- Tom Friend, ESPN Senior Writer
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SAN DIEGO -- Back then, the news came in on Teletype, not over the Internet. Pete Rose had just slapped two hits at Wrigley Field, bringing his career total to 4,191, and somewhere up there, Ty Cobb was fidgeting or having a gin and tonic. One more base hit and Rose would break Cobb's all-time hits record, a mark that had stood for nearly 60 years. Everyone in baseball wanted a bird's-eye view, but one team in particular was about to see it up close and maybe too personal: the woebegone 1985 San Diego Padres.
A year after reaching their first World Series, the Padres had gone into something of a tailspin. On Sept. 8, the day Rose tied Cobb, a talented San Diego club that featured Tony Gwynn, Steve Garvey and Goose Gossage was in third place, 10 games out. The team was toast. The only good news, depending on how you looked at it, was that the Padres were headed to Cincinnati for three games with the Reds. They'd probably get to witness history, although, on the other hand, one of their pitchers would have to serve up history. One of them was going to live in infamy.
Who was it going to be? As the team dressed in its home clubhouse that Sunday -- about to board a flight to Ohio -- all eyes turned to the next three men in the starting rotation. One of them was a left-hander, Dave Dravecky, his hair slicked back after a shower, his pulse strikingly calm. Another was LaMarr Hoyt, a former Cy Young Award winner who already was planning to jam Rose with inside fastballs. But a third pitcher sat disconnected at his locker, eyes darting, frown palpable. On his shelf were a book by Ayn Rand and a cassette player full of American jazz. His clothes were black and purple. He carried a guitar. He looked out of place. His own catcher, Terry Kennedy, liked to call him "Angry Young Man" to his face, partly to get under his skin, but also because Kennedy sensed "bad s--- always seemed to follow him around."
So this was what the Padres were going to throw at Rose the next three days in Cincinnati. And as the team bus pulled out of Jack Murphy Stadium, the players couldn't help but think of Jack Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong for Eric Show.
A quarter-century later, a mere footnote
This weekend, 25 years later, the Cincinnati Reds are honoring Pete Rose, their "Charlie Hustle." They will cart out a man who ate, slept, drank, autographed and gambled baseball, and they will direct all eyes to a video screen in left field. They will show a replay of his most famous base hit, as well as the touching ceremony that followed. But they will not mention the pitcher who threw Rose the slider as big as a grapefruit. A pitcher who was the anti-Pete Rose. A pitcher who didn't want to be there that night, other than maybe to look at the moon. A pitcher whose life teaches us everything that's cruel about the game of baseball.
Scrutiny that never stopped
The 12-year-old boy sat in the rear of his father's car, getting an earful. This was 1968, the year of the pitcher in the big leagues, the year of Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA and Denny McLain's 31 wins. But in the backseat of a white Mercury Comet, it was not the year of a Pony League pitcher named Eric Show.
His father, Les, was in a rage. He had just watched young Eric walk a batter, hit a batter and generally have a mediocre day. It had triggered the scariest part of Les: his temper.
The entire game, Les couldn't relax. He'd stand; he'd sit. He'd pace to the right, pace to the left. He'd walk to the dugout to speak with Eric or walk to the backstop to complain to Eric. He'd be guttural with his instructions, and, after a while, Eric could no longer internalize what he was feeling. The 12-year-old would throw his bat after making an out or whine at the umpire after his sizzling pitch was called a ball. Les became even more incensed. How dare his son lose his cool? After the game, he walked silently to the Mercury Comet, followed by his wife, Yvonne, 11-year-old daughter Leslie, 10-year-old daughter Cindi and Eric. He shut the door and drove.
There was going to be hell to pay, or at least that's how Les' lecture began. According to Leslie, Les listed his son's transgressions, and then -- his eyes bulged, his veins engorged -- he reached back and hit Eric in the ear with an open hand.
The way Leslie remembers it, her father was outright "smacking my brother" and Eric was neither fighting back nor crying. "There was nothing he could do," Leslie says. Yvonne, in tears, begged her husband to stop and tangled her arms up in Les' to avert the slaps. Eventually the tiff was over, but the damage was irrevocable. When they arrived home, Eric walked quietly to his room, peeled off his uniform and closed the door. He then picked up his guitar and played a Beatles tune.
Marching to a different tune
Les Show was going to make a man out of his son -- just like the streets made a man out of him.
He grew up in the thorniest part of Pittsburgh, during and after the Depression, fatherless and blaming his mother for it. The bullies lorded over his neighborhood, and the way Les told it, the biggest bully in the area was a boxer named Billy Conn.
Les claimed to be friends with Conn's younger brother Jackie -- a cocksure street fighter in his own right -- and Les left home at the age of 16 to begin sparring in Billy's gym. Billy was the light heavyweight champion of the world, and Les wanted to punch just like him.
Les also aspired to be a baseball player, and although there is no official record of it, he'd often say he played Triple-A ball for the Milwaukee Braves. He wanted his first-born, Eric, to follow in his footsteps, and Eric fortuitously had a natural throwing arm. Imagine the horror if he hadn't. Virtually every day, Les would come home from his job as a jig builder at Rohr Industries -- constructing airplane parts -- and order 8-year-old Eric into the backyard for a game of catch. If Eric didn't get all A's on his report card, Les would take away the kid's guitar and record player but never the game of catch.
