Howe Is Released by Dodgers, Cites Pressures of L.A.

Times Staff Writer

Steve Howe's six-year career as a Dodger, much of it troubled, ended abruptly Wednesday afternoon when Howe was given his unconditional release, in part so he could satisfy his own desire to relocate.

While citing the pressures of playing in Los Angeles, Howe did not rule out the possibility of eventually pitching for another team.

"It came down to flight or fight," Howe told Roy Firestone of KCBS in a televised interview Wednesday. "Certain people in this town had a lack of understanding toward me, and in this situation I chose the flight instead of the fight.

"I plan to get myself together, spend a little time with my family, but I have no plans on giving up on my career. I've talked to my agent and I still think I can pitch."

The decision to release the 27-year-old relief pitcher apparently was mutually acceptable to both the Dodgers and Howe. The team will pay Howe the balance of his $325,000 salary for 1985 and has offered to provide any medical treatment or assistance sought by Howe.

Howe has been placed on waivers for the purpose of giving him his release. The waivers are due to expire July 15, according to Dodger publicist Steve Brener. If Howe has not been claimed by another team by then, he becomes a free agent.

"After carefully considering all options, we have concluded that this is the best course of action for all concerned," Fred Claire, executive vice president of the Dodgers, said in a statement released by the team.

"We were advised by Howe and his representative, Jim Hawkins, that Steve does not feel that he can any longer handle the pressures of playing in Los Angeles and that he is currently unable to perform. . . .

"Our first concern was, and still is, to let Steve know that we will continue to assist him in obtaining whatever treatment he needs. That has been our position throughout this matter. We hope that Steve will evaluate his situation carefully and seek the attention he needs to prepare himself both mentally and physically to lead a normal life."

Dodger owner Peter O'Malley, reached at his home Wednesday afternoon, said his reaction was "expressed very well" by the statement.

Asked if this had been the most difficult experience of his term as Dodger owner, O'Malley said: "I haven't rated experiences."

Asked if it had been the most painful, he said: "Painful? It hasn't been pleasant. The fortunate thing is that for Steve Howe, every appropriate action has been taken. He's looking forward to something new, a change, and that's good. The most important thing is his well-being."

O'Malley said he had not seen Howe since a Hollenbeck Youth Foundation luncheon on June 24. Asked if he was satisfied that the Dodgers had done all they could for Howe, O'Malley said: "Absolutely."

A statement by Howe was released by the Dodgers at the pitcher's request. It said:

"I have the greatest appreciation for the kindness and consideration shown to me by the entire Los Angeles Dodger organization. After endless struggles within myself to give the Dodgers the maximum talent I felt they deserved, I feel the utmost appreciation for them helping to get me a fresh start.

"I have found it necessary to advise the Dodgers that I could not effectively handle many of the pressures I have here in the Los Angeles area. Los Angeles is full of my friends and supporters. Regretfully, I daily encounter situations that cause me deep pain. I believe my continuing improvement demands a relocation and reduction of stress."

A Dodger official said that Howe had requested a trade more than a week before the Dodgers placed him on baseball's restricted list for failing to show up for a game last Sunday. The team was trying to accommodate him, the official said, until this latest episode. The team had no choice, the official said, but to give him his release.

Earlier this season, Howe had expressed a desire to seek free agency when he became eligible at the end of the season. And his attorney, Hawkins, said that for the last year and a half, Howe had thought that a new environment might be essential to his comeback from an admitted cocaine dependency.

Howe became convinced he needed a change, Hawkins said, following the June 23 incident in which he arrived at Dodger Stadium during the sixth inning of a game against the Houston Astros.

"There were outright threats made against him that are more than a person should have to handle," Hawkins said. "Last week, a lot of venom was thrown at him, and he took it very seriously. When a man is afraid to unlock his car door because of remarks made to him, that gets to a man.

"A huge number of people supported him during his battle with drugs. But a lot of people won't let up on the poor guy. . . .

"This is a tough town, because ballplayers aren't just ballplayers. They're ballplayers and more. This is a city with big spotlights on its famous people."

And Howe apparently wanted to duck out of that spotlight. Especially, Hawkins said, when people made the assumption that his tardiness on June 23 was because of drugs.

"Everybody believed he was playing the old games of two and three years ago," Hawkins said. "That's why we accelerated the drug testing. But it continued unabated."

Still unexplained is why Howe failed to contact the club last Sunday when he didn't arrive for that day's game with the Atlanta Braves. "He went off with his thoughts," Hawkins said, "and decided that what he was going through here wasn't worth it."

Donald Fehr, the executive director of the Major League Players Assn., said he believed Howe's release was "amicable. There was no conflict whatsoever.

