For whatever reason, the topic of drug abuse doesn't come up very often in conjunction with baseball. I'm not talking about performance-enhancing drugs, of course. I'm also not referring to alcohol abuse, which seems to be a serious and fairly frequent problem that gets brushed off until a team wants to make an example of somebody. But the only current major leaguer who I can recall who has struggled with hardcore drugs is Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, a former #1 draft pick who nearly lost everything to his alcohol, cocaine, and crack addictions before making a remarkable recovery. In his second season in the major leagues since his comeback, Hamilton is looking like a great success story.
Sammy Stewart is not nearly so lucky.
A go-to guy in the Oriole bullpen for much of the 1980s, Stewart had no drug problem during his ten-year career in the majors. It was only when the Cleveland Indians released him in October 1987 that Sammy looked for something to fill the void. A few months later, he found the rush and excitement he'd been missing, and unfortunately he found it in crack cocaine. Though the imposing righthander had compiled some impressive statistics on the diamond (2.32 ERA in 1981, no runs allowed in 12 postseason innings,7 straight strikeouts in his ML debut), he's spent the past two decades racking up numbers of a more disheartening nature:
43 criminal charges
He's currently serving jail time in North Carolina. He's lost the three million dollars or so that he earned on the mound. He's lost his 1983 World Series ring, his home, and most of all his family. Sammy Stewart is a sick man who would have done anything to get money for his next high. He has a daughter with cystic fibrosis, and he used to play upon the sympathies of his friends and neighbors to borrow cash. His story is equal parts pitiable and despicable, and it's been told much more eloquently in other places.
The thing that really struck me in reading up on Sammy Stewart was his age. He's fifty-three, just a few weeks younger than my father. I can't imagine being in the position of Alicia, Stewart's daughter. What would I do - what would you do - if you happened upon your father and he was dirty and disheveled, his skin actually yellowed from the abuse he'd inflicted upon himself? How would you react if you tried to offer him food, only for him to refuse and to ask for money instead?
I don't have the answers. I hope that Sammy truly has hit rock bottom, and that it's not too late for him to start climbing back up.