At first, Les was in favor of his son's music. Eric discovered the Beatles in 1964, and Les not only bought him his first guitar but arranged for a lesson. Eric right away learned to play songs by ear and would emulate Elvis in the family living room. He'd throw on a shoulder strap and perform "Hound Dog." Even Les sang along; it was a man's song.
Eric eventually started a band with his best friend, Steve Tyler, who played the drums, and that was where Les drew the line. If Eric wasn't playing baseball, Les wanted him studying or hitting the heavy boxing bag in their garage. Les' priorities were baseball, boxing, education, fishing trips and clean living, and his pet peeves were marijuana and Eric's marathon guitar sessions -- which is what he associated music with.
"He liked the fact my brother was musically talented, but he'd be damned if that was going to interfere with Eric's baseball," Cindi says. "He'd say, 'Put the goddamn guitar down and go out and practice.'''
She knew more beatings were inevitable. The incident in the car was bad enough, in plain view of the whole family, but Eric's friend Tyler was about to witness the abuse for himself.
One night, the two boys were camping in Eric's backyard when Eric began to wax philosophic. He'd always been fascinated by the stars and the sky and, as a first-grader, had once dragged Yvonne outside to say he was going to find the answers to the universe. But on this night, as a sixth-grader, he lied down on his back and began to recite the phases of the moon to Tyler.
"You know what a waxing gibbous is?" Eric asked.
"More than half the moon is lit, and it'll be a full moon in a few days."
"You know what a waning gibbous is?"
"Kind of the opposite. More than half the moon is lit up, but in a matter of days, it'll light up less and less."
At that point, Eric howled at the sky like a werewolf. He and Tyler cracked up. From an open window, they heard a "Shut up!"
It was Les, who had to be up early for work. The boys made the mistake of laughing again. Les ordered Eric inside.
"I could hear him hitting Eric," Tyler says. "And yelling. Eric came back out, and I remember he tried to make light of it, like it didn't matter. He spat on the ground and kind of shrugged his shoulders, like no big deal. But I could tell he was troubled by the whole thing. It was a bad scene."
To hear Eric's sisters tell it, the whole family was in constant fear of Les. Cindi says that Les would make racist statements about Martin Luther King Jr. and Jews and that Yvonne suspected him of infidelity. The marriage was crumbling. But through it all, Tyler swears Eric "idolized his dad as far as Eric was concerned, there was Rocky Marciano and then there was Les Show."
Eric didn't dare quit baseball, and by the time he entered Ramona High School in Riverside, Calif., he was throwing in the mid-80 mph range and developing a wicked slider. Eric told people he dreamed of pitching for the Dodgers or Angels, and Les wasn't about to let him blow it.
Before each game, Les would set up shop behind the backstop so Eric could see his hand signals. Les' plan was to call every one of Eric's pitches -- 1 for fastball, 2 for breaking ball -- and Eric obliged.
Problem was, Eric's catcher, Mike Fages, was calling pitches, too, and Eric would shake him off until he flashed Les' pitch. One day, during Eric's sophomore season, Fages caught Les signaling and called timeout.
"I walked to the fence and said, 'Mr. Show, I'm calling this game. I don't want you to ever give him another signal,'" Fages says. "I think he was a little taken aback that this sophomore kid just had the guts to do that. And he goes, 'Oh well OK.'
"I went to the mound and told Eric the same thing. I said, 'You have to trust me to call a good game.' From that point on, I never had a problem with him shaking me off. He said, 'Gawl, I can't believe you did that. But that's great -- you're my guy.'"
A light seemed to go on for Eric. He was older; his world was changing. On weekends, his band, Anna Belle Lee, would perform at dance halls for anywhere from $50 to $200. He grew his hair out. He finally tried smoking weed, but preferred malt liquor.
He'd ride to baseball practice on a Harley-Davidson. He was a thrill seeker, who along with Tyler would body surf or walk within 6 inches of speeding trains.
He accepted a baseball scholarship to the University of California-Riverside, but Les was still lurking. On a day Eric had no command of his fastball, Les poked his head inside the dugout and berated Eric in front of the entire team.
"His dad said, 'What the hell's wrong with you? Why can't you do this? You piece of s---,'" says Riverside's catcher that day, Doug Smith. "Eric was pretty stoic. It kind of led me to believe that wasn't his first rodeo with his dad."
Something had to give, and it was Eric's good sense. He clashed with Smith after a botched squeeze play. He glared at his coach, Jack Smitheran, for calling a pitch that ended up being pounded for a home run. He'd arrive chronically late for practice, his cap cocked to the side.
No one knew what his future held. One night, Tyler got into a tussle at a party, and the other guy flashed a gun. Eric waved Tyler to his car, drove 80 mph to their apartment and grabbed a .22-caliber pistol. He tucked the gun inside his waistband and sped back to the party, only to find the cops surrounding the place. Eric threw the gun under his front seat and bailed.
If that wasn't an omen, nothing was.
A ticket to The Show
Eric Show needed out of Riverside, and the best thing that could have happened -- in July 1975 -- was a summer baseball league in Wichita, Kan.
Away from Les, he could have a quasi fresh start, and at a team dinner, he spied the most gorgeous girl he'd ever seen.
He even considered the sound of her first name to be poetry: Cara Mia. She was a petite brunette from Hastings, Neb., who had just broken up with her high school boyfriend and moved to Wichita to get away from everything herself. She had taken a job as a nurse's assistant. And when she laid eyes on Eric, she was just as smitten as he was.
