Though I never met him, the death of former major league pitcher Steve Howe, 48, in an early morning, single vehicle, freeway accident in Southern California last week hit me hard and low. I always thought of Howe — whose career as a left-handed closer began so promisingly as Rookie of the Year for the Dodgers in 1980 before stuttering then stalling out after SEVEN suspensions for drugs and alcohol — as sort of my vastly more talented doppelganger.
Howe was just a few months older than I; we were of similar size, and we were both left-handed pitchers. Though my career peaked in high school, Howe was the Dodgers' closer by the time he was 22. I always rooted for him to get his career, then his life, back together long after he became much better known as a bad joke and an embarrassment than as a sensational pitcher. I never gave up on the guy - perhaps because it would have felt like giving up on myself.
I too had my problems with substance abuse all through my late-teens and twenties. I can't believe I never hurt myself or anyone else given the HUNDREDS of times I drove under the influence of alcohol over a period of about 15 years. The extent of my fortune and the severity of the consequences should my force field of luck falter, finally hit home on a late summer night in 1989.
For several years I had been telling myself that I was a better DJ when I drank - I relaxed, got into it more. I also got sloppy, ruined equipment and records, flirted with women I had no interest in, and said stupid things. But I could ignore that.
That night, my friend, the manager of a long-gone dance club carved out of the Sea Lion restaurant in Malibu, was going away to law school and I had just become separated from my first wife. So, for very different reasons, we raised many a glass together throughout the evening as I had entertained a gathering of tourists and locals while waves scenically danced against the breakwater and splashed upon the club's large picture windows.
With the drinking finally finished and the club closed, I brushed my teeth and scooped up a finger-full of peanut butter out of the jar I kept in the truck to mask the odor of alcohol. I chuckled at my own cleverness.