The Sad-to-the-end Howe Story

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - July 05, 2006
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When it was announced that former Dodger, Twins, Rangers and Yankees reliever Steve Howe had died at the age of 48, the first thing to enter the mind was: It looks like the drugs finally got him.

So when we read further down the column and found out it was because of a traffic accident, there was a sense of relief that after years of addiction to drugs and alcohol, Howe, hopefully, had gotten his life turned around and this event was simply a tragic accident.

Now we know better.

The autopsy revealed that Howe had methamphetamines in his system when he died. We may never know if the drugs contributed to his death, but it’s obvious that Howe had not been able to shake the demons that haunted him since he first appeared on the scene as the hard-throwing NL rookie-of-the-year in 1980.

At one time Howe had it all: legions of fans, fame, good looks, wealth and a cocaine problem. He wasn’t the only one. Cocaine was the scourge of Major League Baseball and its use by the players was widespread and well-known. In 1984, commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Howe and three members of the Kansas City Royals - Willie Wilson, Willie Aikens and Jerry Martin - for drug use. In Howe’s case the suspension came after three failed drug tests in November 1983 and after two stints in self-imposed rehabilitation in the two previous years.

Through out the decade, dozens more entered rehab, were fined or suspended. And much like today, baseball talked tough but did very little to combat the problem.

Howe was suspended from the game seven times. He was reinstated seven times. Even if we factor in that an arbitrator reversed No. 7, after a grievance filed by the players union of course, baseball was still responsible for the other six times Howe was allowed to disrespect the game and to possibly lay the foundation of his own death.

Would Howe be alive today if baseball had been tougher in the enforcement of its rules?

We’ll never know. Howe was a grown man and is fully to blame for putting the drugs into his system. But baseball had a responsibility to maintain the integrity of the game and to help protect its players from killing themselves. Baseball, the commissioner’s office, league presidents, the union and the teams all have blood on their hands.

Although it may have been unpopular, Kuhn and his successor, Fay Vincent, needed to send a message to Howe and other drug abusers.

The message should have been simple: If you have a problem, we will get you help. Once you are cleared by your doctor and have spent a certain amount of time away from the pressures of the game, and proven yourself to have beaten this deadly disease, you will be welcomed back to the league. Relapse, and your career as a player is over. Again, help will be made available. Major League Baseball will help you in every way to get clean and to move on to a new career. Maybe even in baseball if you agree to, and pass, a series of tests, to determine that you remain clean.

Baseball did no such thing. Now Steve Howe is dead. Is baseball wholly to blame? No. Did it do enough to save this man’s life? No. Will it make the right decision next time? Probably not.

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