He had his guitar with him, and she asked him to play "Stairway to Heaven." That was in his wheelhouse, and by the time he was done singing, they were a couple.
A summer later, Cara Mia Niederhous moved to Riverside, and Show's coaches saw a positive energy in Eric. He became the No. 3 starter on the 1977 team that won the Division II College World Series. He threw the most electric pitches on the staff -- low 90s easy -- and only the Les factor was bogging him down. In stressful situations, he would cave in, trying to be perfect, and would pout on the mound. His makeup was the problem. But at least he had Cara Mia, whom he would marry in 1979.
In June of '78, he was drafted in the 18th round by the San Diego Padres, and that was one dugout Les wouldn't be allowed in. By September 1981, Eric was in the big leagues, and he retired 10 of the first 12 batters he faced. He even had a two-inning save against Pittsburgh, and the first run he gave up was a homer to the Reds' Johnny Bench. Even Les couldn't complain about that.
Matter of fact, Les was overcome with joy. He'd done it. He'd raised a big leaguer. But make no mistake: Eric was just as ecstatic to be in San Diego. The Padres had big plans for him, and after a day game in April 1982, Eric told Leslie and Cara Mia to follow him up a ramp.
He led them to the upper reaches of Jack Murphy Stadium. The place was empty, the grass pristine. They looked down; Leslie noticed Eric breathing it all in, grinning.
"Eric, you've got thousands of people coming to watch you," Leslie said. "How does that feel?"
Eric shook his head and said, "It's pretty much awesome."
For the first time, as far as anyone could tell, he was in utter love with baseball.
An eccentric in a team game
The thing about baseball, it's day to day. Eric found out quickly, in his first full year in the majors, that he and his teammates were from different planets.
The books he read ("Atlas Shrugged") and the music he transcribed (Pat Martino jazz solos) were over the heads of most everyone in the clubhouse, and the problem was, Eric knew it. He came off as condescending, and on the field he came off as plain weird.
He was the kind of pitcher who would get a fastball sign from his catcher and decide -- mid-windup -- to throw a slider. Against the Cubs in spring training, he tried some sort of leaping pick-off move and threw the ball 100 feet off course into the dugout.
It didn't help that his manager was the no-nonsense Dick Williams, whose M.O. was to give his players sarcasm or the silent treatment. The old-school skipper was trying to change the Padres' culture of losing when he arrived in 1982, but he was an acquired taste for the team and Eric.
Eric's first confrontation with Williams was typical. The manager had removed him from a game, and in a postgame interview, Eric said he'd had a lot left in the tank. Williams read about it. When Eric was getting shelled his next start -- and needed to come out -- the manager left him in to rot.
At times, it was as if he were pitching for Les again. On good days -- he won 15 games and was the Opening Day starter in 1983 -- his past wasn't an issue. But whenever he faced adversity on the mound, teammates noticed him slump his shoulders. On days he didn't have his good fastball, he'd throw 18 consecutive sliders. If he got somebody out with a fastball, he'd say to a teammate, "I can't believe the guy didn't crush that." They had no idea this was engrained in him by a myopic parent. All they knew was his body language was a disaster.
"He was a guy you had to keep pumping up," former Padres infielder Tim Flannery said. "If a line drive was hit right at somebody, he'd be bumming. We'd have to go, 'Hey, it's an out. Come on!'"
Other teammates weren't as gentle, namely the closer Gossage, who came over from the Yankees before the 1984 season. Gossage was right away lord of the Padres pitchers and made an early attempt to bring Eric into his flock. "We would talk about baseball," Gossage says, "and he would start to get real heavy. I'd say, 'Wait a minute, Eric, we're better off keeping it as simple as it is. In baseball, a lot of things are out of your control. Like errors. A ball barely falling in.'
"But there was no reasoning with Eric. He'd just say, 'Uh, I don't want to talk about it.' Or, 'No, that ball should've been caught.' You'd shake your head. Pretty soon, I didn't even talk to him."
Fortunately for Eric, he'd found two kindred spirits: fellow pitchers Dravecky and Mark Thurmond. They'd grown close during Sunday chapels at the ballpark, and Eric was their guide when it came to religion. After enduring Les' bigotry, Eric had searched high and low for answers and had studied virtually everything from Buddhism to Judaism. He'd written a long dissertation in his diary about God's mercy. He had given himself to Christ in his early 20s but had myriad theological and political questions. In Dravecky and Thurmond, he had someone to bounce ideas off.
They accepted Eric for what he was -- an eccentric. On road trips, the trio would walk to dinner, and inevitably Eric would invite a homeless person to join them. He spoke to every beggar he saw. He'd try to talk them out of alcohol, or he'd walk them to a community shelter or detox center.
He'd give random people $50 bills. He'd laugh at his bloated salary and think the owners were fools for paying it. He was always searching for something meaningful outside of baseball, and during spring training of 1984, he happened to enter a John Birch Society bookstore in Arizona. He began to read the material, and the anti-communist mantra hit home for him. Eric had always half-joked, "Ronald Reagan's too far to the left for me," and now he'd found a group that seconded the notion. The group believed in less government, more responsibility by the people, and Eric immersed himself in its writings. He informed Dravecky and Thurmond about it, put a "U.S. Out of the U.N." bumper sticker on his car. The three of them joined -- unaware that some critics had stigmatized the group as anti-Semitic and anti-black.
