Former relief pitcher Howe killed in car crash

Updated: April 29, 2006, 8:22 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Steve Howe, the relief pitcher whose promising career was derailed by cocaine and alcohol abuse, died Friday when his pickup truck rolled over in Coachella, Calif. He was 48.

Howe was killed at 5:55 a.m. PT, said Dalyn Backes of the Riverside County coroner's office. The pickup truck Howe was driving left the roadway, entered the median and rolled several times, ejecting Howe from the vehicle, according to the coroner's office. The accident occurred about 130 miles east of Los Angeles.

Howe had been in Arizona on business and was driving back to the family home in Valencia, Calif., business partner Judy Welp said.

Steve Howe
Jonathan Daniel/Allsport

Toxicology tests had not yet been performed.

The hard-throwing lefty was the 1980 NL Rookie of the Year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and helped them win the World Series the next year.

But for all of Howe's success on the field, the hard-throwing lefty was constantly troubled by addictions -- he was suspended seven times and became a symbol of the rampant cocaine problem that plagued baseball in the 1980s.

During the 1992 season, he became the first baseball player to be banned for life because of drugs. An arbitrator reinstated him after the season.

In recent years, he owned an energy drink company in Arizona.

"I just saw Steve last winter when his son was pitching against my son," former teammate and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Friday night. "Everything was looking up for him and he looked great. It makes you numb when you hear about a situation like this. He had a roller-coaster ride."

Howe was 47-41 with 91 saves and a 3.03 ERA with the Dodgers, Twins, Rangers and Yankees. His final season in the majors was 1996, and the Yankees released him in June.

A moment of silence was observed at Yankee Stadium before New York played Toronto on Friday night. Howe played for the Yankees from 1991-96.

Two days after the Yankees let him go in 1996, Howe was arrested at a Delta Airlines terminal at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport when a loaded .357 Magnum was detected inside his suitcase. He later pleaded guilty to gun possession and was placed on three years' probation and given 150 hours of community service.

Chicago White Sox coach Tim Raines played with Howe in that final year.

"You always get second chances -- third and fourth sometimes. And people really believed in him and that he'd eventually kick the problem. Unfortunately, it didn't happen for him," he said.

Howe tried a comeback in 1997 with Sioux Falls of the independent Northern League and retired after injuring his forearm. That August, he was critically injured in a motorcycle accident in Montana and charged with drunken driving; those charges were later dropped when prosecutors decided his blood test was improperly obtained.

"He was extremely talented, very confident on the mound and had an incredible arm," Scioscia said. "Obviously, he didn't reach his potential because of other things that crept into his life."

Said former Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda: "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 was suspended for the 1984 season by commissioner Bowie Kuhn for cocaine use. Howe was out of the majors in 1986 after a relapse the previous August with Minnesota.

Texas released him before the 1988 season because of an alcohol problem, and he did not pitch again in the big leagues until 1991.

"Howsie had some issues everybody knew about," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said in San Francisco. "Everybody who hasn't played with him didn't know what kind of teammate he was. What you hear about Steve is the drug stuff. ... He was kind of the captain of the bullpen out there."

Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow played against Howe in the NL West.

"When I heard it today, I thought 'What a life this guy had,'" Krukow said, his eyes red. "So many tragic things happened to him in a young 48 years. Maybe he's at peace. He was the nicest guy in the world but he had some demons, unfortunately."

When baseball began checking for steroids in 2005, Howe said he supported a testing program.

"I was one of the first to be fried and tried," he said then.

Yet Howe said he did not think the steroid problem was as big as some believed.

"For whatever reasons, holes have been dug by everybody, so you do what it takes to clear it," he said at the time. "A guy asked me one time, 'Well, how bad is the drug problem in major league baseball?' And I go, 'Go take a survey of your housewives, your doctors, your lawyers, your people down the street, and there you got your problem."'

Howe was 7-9 with 17 saves in 1980, pitching in 59 games as a major part of the Dodgers' bullpen. He played for Los Angeles through the 1983 season.

"He had a lot of talent and his heart was in the right place," former teammate Steve Sax told The Associated Press by telephone. "He meant well. He had a lot of opportunities. He just had a lot of problems that he couldn't solve."

Howe's struggles were splashed across the sports pages by the mid-1980s, when cocaine use was baseball's most well-publicized predicament. On Thursday, commissioner Bud Selig said that unlike with steroids, baseball was well aware of its troubles then.

"In the '80s, this sport had a very serious cocaine problem -- and that was a pretty consistent pattern," Selig said.

Welp knew Howe for two years, and said he was doing well before he died.

"His goal was to bring an all-natural energy drink to the United States," she said. "He was so giving, always trying to help people. He used to always say, 'I'm all about the underdog."'

Howe is survived by his wife, Cindy, daughter Chelsi and son Brian.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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