Something has been happening to Steve Howe. If it were happening to your nephew or uncle, you would plead for sympathy and patience. You would talk about the pressure the poor guy has been under. You would talk about how none of us is perfect.
But Howe is a baseball player, a player who has been in and out of trouble. He is a pitcher for a team that has forgotten a lot and forgiven a lot.
It is very possible that the Dodgers can forgive no more.
Howe has not been showing up for work lately. One Sunday he failed to arrive until the game was nearly over, and the next Sunday he failed to arrive at all.
Howe was supposed to keep his nose clean, literally and figuratively. It is very possible that he is no longer, as they say, abusing substances, and his attorney claims a drug test Monday proved as much.
But the Dodgers dropped him from active duty anyway, seeing as how they have come to expect their players to attend their games. It has been a long-standing tradition with this team, in Brooklyn days and beyond, that the best Dodgers are the ones who make a point of showing up.
The question now is whether the Dodgers will ever allow Howe to show up again. With the public, it seems safe to say, he has worn out much of his welcome.
Whatever excuse there is for his most recent no-show--and none has been offered--had better be a good one, depending on one's perception of how much a public figure actually owes the public.
Even then, it will show considerable \o7 chutzpah\f7 on the ballclub's part to give Howe his uniform back.
The Dodgers probably aren't sure what to do. They have come this far with Howe and hate to stop the world and tell him to get off.
"What can I say? We love the guy," Manager Tom Lasorda says. "If your son is always getting in trouble, you don't quit on him. He might be trouble, but he's still your son."
Only someone totally without compassion would want something bad to happen to another human being. It would be nice if Howe pulled himself together and succeeded in whatever he wants to do next.
"The guy's let an awful lot of people down, though," Lasorda says. "I wish I knew how to help him."
It might not even matter if the Dodgers decide never to permit Howe to pitch another pitch. It might not matter because at some point later in the summer, when they get desperate enough to win their division, the Baltimore Orioles probably will call the Dodgers and offer to take Howe off their hands.
When the San Diego Padres tried to make a point this season by defrocking second baseman Alan Wiggins, these same Orioles weighed their options for, oh, 10 or 20 seconds, then dialed the Coast. Put Wiggins on a plane, they said.
Never mind that he had flown off to Drugland for a second time, earlier in the season. Wiggins was a guy who could get hits and steal bases. What did the Orioles care about the Padres or principles?
NBC recently televised a game in San Diego and took a straw poll outside the park, asking the customers how they felt about Using Wiggins or Not Using Wiggins. A vast majority sided with Padre management, agreeing with the team's decision to keep the infielder off the premises.
Ken (Hawk) Harrelson, the former big leaguer who was helping broadcast the game, said he was pleased with the result, and wished even more fans had felt so strongly that the Padres should stick to their guns.
"Except I can't help wondering how that vote would have turned out," Harrelson interjected, "if the Padres were in third place instead of first."
Aha. The old double standard.
When three Kansas City Royals were hauled off to the penitentiary for three months on drug charges, two of them never came back. The Royals told Willie Aikens and Jerry Martin to be gone and never again darken their stadium door.
Was Willie Wilson shown said door?
Nope. Willie Wilson was too good a player.
One stormy day in New York, a couple of Yankees got into a fight. One of them was Cliff Johnson, a dependable but hardly indispensable slugger. The other one was Rich (Goose) Gossage, a popular and essential relief pitcher.
Both men got into the fight. It took two to tangle. But the fight had different repercussions.
Gossage got hurt. Johnson got released.
One morning the following season, Johnson was sitting around his new club's clubhouse in Chicago, minding his own business. Suddenly, there was a commotion at the other end of the room.
Willie Hernandez, who at the time was a dependable but hardly indispensable relief pitcher, had gotten into a playful slap fight with Bruce Sutter, who was a popular and essential relief pitcher. They were duking it out, for fun, seeing who could smack the other's face most often.
"Cut that stuff out, Willie," Johnson called across the room.
The two men kept slapping.
"Cut it out, Willie," Johnson reiterated.
"Willie, one of you gets hurt, you know who's gonna be gone," said Johnson, the voice of experience.
Baseball teams, like most businesses, do what they can afford to do. They will give a second chance to someone they appreciate, someone who has proven valuable.
The trouble is, Steve Howe should have run out of second chances about two or three chances ago.
Perhaps he finally has.