In the midst of this, 1984 was turning into a magical year. The Padres were on their way to their first National League West title, and Eric -- with the help of a new friend he'd met at a music store, Mark Augustin -- put out a record titled "Padres Win Again"" He, Dravecky and Thurmond were inseparable, nicknamed Manny, Moe and Jack after the Pep Boys. But then, suddenly, they had no peace.
In June 1984, the trio was seen distributing literature at a John Birch Society booth at the Del Mar fair. In some media reports, the players were cast as racists, which stung Eric. In the wake of his upbringing, he'd always tried to be the antithesis of Les. He'd hired a Jewish agent, had become friendly with Jewish writers and would partake in measured debates with Alan Wiggins, one of the team's black players. The rest of the clubhouse supported the Pep Boys; the ordeal just didn't seem to resonate with the team. They were too hot, too comfortably in first place. People such as third-base coach Ozzie Virgil, also black, still adored Eric. Eric would look up at the moon during games and say, "OK, Ozzie, what is it? A waxing gibbous or a waning gibbous?"
"A waning gibbous," Virgil would say.
"Darn you, Show!" Virgil would say, laughing.
But everywhere else, there was venom. Fans razzed Eric during games, while, according to Dravecky, one Communist newspaper falsely classified the three pitchers as heavily armed, dangerous and drug traffickers. It was ridiculous, but Eric became the face of the controversy. His image seemed irreparably harmed. It felt like the backseat of Les' Mercury Comet all over again, and he did not respond well.
He started Game 1 of the 1984 NL Championship Series at Wrigley Field and was lit up for five runs in four innings. His body language was atrocious, and suddenly teammates doubted he could be their ace. "You never knew what you were going to get with Eric," Gossage says. "After he did one of his hands-on-hips deals, looking out at the outfielders or infielders, you could just feel the energy go out of the team."
The Padres battled back from a two-game deficit to force a deciding fifth game in San Diego. Eric got the start, but Williams wasn't going to tolerate any moping. Right away, Eric gave up home runs to Leon Durham and Jody Davis. Down 3-0 with one out in the second, Williams yanked him. Gave him the silent treatment.
The Padres roared back to win 6-3 and advance to the World Series. But Williams kept Eric as far as he could from the Detroit Tigers' bats. He finally started him in Game 4, with the Padres down 2-1 in the series, and the Tigers' Alan Trammell crushed two-run homers off him in the first and third innings. Williams pulled him with two outs in the third; Eric's postseason ERA was 12.38.
Les had watched from a distance, thrilled to see his son in a Fall Classic but disheartened by the results. After the Tigers closed out the series in five games, Eric refused to call Les. He didn't want to talk pitch selection. He didn't want to talk baseball. He didn't like baseball.
A date with history
The prospect of another season gnawed at Eric. But in the winter of 1985, the Padres acquired a new No. 1 starter, LaMarr Hoyt, and Eric hoped the pressure might dissipate.
The season began well, and Eric eventually pitched a career-high 233 innings. He lowered his ERA to a near-career-best mark of 3.09. On the road, he'd play jazz in hotel lobbies with local bands. He'd practice guitar in his hotel bathroom, trying not to wake up his roommate, Dravecky. Sometimes, he'd play in hotel stairwells and draw an audience. He'd ask teammates to pick a song, any song, and he'd perform it flawlessly.
But none of that mattered Sept. 8, 1985, when the Padres flew on their team charter to Cincinnati. None of that mattered with Rose stuck on 4,191 hits and Eric already brooding.
Cara Mia and Mark Augustin made the trip with him, secretly hoping some other pitcher would be the goat. The first pitcher up, on Monday, Sept. 9, was Eric's pal Dravecky, but Rose -- as the Reds' player-manager -- decided to take the day off. The next pitcher up was Hoyt, who had been the starter and MVP of that year's All-Star Game. Hoyt felt Rose's bat had slowed with the hitter at age 44, and his plan was to throw fastball after fastball at Rose's hands.
True to his word, Hoyt jammed Rose each at-bat, coaxing him to pop up three times. A 21-year-old reliever named Lance McCullers -- nicknamed "Baby Goose" -- got Rose to line out in his last at-bat, which brought the inevitable: Eric being only 60 feet, 6 inches between Rose and the record.
Eric's karma hadn't been good all week. When asked about 4,192, he had answered, "I'm so disinterested in it, I don't know how to answer that question." He didn't deny the record would be "a fantastic accomplishment." But he also said, "In the eternal scope of things, how much does this matter?"
Cara Mia knew what her husband was trying to do: deflect the horrible tension. "He was internalizing his hurt," she says. He was trying to talk himself into believing that the record didn't matter, that Les wasn't standing behind the backstop. But, in some ways, he was talking himself into giving up the hit.
On Wednesday night, Sept. 11, Rose stepped into the batter's box against Eric. Flashbulbs popped. Kennedy had a sore back, so reserve catcher Bruce Bochy (now the San Francisco manager) was calling pitches. Bochy knew that Eric threw hard sinkers and sliders, that he was a power pitcher. So, after the first offering was a fastball inside, Bochy didn't think twice about asking for Eric's best pitch, that lethal slider. Eric's pitches almost always ran in; Bochy figured he'd certainly jam Rose as much as Hoyt had.
But for whatever reason -- rotten luck or decades of self-doubt -- Eric tossed a meatball of a slider that hung from here to Kentucky. The pitch had absolutely no sizzle to it. Rose inside-outed the pitch to left field for No. 4,192.
