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Cocaine, Fame Led to Tragedy of Steve Howe

October 12, 1985|Associated Press

There are no more cheers for Steve Howe, only the silence of memories punctuated by the sounds of a distant playoff game he might have been in.

He could have been sitting in the Dodgers' bullpen Wednesday night in Los Angeles, hoping to get into the World Series. Instead, he sits in St. Mary's Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis, hoping to get away from cocaine.

He had his chances. With the Dodgers. With the Minnesota Twins. He used them up one at a time, like a relief pitcher grooving one fastball after another, watching them explode at the plate until he has nothing left save a trip to the showers, the minors or oblivion.

Once he had it all -- all-state in high school, All-Big Ten twice, the winningest pitcher in University of Michigan history, National League Rookie of the Year for the Dodgers in 1980, world champion in 1981.

And in 1985, at age 27, when he should be reaching his professional peak, he is looking instead for a way out of a white-powdered valley.

Cocaine, he said on ABC's "Nightline" program last Sept. 12, was not the problem in his life. It was life itself.

"Life in general and people and places and things and success a lot of times are people's problems," he said. "At least it was for me." The day after appearing on the television program, Howe disappeared.

Three days later, he reappeared, met with Twins officials, asked for and was given his release and entered St. Mary's.

"It's bad to have memories dragged up, except by a professional counselor," Jim Hawkins, Howe's lawyer and close friend, said from his office in Westlake Village. "They recall not only what you saw and heard but what you felt. In his case, they can be extremely negative emotions. Maybe it was bringing up those emotions on the TV program that led to this relapse."

In "Cocaine: Seduction and Solution," authors Nannette Stone, Marlene Fromme and Daniel Kagan note that people who believe they are unable to love and be loved, and those looking for a way to cope with anxiety, stress and depression, are particularly susceptible to cocaine dependence.

"My sole existence of what I did in life was what I did on the ballfield," Howe said on Nightline. "When nothing else matters and you don't feel that you're going to be able to perform up to your capabilities and someone gives you an avenue to deaden that pain ... you're going to do what you can do so that people are going to like you and accept you."

Howe and his wife, Cyndy, declined to be interviewed. So did Dr. George Mann, the director of the Twins' employee assistance program and medical director at St. Mary's.

Mann also refused to disclose whether Howe is a patient at St. Mary's. Howard Fox, the Twins' president, and Howe's parents said he is.

His father, Virgil, was once a pretty good sandlot pitcher. Now, he and his wife, Barbara, live in the Detroit suburb of Clarkston and work for General Motors.

"Steven just played ball for so long in his life that -- and I'm not saying this is the reason he did what he did with drugs -- that there never seemed to be enough time for Steven to do what Steven wanted to do," Virgil said. "He started playing ball when he was 9 years old. That's all he's ever done."

Chris Howe, 24, one of Steve's three younger brothers (he also has a younger sister) and a law student at Michigan's Flint campus, said that as a teenager Steve showed the frustrations of a youngster who believed he had to perform up to someone else's standards.

"I don't think it's accurate to say my father was trying to make Steve into something Dad couldn't be," Chris said, "but that's not to say Steve didn't try too hard to please him. He tried to please my father more than anyone else."

"Oh, it's easy to place blame where there is no blame," Barbara, his mother, said. "We have five children and we have one cocaine addict. I would die for my kids. But I will not take the blame for his addiction, any more than his father should. Steven did this all by himself. He chose to do it."

"I don't feel any sense of failure," Virgil, his father, added. "How could we feel we failed with him when we didn't fail with the other four?"

No one is really sure what went wrong with the young left-hander who mastered control of a baseball but not his life.

"When he was a kid, he just said what he was going to do and it came easy," Barbara Howe said. "Everything was easy for him and once he got it, it was, 'It's not what I really want.' Personally, if he never plays baseball again, I don't really care, as long as he's OK and can function. But that's up to him. I can't live his life for him. I can't tell him what to do anymore."

Moby Benedict, director of intramural athletics at the University of Michigan, was its baseball coach when Howe was one of the Wolverines' star pitchers.

"Steve was a follower more than anything else," Benedict said. "Certainly not on the ballfield. Give him the baseball and he became a fierce competitor. ... Off the field, he was not a leader. The guys would say, 'Let's go,' and he'd go."

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