The far more intriguing comeback is Howe's. He was baseball's most tragic tale of talent betrayed by drugs. The National League Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers in 1980, he was all arrogance and heat; just three years later, his cocaine-induced slide left him bankrupt. Howe concedes that he was resistant to reform, and it wasn't until 1988, armed with a combination of newly found religion and continued drug therapy, that he tapped into a life of sobriety.
By then, the addiction appeared to have ended Howe's ability to earn major league money again, although he never really believed that. After he was suspended for the sixth time, in 1988, he was cast out of baseball by imperial edict. That was later amended to allow him to play minor league ball in 1990, with a chance to move up to the majors this year. So Howe pitched for Class A Salinas last season—he had a 2.12 ERA in 10 games—and for Mazatlan in the Mexican Pacific League this winter. And maybe he will pitch for the Yankees this summer. "They lost Rags [Dave Righetti]," said Howe upon his arrival in Fort Lauderdale two weeks ago, "and here I come."
But Howe, who showed up in camp at least looking like some humble rookie (he borrowed Don Mattingly's spikes for his audition and wore some flannels that appeared to date from his Dodger days), revels more in his sobriety than in his chance to pitch again. "Do you know what it's like to wake up in the morning and not have to go out and check the car, to ask around and make sure you didn't hurt anybody?" he asks. "I'd like to make this team. I intend to. But for some reason I feel like I've already got it made."
Some of these pitchers will make a club this spring, because as anyone can tell you, everybody needs pitching. And the wisdom of age and experience is perhaps better applied on a pitching mound than in most places in sport. But some of the returnees are probably fooling themselves. The miracles of spring do not ordinarily come by the half dozen. For the youngsters who dress beside them in the clubhouse, though, these aged hopefuls offer an unnerving glimpse of the future. And there's a message attached. Maybe you should enjoy this game while you can, is the simple lesson—because you'll never be able to enjoy it as long as you want.