There were fireworks and streamers, and for a split second, Eric shut his eyes. He and his teammates had been forewarned there would be a lengthy ceremony. Reds owner Marge Schott would be presenting Rose with a car. There would be a speech or three. The Padres' fielders were instructed to stay on the field for what could be 15 or 20 minutes.
Eric ran over to shake Rose's hand. He then returned to the mound and studied all the madness. He'd done this. His fat pitch had done this. Pete Rose Jr., who was working that day as a bat boy, ran to first base to embrace his dad. Perhaps that made Eric think of his own father. He never said. But right about then, with his back beginning to tighten, Eric sat down on the mound.
Thurmond: "Dave Dravecky and I were saying, 'What is he doing?'"
Dravecky: "We were pulling our hair out, going, 'Get up!'"
Kennedy: "I was saying, 'Don't do that, oh s---, that looks bad.' All of a sudden, he'd become the center of it. I don't think he was trying to show anybody up. He just didn't know what the hell to do. But Eric was a little counterculture, too. And that's pretty much a counterculture statement right there: Eff you, I'm sitting on the mound."
Bochy: "I remember it was like Mardi Gras out there. And looking back, I should've gone to the mound; I should've wandered out to him. He was all by himself out there."
Sitting on the mound was the ultimate I-don't-want-to-be-here gesture. And after that, it was no longer Eric against Pete Rose, but Eric against his own team. In the third inning, he gave up a flare single to Dave Parker, leading to a Reds run. Eric seemed to think left fielder Carmelo Martinez could have caught the ball, and between innings, he mentioned this to pitching coach Galen Cisco. Martinez overheard.
Martinez: "If you got anything to say, say it now."
Eric: "What are you talking about?"
Martinez: "You know."
Eric: "Gonna do something about it?"
No one knew Eric had been trained to box by Les. There were shoves, until Dravecky managed to separate the two. After the game, a 2-0 loss, the sore feelings carried over. Flannery felt Eric had disrespected Rose, and they nearly came to blows in the clubhouse. Players were lining up to rip him. "We were like, 'If you don't want to be here, go do something else,'" Gossage says. "We were, 'Your attitude stinks -- your mannerisms, the way you carry yourself.' It got to the point where it was a big dark cloud."
The most snide remark came from third baseman Graig Nettles, who said, "The Birch Society is going to expel Eric for making a Red famous." It was fair game on the pitcher, and he left the stadium that night without comment, walking back to the hotel alone with Cara Mia.
"I tried to talk to him, but he didn't want to talk," she says. "He was just very reserved. I'm sure regretting that he sat on the mound. I know regretting that he sat on the mound. I think we just went to bed early that night.
"I don't even think he picked up his guitar to play."
A turn for the worse
Eric needed a shoulder to cry on, or at least closure, and so that offseason, he arranged a visit with Les.
According to Cara Mia, Eric had an idealistic view of what a father-son relationship should be. Hugs. Slaps on the back. Surprise trips to Disneyland. The problem with Les, as far as Tyler could tell, was that he was "like a stone formal no warmth at all." And after the Rose hit, Eric was finally going to confront him on it.
He invited Les to his home, and Eric poured them each a glass of wine. He didn't drink often, but Eric thought alcohol might be the only way to take the edge off. He told Les, "Let's put all the cards on the table" and he methodically brought up the abuse, on and off the baseball field.
According to Leslie, there were tears and angry words, and according to Cindi, Les took responsibility for nothing. He blamed his own upbringing, blamed Eric. The tone was contentious. Eric threw up his hands. Nothing was solved.
He returned to the Padres in 1986 feeling unwelcomed but grateful that he at least had the Pep Boys in his corner. But, about midyear, Thurmond was traded to Detroit, and then, on July 4, 1987, Dravecky was dealt to the Giants. "I think we all wondered aloud, 'God, what's Eric gonna do now? His guys are gone,'" Gossage says.
On July 7 in Chicago, Eric pitched without his allies for the first time, and Andre Dawson greeted him in the first inning with a towering home run. Dawson was killing San Diego pitching. He had homered off Eric in May, and he had gone deep twice July 6 against Mark Grant, who'd been acquired in the Dravecky trade. Dawson was the streakiest sort of hitter, and when he stepped up again in the bottom of the third, he engulfed home plate, waiting for more meat.
Eric would tell Tyler later that he just meant to brush Dawson back, to take back at least a piece of the plate. But Eric's pitches tended to run inside anyway, and this one ran right into Dawson's face. "The Hawk" was down, blood gushing, and Chicago pitcher Rick Sutcliffe charged after Eric, followed by a small army of other Cubs. Dawson writhed on the ground for what seemed like an eternity, then slowly began to uncoil.
"I saw him come up with blood on his face and big ol' eyes," Flannery says. "The Hawk looked scary. I knew he was going to try to kill him."
Dawson chased Eric all over the infield, and even as first-base umpire Charlie Williams escorted Eric off the playing field -- honestly fearing for the pitcher's safety -- Dawson was still after him. "I think there was even a point where I kind of [would have] liked to have seen Andre get his hands on him," Gossage says.
Alone in the clubhouse, Eric was literally quivering. "I went back up there, after the game resumed, and I remember he looked like he lost a family member, like his dog got hit by a car," Grant says. "He was sitting at the picnic table, and he was writing a handwritten letter to Andre Dawson, apologizing."
