March 17 – Happy Birthday Rod Scurry
For the past decade the voodoo drug in Major League Baseball has been steroids and its tentacles have extended into the Yankee locker room on several occasions, highlighted by the public confessions of A-Rod and Jason Giambi. I’m currently reading Jim Bouton’s incredibly good book “Ball Four,” in which he chronicles his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros. In it, “the Bulldog” makes it very clear that in the 1960′s, the voodoo drug of choice for professional baseball players was amphetamines (or “greenies” as they were called back then.) Before that, booze was the preferred poison of Major Leaguers. It was alcohol abuse that almost derailed Babe Ruth’s career in New York, rotted Mickey Mantle’s liver and allegedly contributed to the roll-over of the pickup truck that killed Billy Martin.
So illegal drugs and substance abuse of some sort or another have unfortunately become as big a part of the Yankee tradition as pennant drives and batting crowns. Its been going on forever and you can bet its not going away any time soon. I personally consider the most demoralizing period of substance abuse to have been the 1980s. Why? Cocaine.
Drinking booze was and still is considered as much of an accepted all-American pastime as the game itself. Greenies and steroids were not good for ballplayers but they were dispensed and administered under the premise that they would help a player perform better. But smack was different. Too many Americans had already witnessed or personally experienced the debilitating impact of cocaine addiction on people and whole communities.
Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Steve Howe, Tim Raines, Lee Mazzilli, and Dale Berra were all one-time Yankees who experienced highly publicized cocaine addictions. And then there was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Rod Scurry was a California native who came up to the big leagues with the Pirates in 1980. He was a tall lean left-hander who became a workhorse in manager Chuck Tanner’s bullpen during the early eighties. But of all places, Pittsburgh, famously known as the Steel City, was also the Cocaine Center of Major League Baseball in the 80′s. In 1985 a Pittsburgh grand jury was convened to hear testimony from players on the Pirates and opposing teams who purchased cocaine from drug dealers permitted inside the home and visiting clubhouses of Three Rivers Stadium. (Raines, Mazzilli, Berra and Scurry all testified)
Trials were held, the dealers were jailed and the commissioner handed out fines and suspensions to the players involved. In September of 1985, while these legal proceedings were still in process, the Yankee purchased Scurry from Pittsburgh. Then-Yankee Manager Billy Martin inserted him into five games for New York during the last month of that season and Scurry pitched well, winning his only decision, earning a save and posting an ERA of 2.84.
The following March, MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth announced his penalties for all the players involved in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials. Scurry was quoted at the time in a NY Times article, referring to the penalties as “a great day for baseball.” In that same article, it was pretty clear that Scurry himself had doubts about his ability to stay off the drug. “It’s all in the past now. It’s a new start in life and in baseball. I’m on the way back up. Go back two years, and I was almost out of baseball. I think addiction overrides everything else, no matter how stiff the penalties are. You don’t care about anything; nothing matters. It’s not something you can turn off and on. I don’t know where it’ll end, if it’ll ever end.”
For Scurry, it did not end. He went on to pitch for New York in 1986, appearing in 31 games and finishing the season with a 1-2 record with 2 saves and ann ERA of 3.66. That December, the Yankees re-signed him to pitch for the club the following year. Just one month after that signing, Scurry was arrested for drunken driving in Reno, NV and refused a police request to undergo a chemical test. That incident pretty much ended his Yankee career.
I found the following in another NY Times article, describing events leading up to Scurry’s death in November of 1992: “…Scurry’s neighbors in Reno summoned Washoe County sheriff’s deputies to his home. They found the 36-year-old Scurry in the throes of what the coroner’s report later called an acute psychotic episode. The deputies said he complained that snakes were crawling on him and biting him. They said Scurry became violent and stopped breathing when they tried to place him in handcuffs and leg restraints. Hospitalized and placed on life-support systems in the intensive-care unit, Scurry died a week later. An autopsy disclosed that he died of a small hemorrhage within his brain after a cardiorespiratory collapse. A “significant condition,” the autopsy report said, was cocaine intoxication.”
Scurry shares his St. Patrick’s Day birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher.