I had to learn how to separate baseball from my life," Dodger relief pitcher Steve Howe says. "If you think your worth as a person is tied up with baseball and think about it 24 hours a day, and if this is taken away, what do you do?"
Howe has come to grips with himself. He has an addiction to cocaine—not had, has. But now, one day at a time, just as they tell you at the meetings, he is staying clean and trying to reclaim a career.
Howe was suspended for the entire '84 season after he failed to control his addiction during '83. He is coming back from Jan. 9 surgery to re-route the ulnar nerve in the left arm that had made him one of the National League's best short relievers. So far, so good. He's scheduled to throw batting practice this week, and he predicts he'll be in the bullpen when the season starts. "I don't look to start the season on the DL," he says. "No way."
Told he seems hyper, Howe replies, "I'm real hyper. But now I know how to relax because I've learned how to separate baseball from my life. And I know I can't go back to my past. I can never go back."
Later he says, "I was the number-one son. I felt I had to be perfect. I placed my goals so high that they were unattainable. These goals drove me nuts."
Howe tells a story of a father who's trying to read the evening paper and the son who wants to play. The son keeps pestering the father until he finally takes one page from the paper, tears it into bits and tells the son that they'll play when the page is put back together. A few minutes later the son returns with the page taped together. How, the father asks, has he done that? Easy, says the son. There was a picture of a man covering the other side of the torn page.
"See," Howe says, "if you put the man together, the whole world falls into place. You put the man together first."
Dickie Thon had it all. He was young (25), he was talented (a .286 average, 20 homers, a league-high 18 game-winning hits in 1983), he was going to be an All-Star shortstop for the Astros for 10 years. Horizon unlimited. Then, on April 8, 1984, in the sixth game of the season, a baseball he never saw, thrown at about 90 miles an hour by the Mets' Mike Torrez, caved in the left side of Thon's skull, severely damaging his eye.
"The lowest moment for me," he says, "was right after I got hit. I remember telling my wife, 'I'm not going to play again.' "
He didn't play again last season, and had to abandon winter ball in Puerto Rico after three games because of a disagreement with his team's owner. Will Thon play again? He's back in spring training with the Astros, and his numbers are promising: eight hits in his first 21 at bats. But he says the ball sometimes appears "a little fuzzy."