But Dawson wouldn't accept the apology, and some insinuated the beaning was racially motivated. It was more Birch Society fallout; it had never gone away. Eric received a death threat and changed hotels. He didn't have the makeup to handle this alone. Dravecky and Thurmond were gone at the most inopportune time, and he was sinking. He didn't love the game enough to be able to stomach this.
"Eric's dad got his wish to live through his son, but it robbed Eric of something that was inherently him," his friend Augustin says. "Maybe Eric wasn't cut out to play baseball. Maybe he would've been better suited as a musician."
Cara Mia had been listening to the Dawson game on the radio while doing dishes in the kitchen and flew straight to Pittsburgh, where the Padres were headed next. She found Eric inconsolable. Nationally, he was a pariah, and Tyler says, "I didn't get it. Drysdale or Gibson were headhunters. They were lionized for that sort of thing. Eric does the same thing, tries to brush a guy back, and now he's like [Charles] Manson."
Not a single Padres player believed Eric was aiming for Dawson's face. At his core, they knew he wasn't violent or racist. But no one heard them. Cara Mia says the Dawson incident was the last straw, the worst day of Eric's baseball life -- which is saying something.
Deep down, he wanted out.
Sometime in 1988, as best as anyone can guess, Eric Show tried his first amphetamine.
The theories of his wife and friends are threefold: that he was bored with baseball; that his back was constantly aching and he needed a boost; and, lastly, that he wanted an escape.
The clubhouse drug of choice in those days was Fastin, a greenie that Eric knew was prevalent all over baseball. For years, he resisted them. But, after the Dawson incident, the willpower was gone. "He would take an amphetamine to, I think, make him sharp for the game," Cara Mia says. "It took the back pain away."
The results were undeniable. Eric improved from eight wins in 1987 to 16 wins in 1988. Not only that, he threw 13 complete games, eight more than his previous career high. He also was staying up all hours of the night, sometimes until dawn, unable to come down from the chemically induced high. Teammates would be returning to the hotel at 2 a.m., just as Eric was heading out.
"I'd see him once in a while in kind of seedy areas by himself," Gossage says. "One time in Pittsburgh, I came around the corner, and boom, we were nose to nose. I just happened to be traveling through, and he was like a deer in headlights. He hurried away from me. There was a good guy inside of Eric, and I would've sat there and talked to him. But he was, 'I gotta go, gotta go.' I thought, 'What the hell was that all about?'"
By 1989, the drug use was backfiring. He'd always been a player who showed up 30 seconds before a 3 p.m. bus, but now, he was plain unreliable. He was supposed to start a 1 o'clock game in St. Louis on May 11 that year, and by 12:30, he still hadn't shown his face in the clubhouse. The team was scrambling to find a spot starter until Eric rolled in at 12:35. He gave up five runs and was yanked after two innings. He seemed listless. All of that Fastin had masked Eric's back pain, but, in the process, he'd done damage to his disc area. He needed surgery during the season and decided a return in 1990 was implausible without some sort of drug, some sort of upper. He phoned the only addict he knew: his sister Cindi.
Les had damaged more than just his son, and Cindi -- a self-professed "wild child" -- had been using speed for years. Eric invited her out to lunch one day and asked whether she knew where to obtain Desoxyn, Prelude or Fastin. He knew all of the amphetamine derivations, but Cindi told him he'd need a prescription for those.
"Besides, Eric," she told him, "how can you use those? They drug test you."
"Nah, nah, they don't drug test," he said.
"Aren't you worried about being caught?" she asked.
"No, you have to be really blowing it for them to do that," he said.
In that case, she said, she had an idea. She couldn't get him prescribed pills, but she could buy something comparable on the street.
"You've probably heard of it," she said. "Crystal meth methamphetamine."
So Cindi became Eric's supplier. Rather than risk his being arrested, she bought the meth for him. In a matter of days, he was hooked.
"Eric got addicted very fast," Cindi says. "I mean, he was using massive amounts from the very beginning. I'd get him about a month's worth, at least, but he'd call back like the next week and go, 'I accidentally flushed it down the toilet' or 'It accidentally went down the drain.' I'm like, 'Eric, I don't know.' And he's, 'I really, really need it. Swear to God, swear to God.' So I'd get him some more."
Fairly soon, there was the 1990 season to play, and at times, Cindi and Eric were using meth together. He'd stay up three nights at a time, and he'd lie and tell Cara Mia and Augustin he had music projects he was working on. Augustin knew better. Cindi felt guilty and tried controlling his binges. "I said, 'Eric, if you use it, you've got to stop using it by a certain time of the day so you can sleep at night,'" she says. "I said, 'You have to eat. This stuff will make you not want to eat. You're an athlete. You need your energy.' But he'd go, 'Yeah, yeah.' He'd just go out and pitch on it."
He was in so deep, the typical meth-induced paranoia set in. Fages, his old high school catcher, visited for a game at Jack Murphy, and Eric told him he was "being tormented regularly by demons that would sit in the stands and hiss and scream at him." The dead giveaway to the Padres was his 5.76 ERA. Something was amiss. During homestands, he'd play his guitar all afternoon until Cara Mia had to remind him to get to the stadium. Otherwise, he might not have shown up at all. She was seeing all the signs of a grown man crashing down. She stood by him, still went to Jack Murphy Stadium on nights he pitched. She'd sit alone, writing letters or listening to music on her headphones. The games were becoming hard to watch.
