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LaMARR HOYT : A Trip Down a Twisting Road . . . Without Sleep

July 12, 1987|TOM FRIEND | Times Staff Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. — "Rotten luck," LaMarr Hoyt is mumbling to himself. "I get a new Porsche, and it don't work right. Rotten luck."

He drives over to the Porsche doctor (his local mechanic), but somebody's following him.

"Who's behind me?" he whispers. "More trouble? Not again."

Zooooooooom.

But Leadfoot LaMarr can't ditch the car behind him. And, now, the guy in the car is waving frantically.

"Stop! Stop! Stop!"

Hoyt pulls up to a red light. Heaven forbid, he should run it and get a ticket and go back to jail. Now, this guy is out of the car and knocking on Hoyt's window.

It's a reporter Hoyt knows from his San Diego days.

So LaMarr Hoyt surrendered. Silent all these months, he finally opened up. "No, I ain't no alcoholic," he said. "And no, I ain't no drug addict."

Hoyt is a sleep addict, and if you wonder what that is, try going 6 1/2 years with little or no shut-eye. That's what LaMarr Hoyt has done. Remember the 1983 Chicago-Baltimore playoff game when Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt five-hit the Orioles and won, 2-1? He had bags under his eyes that day, because he'd had a fight with his pillow the night before. Hadn't slept a wink.

But that was just the start. In February 1986, doctors in San Diego told him he was probably washed up. The rotator cuff in his right shoulder didn't rotate quite right. And if he had surgery, they told him there was a 95% chance he'd never pitch again. They gave him two choices: Surgery or pitch through it.

At this point, sleep was out of the question. Even before he'd seen the doctors in San Diego, he'd gone to a physician at his home in South Carolina to get some Valium and sleeping pills for his wife, Sylvia. He'd done some drugs as a kid. He'd even messed with Valium in his teens.

But now he was alone in San Diego, wondering if he'd gone from Cy Young to Sayonara.

"I was sitting there saying, 'God, it's over with. That's it,' " LaMarr Hoyt remembers now.

Sylvia was back in South Carolina, but he had taken some of her Valium with him. He needed some sleep, so what the heck. He swallowed a few. And he had some marijuana on him. He needed some sleep, so what the heck. He smoked it up.

"I used it (marijuana) a lot late at night to sleep," he says now.

Hoyt is a sleep addict. He's someone who needs sleep so bad, he'll do anything to get it. Hoyt smoked joints, popped pills, read boring novels, whatever it took to get some rest. Who knows why he couldn't get any? His psychiatrist in San Diego still doesn't know for sure, but he figures it's probably a cumulative result of Hoyt's troubled marriage, his troubled childhood and his bum shoulder.

"If someone doesn't sleep for days and days, they tend to . . . look psychologically ill," says Hoyt's psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas Rodgers.

So is this why Hoyt got detained at the Mexican border with marijuana and Valium in February of 1986, just days after doctors told him he was probably washed up as a ballplayer?

Is this why eight days later, having just been served his divorce papers, he got a ticket for running a red light and for carrying more joints and for carrying a huge switch-blade?

Is this why he got arrested at the border with more pills and more marijuana in October of 1986?

Is this why the San Diego Padres released him and refused to pay his $3-million contract?

Is this why Commissioner Peter Ueberroth suspended him for a year?

All because the guy couldn't sleep?

You decide.

Hoyt filed complaints against both the Padres and Ueberroth and recently won both rulings. Good thing, because he was going broke. The arbitrator, George Nicolau, decided Hoyt should get paid again and should play again, and the White Sox signed him last week, even though he might need shoulder surgery and might not pitch again until 1989.

Larry Himes--the White Sox general manager who wasn't around when Hoyt played for the Sox--says he hates drug addicts, drugs, alcohol, whatever. Recently, he told his players to either wear socks to the ballpark or pay a big fine. He recently banned beer from the clubhouse, too.

But he agreed to sign the 32-year-old Hoyt because everyone--the team owner, the public relations director, the secretaries, the players, the trainer--all said: "Gee, Larry, LaMarr's a great guy. We were shocked to see him get into trouble." Himes then sent a memo to every minor leaguer and scout in the organization and told them they better not do drugs, that he does not condone them. But he wrote that everybody thinks Hoyt is a pal, so he's going to give the guy another chance.

Hoyt, who is thankful to finally have something to look forward to, says he can use the White Sox doctors and their minor league system to get ready. He still feels a "twinge" when he throws, and tests were done last week to see if surgery is necessary.

Hoyt has a belly and a half now (he weighs about 250 pounds). The White Sox--who once asked him to go to a fat farm in 1984--have told him to diet.

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