Howe Aims for Opener and for Laughs : Dodger Pitcher Exudes Optimism, Humor at Press Conference

Times Staff Writer

He entered Dodgertown's Roy Campanella conference room working furiously on a piece of gum.

"See?" he said, extending his wrists in front of the four TV cameras that were recording what had been billed as an informal press conference. "Ain't no handcuffs."

Then Steve Howe talked about selling cars and working out in a karate studio, about the movie somebody wants to make about his life and about how Michigan is going to win the NCAA basketball tournament.

He also talked about what it's like trying to throw a baseball after an elbow operation left him so sore that he couldn't squeeze water out of a sponge. "As you can see," he said, pointing to the six-inch scar decorating his left elbow, "we have a dogleg left, par 4, about 130 yards."

Howe was relaxed, funny and engaging Thursday afternoon. He also was silent on the one subject--his drug involvement--that had attracted reporters to the conference from across Florida, not to mention Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Detroit.

There were no mea culpas from Howe, no soul-baring, no pleas for compassion. And there won't be, he said, at least until the movie version.

Asked who he'd like to see play the leading man, Howe said: "LeVar Burton." Seeing the double-takes, he said: "He did the Ron LeFlore story. What the hell?"

Of his problems, Howe said: "I walk forward now. I don't dwell on the past. There are a few things I'm working on. When the time is right, people will know the story.

"For me to concentrate on my career and my family, I can't be thinking about what happened a year ago. I'm not going to do it."

So, instead, Howe repeated the optimistic projection that he'll be ready by opening day, a forecast supported by Dr. Frank Jobe, who called Howe an ideal patient.

"Steve is ahead of schedule," said Jobe, who performed the elbow surgery Jan. 9. "We will begin to test him in the last two weeks of March and we are hopeful he will pitch in a game the first part of April."

And if he's not ready by then? "No big deal," Howe said. "Then it just wasn't meant to be.

"I'm shooting for opening day, but nothing's in concrete until, physically, my body tells me I'm ready.

"I've already gone through the adhesions tearing up, and the physical pain hasn't bothered me. It never has. I've pitched with it a lot in my career and adjusted to it. If I've got good stuff, I'm not going to be beaten. That's the way it is."

Asked if he was ready for hostile reaction he may encounter from some people, Howe said: "The way I look at it now, the worst is going to come, so anything less than that is good. The people that are going to throw stuff at you have their own inadequacies. When you put it in that perspective, it makes it a lot easier. You feel sorry for them rather than wanting to punch them."

When someone wondered if the long layoff would affect him, Howe answered in a typically cocky fashion.

"Before losing a year, year and a half, put me back," he said, "I was two years ahead of those guys, so I'm still half a year ahead."

The only reference Howe made to his cocaine dependency was an oblique one. Referring to how he had kept his weight down by working in a karate studio, he laughed and said: "I've always had a hard time keeping on weight."

And what is his goal for 1985?

"Just win," he said.

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