The Padres weren't planning to re-sign him after the '90 season. He started out 1-8 and got booed by fans, got called selfish by teammate Jack Clark. When Grant asked him one day how he was hanging in there, Eric sang a stanza from the Don Henley song "The Heart of the Matter":
- There are people in your life who've come and gone.
They let you down, you know they hurt your pride.
You better put it all behind you baby; 'cause life goes on.
If you keep carrying that anger, it'll eat you up inside, baby
I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter.
But my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it's about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore
Then his Padres career was over, in a blaze of glory. On the final night of the '90 season, stuck on 99 career wins, he beat the Dodgers 7-3 for victory No. 100. He was the winningest pitcher in franchise history, but somehow, as he walked out the clubhouse door in a black leather jacket, it just didn't feel that way.
Plunging to scary depths
He found a team to take him in 1991, the naive Oakland A's. It was more of the same: a bloated ERA and irregular behavior. Augustin came to visit for a day game, and afterward, the two sat in an empty Oakland Coliseum dugout.
"Can you smell that?" Augustin asked. "Can you smell the fresh-cut grass?"
"Why you ask?" Eric said.
"Because this is your baseball career. One day it's going to be over. You're not going to be here to have this perspective. Can you smell that? Appreciate that?"
"Nah let's go have a beer," Eric said.
The A's picked up his option for 1992, but over the winter, Eric's world continued to deteriorate. Les was showing signs of dementia, and Eric was the one who took him to the doctor. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and Eric told Les it was important to find Christ. Les waved him off.
Meanwhile, according to Augustin, Eric was beginning to favor cocaine over meth, and his drug-induced paranoia was getting over the top. He was convinced a dragon was after him. He swore one night to Cindi that Marilyn Monroe was in the room with him. He was certain someone was going to implant a tracking device inside him. He carried around that same .22-caliber pistol from his college days in Riverside.
Then, in spring training of '92, it all went public. He skipped an A's workout and showed up three days later with bandaged hands. Police told the team Eric had been acting peculiarly near an adult bookstore and that, when approached, he'd tried hopping a barbed wire fence. There also were rumors he'd freebased and had cocaine blow up in his hands. No one knew the truth. All A's manager Tony La Russa would say was, "It's clear to me, if the stuff doesn't change, what's the use of having him?"
Days later, Show was released, and worse yet, Cara Mia kicked him out. In her mind, it was tough love. He stayed with Augustin and eventually entered rehab. He owed it to Cara Mia and his marriage. He went to a treatment center in Louisville, Ky., and saw in the paper that Dravecky, who'd lost his left arm to cancer, was speaking at a local Fellowship of Christian Athletes dinner. Eric begged to go, and the center let him out, accompanied by two staffers. Dravecky saw him during his presentation and shouted, "Eric! Good to see you! Whatever you do, don't leave until I talk to you."
They had barely seen each other since the '87 trade. Dravecky gave him his contact information and asked him to call. Eric lost the number.
He moved back in with Augustin in July 1993 but kept complaining there were evil men in the attic. He was convinced his sister Leslie was an imposter who worked for the police. Augustin says Eric was "scaring the hell out of me." He asked Cara Mia to drive over, and they took Eric to a treatment center in Lakeside, Calif. But Eric had conned his way through that program three times before, and a staffer advised them to drop Eric off at county detox in downtown San Diego. Eric used to drop people off there himself.
Later that night, Eric wandered the downtown area, yelling, "Somebody's trying to kill me!" Police sprayed him with pepper gas and dragged him into a police car. He kicked out a back window and tried climbing out head first. He admitted to using crystal meth, and the cops checked him into a psychiatric hospital.
His mother came to take him home to Riverside and called his old friend Tyler. Tyler walked in to find Eric soaking his feet in Epsom salts; he'd cut them while kicking out the window. Eric seemed lucid. He told Tyler he had asked the police to shoot him that night. Tyler began to tear up.
They went for a walk, and Eric promised to quit drugs. He told Tyler about the time he had loaded up a bowl of heroin and cocaine and thought to himself, "This may do it, man. This may be too much." When he then lit it up, Eric howled, "It's in your hands, God!" But the drugs hadn't killed him.
Maybe he had unfinished business.
The saddest of endings
Eric went to see Les again, to see whether he could finally talk sense into the old man. He walked in, and his father stared at him blankly. Eric asked Les whether he knew what year it was, and Les said something like 1959. He asked him who the president was, and Les hadn't a clue. Eric had come to help his father find Christ; but how could he do that if his father hadn't the faintest idea who Christ was?
He returned a second time, and Les was a little more forthcoming. There seemed to be a minor breakthrough. Eric squeezed his hand. They posed for a nice photo together.
- But it's about forgiveness.
Even if you don't love me anymore.
Eric told Cara Mia about the visit, and she remembers him half-smiling, half-cringing. "I think he did make peace with his dad," Cara Mia says. "But when I asked him about that, Eric still looked sad. He probably wanted his dad to grab him around the shoulders and hug him and say, 'Eric, I'm so sorry I hurt you and abused you growing up. But I want you to know I love you and please forgive me for how I've hurt you.' He probably wanted some acceptance from his father. Because that's why Eric was always running. Running from the hurt. Running right to the amphetamines."
