organization.  The relationship wouldn’t last though, as he was released in early June for being “incapable of handling his assignments.”  This had to do with his performance on the field (1-1, 3 Svs, 4.91 ERA), not his drug related past – he tested clean after being released.  The defining moment of the release came out later, when it was found that after giving up a home run on the June 26 game at San Diego, Howe entered the coaches office in tears.  He asked Lasorda to be traded or released because he could no longer live the life he was living.  He needed an escape.  After skipping the game on June 30th, the Dodgers would grant him his unconditional release.

A month later, Howe approached the Minnesota Twins about starting anew with their team.  On August 11, he would sign an agreement with the Twins.  Howe’s performance in Minnesota was worse.  He went 2-3 with a 6.16 ERA in 13 games.   Howe went on ABC’s Nightline to discuss his battle with cocaine (as the Pittsburgh 23 case was the big topic in the major leagues) on September 12th, and subsequently disappeared for three days.  Howe claims the emotions brought up on the show sent him into a relapse.  When Howe reappeared after the three day hiatus, he showed up at the Twins front office asking for his release.

After another round of drug treatments, Howe surfaced again in March of 1986.  This time he signed a minor league contract with the Angels.  He began the year with the San Jose Bees in Class A ball.  Howe returned as a starter, posting a 3-2 record and 1.47 ERA.  Things looked to be going well.  On May 1st, he was tested for drugs (as he was often that season) and the results came back positive.  Commissioner Peter Uebberoth suspended Howe for life.  Howe pleaded innocence and would eventually get the ban stricken to only the rest of the season.

While suspended, Howe actually made another appearance with the Bees in May, resulting in a fine and suspension of the awesomely named manager, Harry Steve.  Steve, also the team president, was given clearance by the National Association (governing body of the minors) to play Howe despite the California League’s suspension.  The National Association claimed that until an appeal was dealt with, he should be fine to play.  He eventually was reinstated in June to the Bees, but once again, he failed a drug test in July.

After sitting out a year, Howe signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers the day his suspension ended.  He finished the year with the Rangers without so much as a hiccup.  The post season saw a return to troubles.  In January, Howe was released yet again, this time for alcohol use while under probation.  During this time Howe wrote an autobiography with his attorney Jim Greenfield.  The book, Between the Line: One Athlete’s Struggle to Escape the Nightmare of Addiction told of his sad story, beginning with his flawed childhood and ending in his triumph over his addiction.

Howe would remain out of the game until 1990.  New commissioner Fay Vincent removed the ban of Steve Howe, allowing him to come back with Class A Salinas in the California League. Things went well for Howe until mid June when Howe had to be hospitalized for a blood clot in this lung.  He was operated on and despite not pitching the rest of the season, recovered fully.

In 1991, Howe was invited to Yankee’s camp to try out for their roster.  While he didn’t quite make the cut in spring training, after a short stint with the AAA Columbus Clippers, Howe was back in the Majors again.  The off season saw more troubles with Howe.  While at his Montana home, he was arrested on suspicion of attempting to possessing cocaine.  The charges were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence.  Two months later in March, he was arrested again, this time for striking a lamp post in New York City and fleeing the scene.  He claimed he didn’t think damage was done, which there was very little.  His car did lose its license plate, which is how the police connected him to the crime.

In the middle of the 1992 season, Howe plead guilty to the attempting to possess cocaine charges.  Commissioner Fay suspended Howe for life.  That ruling didn’t hold up in the end though.  After months of arbitration hearings, Howe was reinstated because the judges found his problems to be related to mental sickness instead of criminal intent.

Howe would finish his career with the Yankees, and was released in October 1996.  Upon leaving the Yankees, Howe was arrested for carrying a fire arm in a suitcase into Kennedy Airport.  He didn’t face jail time but did receive a fine and community service.

In 1997, Howe tried out for an independent league, but it didn’t last.  In mid August, Howe was operating a motorcycle allegedly under the influence.  He suffered two collapsed lungs and a ruptured trachea.  Charges of drunk driving were dropped after a judge decided the blood tests were illegally obtained.

In retirement, Steve became a born again Christian, what some believed was just a phase of his addictive personality.  Instead of being addicted to drugs, he was addicted to God.  After initially returning to his home in Montana; he would later moved to California where he owned rights to an energy drink company.  His goal was to start an all natural energy drink made in the U.S.

In 1999, Howe tried to act as his daughter’s volunteer softball coach, but he was suspended from continuing as coach due to his past drug problems.  He at first threatened to sue, but later, he rescinded his legal threats.

In 2006, Steve Howe’s life came to an end.  While driving back from a business engagement, his truck rolled over, ejecting Howe, and eventually landing on top of him.  Tests later confirmed traces of methamphetamine in his blood.  He was 48 years old.  He was survived by wife Cindy, daughter Chelsi, and son Brian.

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2 Responses to A Tragedy: Steve Howe

  1. Other Chris says:

    What a bummer of a read for a Sunday morning.

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