Friday, May 11, 2012

#170 Steve Howe - Los Angeles Dodgers

This is the third Topps card of lefty reliever Steve Howe. Looks like Howe is in the set position on the mound at Dodger Stadium.
Player: Steve Howe was a first round pick of the Dodgers in 1979.  After signing he spent the rest of the '79 season as a starter at Double-A San Antonio. The young hurler made the Dodgers team in 1980 and found a spot in the bullpen. Howe quickly established himself as an effective late inning reliever and was soon trusted with the bulk of the closing duties. Howe nailed down 17 saves (setting a rookie record)and carried a sub 2.00 ERA for most of the year before a late year slump bumped it to 2.66. He showed great control with only 12 un-intentional walks in 84.2 innings of work. His impressive year won him the NL Rookie of the Year award. The second in a run of four Dodgers to capture the award from '79-'82.

Howe had a fine sophomore season saving eight games while sharing closer duties with Dave Stewart and Bobby Castillo. Howe recorded a 2.50 ERA in 54 innings during the strike year of '81. The Dodgers beat the Astros in the divisional series and the Expos in the NLCS with Howe contributing two scoreless outings in each series. Matching up against the Yankees the Dodgers took the World Series in six games with Howe winning Game 4 and earning the save in the deciding Game 6.

Howe kept improving and saved 13 games with a 2.08 ERA in a career high 99.1 innings in '82. His control was outstanding as he walked just 17 (11 intentional). Howe sought treatment in the off season for drug addiction and started off the '83 season with great on field success. He had thrown 22.1 scoreless innings when he checked into a clinic to treat his cocaine addiction in late May.  Although he set career bests with 18 saves and a minuscule 1.44 ERA in 68.2 frames, Howe would be suspended for refusing a drug test in September.

Spiraling downhill, Howe tested positive for drugs three times in November and was suspended by MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn for the entire '84 season. He returned to the Dodgers in '85 but was not the same and he was released in July with a 4.91 ERA.  He signed with the Twins a month later but was even worse allowing 16 runs in 19 innings. 

Howe spent the next year and a half bouncing around independent, Mexican, and minor leagues.  He resurfaced with the Rangers in late '87, pitching in 24 games with a 4.31 ERA. As he battled drug and alcohol problems, Howe was in and out of baseball. He signed a minor league deal with the Yankees in '91. After 18 scoreless innings at AAA Columbus, he returned to the big leagues on 5/11. He had a very effective year with a 1.68 ERA in 48.1 innings.

Just when many thought he had put his problems behind him, Howe was busted for buying cocaine in June '92.  At the time Howe had a 2.45 ERA with six saves in 22 innings. He was given a lifetime ban that was later lifted on appeal.  Back with the Yankees, Howe wasn't very good in '93 and sported an ERA of 4.97. 

The Yankees were in first place in '94 when the strike ended the season.  At the time Howe was the bullpen ace with 15 saves and a tiny 1.80 ERA.  In '95 Howe wasn't nearly as effective as John Wetteland took over the closing duties.  Howe's ERA jumped up to 4.96.  He was no longer getting anyone out in '96 and the Yankees cut him loose after 17 ineffective innings. 

Now 39 years old, Howe attempted a comeback in the independent Northern League.  Although he pitched well he didn't make it back to the majors.

In 12 seasons spread out over 17 years, Howe had a 3.03 ERA (130 ERA+) with 91 saves in 606 innings. 

Stuff:  Four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, change

Flipside:  The save on 6-26 wasn't a cheapie.  He pitched 3.1 innings and allowed just one baserunner in a 4-1 win over the Astros. 

Oddball:  Howe had terrific control.  In 606 innings he allowed 139 career walks, with 54 intentional.  So Howe gave up only an un-intentional walk every 7.2 innings.

History:  Howe had a great arm and had some excellent seasons.  The lefty phenom won a World Series in '81 with the Dodgers. 
For every second chance Howe was given, he couldn't overcome his problems, wasting opportunities at every turn.  Sadly his post-baseball career was no different.  He died in 2006 after his truck left a desert highway in Coachella, California.  Autopsy reports showed he had meth is his system.

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