And on cue, he ran back to drugs again. He relapsed in early 1994 and told Cara Mia, "You'd be better off if I was dead." He wouldn't play his guitar anymore, an ominous sign. Cara Mia, Tyler and Augustin all thought he might be giving up.
"I told him I loved him and if he didn't quit drugs he'd chase the dragon right off the edge of the world," Tyler says. "And I just got the sense there was this flatness. About life in general. About everything."
On Feb. 12 of that year, Eric entered rehab one more time, at the Rancho L'Abri center in Dulzura, Calif. This time, he stayed for 30 days and apparently laid it all out for the counselors: Baseball was the culprit. He'd had a gift for it. He pleased his father with it. It was easy money. But he was always at the wrong place, wrong time. A John Birch bookstore during spring training Pete Rose and 4,192 Andre Dawson and a fastball with a mind of its own. Why me?
But after his 30th day, Eric had a premonition Les was dying and called Augustin to say, "I need to see my father." Augustin planned to pick him up the next afternoon, March 14, 1994, but first went surfing that morning. He wrapped his keys in a towel at the beach, but when he returned, the keys were gone. He asked his friend Bob Bell to go get Eric.
Bell had no idea Eric was leaving Rancho L'Abri against medical advice, and says Eric seemed sober and wistful on their hour's ride back to San Diego. Eric told Bell he was worried his father might be too far gone to find Christ. He talked about a math equation he'd been working on for days. He said his marriage was on the rocks. Bell asked him whether he needed a place to stay, and Eric said he was going to meet up with friends Bell didn't know. It was a red flag. Bell begged him to stay with him, but Eric said, "No, I'm OK, Bob, I'm going to see these friends. I'm fine; don't worry."
Sure enough, Eric went on a drug binge that night. He hadn't gone to see Les; instead, he'd concocted a speedball. Augustin would later learn that Eric ingested four $10 bags of cocaine, felt unsettled and then ingested eight $10 bags of heroin. He then chased it with a six-pack of beer.
He vomited several times afterward and was up all night before meeting Augustin for lunch the next day, March 15. "He looked haggard, worn out," Augustin says. "He wouldn't eat. I knew he needed to go back to rehab. But he went to the house he had with his wife."
Eric had written a love letter he wanted to personally deliver to Cara Mia. On the way over, he used the last of his heroin. When they met that night, she had something to tell him: She wanted a divorce.
She said that she couldn't continue to be "dragged down," that he needed to head back to Rancho L'Abri to get clean. He said, "I know, I know, I'm just going to give it all to God now." She called the center to come fetch him, and when the van arrived, she kissed him and said, "You go get 'em, honey, you're going to be just fine."
That night, she dialed Yvonne to say Eric was safely back in treatment. Yvonne was relieved -- until Leslie called her the next morning in hysterics.
Eric was dead, at 37. He'd been found unresponsive in his bed, at about 8:05 the morning of March 16, with that same .22-caliber gun under his pillow. According to the toxicology report delivered to Cara Mia, he had died of acute morphine and cocaine intoxication. Cara Mia says she had no idea he'd done a speedball or she would've rushed him to the ER herself.
As for the gun under his pillow, Eric's friends say it was due to his chronic paranoia, to all the dragons he saw. It was loaded with five bullets.
On his finger was his wedding ring.
A life remembered
They never told Les he was gone. What would be the point of it? If he couldn't remember Eric, the news would mean nothing to him. And if he could remember his son, it'd be torture. Even Leslie, who had disowned her father years before, conceded that Les adored Eric, that his intentions were pure. He just had zero control of himself.
It rained at the funeral, and only one Padres player showed up: Dravecky. But there were letters from people all over the U.S. who wrote that Eric had encouraged them to get back into church. There were stories of him stopping traffic so a mother could carry her groceries across a street with her young child. Stories of how he wanted to save the whales. No one brought up Pete Rose.
Cara Mia ordered an emerald green casket -- "He would've liked it," she says -- and placed a photo of herself in his pocket. Cindi, who had turned her life around, inserted a letter in his other pocket that read, "I wish it had been me, not you."
They also put a guitar and a baseball in the coffin -- one his passion, the other his penance. "If he'd been a musician, he'd still be here today, with gray hair," Cara Mia says.
But life moves on. Les died a year later, and not long after, Yvonne was diagnosed with cancer, and she died in 2000. Before she slipped into a coma, Tyler went to visit her. And as Yvonne rubbed his hair from her wheelchair, Tyler sensed she was imagining Eric. He says it was one of the saddest moments of his life.
Augustin continued to operate Eric's music store and made copies of Eric's first recording, "America 4/4 To Go." He turned Eric's collection of Christmas songs into a CD titled "Oh Holy Night" and made it available on iTunes and cdbaby.com. He says that if Eric had lived, he'd have played music in venues the size of baseball stadiums. "He was that good," Augustin says.
Cara Mia remarried. But she kept most of Eric's trinkets, including an autographed ball from Rose that said, "To Eric, A Great Competitor." The first year after he died, she would occasionally slink into a Padres game at Jack Murphy Stadium and sit in the wives' section. It was odd because she was never much of a baseball fan. But she wanted to smell the grass her husband couldn't or wouldn't ever smell. She wanted to take one more look around for Eric.
So she'd wait for the moon to come out.
Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Friend was the beat reporter for the 1985 San Diego Padres for the Los Angeles Times, San Diego edition.
18hPat McManamon and Jeremy Fowler