Steve Howe, a former Dodger relief pitcher whose cocaine and alcohol abuse overshadowed and ultimately tarnished his major league baseball career, was killed early Friday morning when he rolled his pickup truck in an unincorporated area of Riverside County east of Palm Springs. He was 48.
The single-vehicle accident occurred about 5:30 a.m. on westbound Interstate 10, half a mile west of the Cactus City rest area in Coachella, according to an official with the Riverside County coroner and a California Highway Patrol news release.
"For unknown reasons," separate statements released by the agencies said, Howe's pickup truck left the roadway, entered the median and rolled numerous times before coming to rest on its roof.
It was traveling at an estimated 70 mph.
Howe, not wearing his seat belt and partly ejected from the vehicle, was pronounced dead at the scene. He had been in Arizona on business and was on his way home to Valencia, business partner Judy Welp told the Associated Press.
The National League rookie of the year with the Dodgers in 1980, Howe helped the team win the World Series in 1981, was an All-Star in 1982 and later pitched for three other major league clubs, including the New York Yankees.
But the hard-throwing left-hander probably is best remembered for his drug and alcohol abuse, Howe's frequent missteps playing a large part in him falling short of his vast potential and making him a reviled figure among unsympathetic fans. He was suspended seven times for violating baseball's substance-abuse regulations.
Angel Manager Mike Scioscia, a former teammate on the Dodgers, remembered Howe before Friday night's game at Angel Stadium as a fiery competitor who "would blur that line of being cocky and confident and not care. He had that swagger.... "
"Clearly, he was a kid who never reached his potential, but for a short time he did. The feeling of regret, he never expressed, as far as I know."
Also in Anaheim, Manager Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox said, "Steve was so good, baseball kept him. He got in trouble all the time. That showed you how good he was" that baseball kept reinstating him.
Howe, after a series of transgressions, was released by the Dodgers in July 1985, in part to satisfy his desire to relocate and make a new start.
"It came down to fight or flight," Howe told a television interviewer at the time. "Certain people in this town had a lack of understanding toward me, and in this situation I chose the flight instead of the fight."
Signed by the Minnesota Twins a little more than a month later, he was still pitching in the major leagues 11 years later despite all his suspensions.
The Yankees, on their way to a World Series championship, released him in June 1996.
A two-time All-Big Ten selection at the University of Michigan, Howe was 47-41 with 91 saves and a 3.03 earned-run average in 12 major league seasons.
He was arrested two days after the Yankees released him when a loaded .357 magnum was detected inside his suitcase at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Later pleading guilty to gun possession, he was placed on three years' probation and sentenced to 150 hours of community service.
In 2003, reflecting on his star-crossed major league career, he told the Wichita, Kan., Eagle, "I don't worry about tomorrow and I try not to focus on what happened yesterday because it's gone forever."
In a 1985 interview with the Associated Press, then-Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda expressed frustration in dealing with Howe's drug abuse: "I'd tell him, 'It's against the law and it's harmful to your body.' He'd say to me, 'You're right, you're right.' And then he'd go out and do it."
Lasorda said Friday in a statement released by the Dodgers, "Steve played for me for five years and I thought the world of him. I am truly sorry to hear about his passing and my deepest sympathies go out to his family."
Howe is survived by his wife, Cindy, daughter Chelsi and son Brian, a senior left-handed pitcher at Valencia High School.
Dodger announcer Vin Scully called the news "heartbreaking."
Added Scully before Friday night's game at San Diego: "The thing I remember about Steve Howe was how calm he always was, how low-key he could be in pressure spots. He always seemed detached from the crowd. I assume that's why he was able to be so successful."
Said Dodger broadcaster Rick Monday, a former teammate of Howe's: "He seemed to constantly struggle to figure out how to get his life in order. But no matter how bad things were, Steve always found a ray of sunshine."
Times staff writers Lance Pugmire, Steve Springer and Tim Brown contributed to this report.