MAY 30, 1966
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.
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' Alumni Association.
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 need."
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."