"It was determined mutually and agreeably that it was in his (Howe's) best interests not to play again in L.A.," Fehr said.

"There was a mutual agreement to release him, so now he'll be a free agent.

"There's no reason to believe he's out of baseball. I expect he'll be interested in playing again but will try to do it out of L.A.

"Steve had to quit and go to work somewhere else," Fehr said. The fact that that doesn't happen in baseball shouldn't blind you to the fact that it happens everywhere else."

Howe had been attempting to come back this season after missing all of the 1984 season, for which he was suspended by then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn for violating baseball's drug rules. That suspension was lifted last June in a negotiated settlement in which Howe had agreed to continue his rehabilitation for an acknowledged cocaine dependency.

Twice before in his career, Howe had received treatment for a drug problem. The first time was after the 1982 season, when he spent five weeks at the Meadows, a drug-alcohol abuse center in Wickenburg, Ariz.

He sought further treatment in May, 1983, spending 30 days at the CareUnit hospital of Orange. On July 16, 1983, the Dodgers suspended Howe after he had reported three hours late to Dodger Stadium for a game the night before. He was reinstated, however, after he passed a urinalysis test.

On Sept. 23, 1983, after missing a team flight to Atlanta, Howe was suspended again by the Dodgers and did not pitch for the rest of the season. He also checked back into the CareUnit, where he remained until Oct. 22, then submitted to the care of Dr. Forest Tennant, director of the West Covina-based Community Health Projects, Inc.

Tennant is now the Dodgers' drug consultant, and as part of Howe's negotiated return to baseball, Howe had agreed to twice-weekly urine testing.

On June 23, Howe did not arrive at Dodger Stadium until the sixth inning of the game against the Astros. He said his wife had gone on a family outing and left him without car keys and wallet. Howe was fined $300 by Manager Tom Lasorda.

Then last Sunday, Howe never arrived for the game against the Braves and did not inform the Dodgers of his whereabouts until after midnight. That's when he returned home, where his wife, Cyndy, had not seen nor heard from him since the previous day.

On Monday, Howe took another urine test that proved negative, but the Dodgers placed him on baseball's restricted list, saying he was "incapable of handling his assignment as a member of the Dodger team."

After meetings between team officials and Hawkins the last two days, the decision was made to release Howe, who had come out of the University of Michigan to win the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1980. He appeared in three games in the 1981 World Series that was won by the Dodgers; had seven wins, 13 saves and a 2.08 earned-run average in 1982, and he was selected to the All-Star team, and had two wins, seven saves and a 0.00 ERA in 1983 just before entering CareUnit in May.

There had been indications that Howe, whose attempted comeback was compounded by surgery on his left elbow last January, has been suffering from depression. He was described as "crying like a baby" after giving up a three-run home run to Atlanta's Terry Harper last Friday.

Howe, asked in the TV interview whether his problem was drugs or self-doubt, said he thought he'd proven himself clean of drug use.

"It came down to the point where little things were beginning to creep up on me," Howe said. "I'd go out on the mound and start thinking about what other people were thinking about me instead of my performance on the field."

Howe's record at the time of his release was 1-1, three saves and a 4.91 ERA. "I don't feel I let them (the Dodgers) down," Howe said. "I wasn't doing much, anyway."

Claire, asked if Howe was in therapy at this time, would not answer. "But we urged him to address that, to give all of his attention to what that area can do for him," Claire said.

"I'm pleased in that after meeting with Steve, I know he's very pleased in terms of what we're trying to do to address a very difficult situation. It provides hope for him, and because of that, I feel good about it."

Claire, asked if he thought Howe would pitch again, said: "I can't draw that impression from today because of what we've been hearing in recent days in terms of stress, pressure and the demands of L.A. That seems to be the focus of his concern.

"He's troubled by the terms of what he's been attempting to do here. In terms of his future (as a player), I can't say.

"But what we've said to him is, 'Steve, put your life in order, think of yourself, your family and friends, pull yourself together and find out what it is that makes you happy.'

"We also told him, 'Steve, whatever areas in terms of therapy, whatever it may be that you think will help you cope with what you're feeling, whatever it takes, we're committed to seeing that you get the best help you possibly can.' "

Asked how he felt about the end of Howe's association with the Dodgers, Claire said: "I don't see it ending. Like all of our lives, it's a step. My hope, as we've stated all along, is that Steve Howe the individual will succeed and will find peace of mind. That's what all of us want in our jobs and our lives.

"I hope this is a beginning for Steve. I hope he can take the time and really learn as much as he can and evaluate what he should be doing, where he should be and what it is that makes him happy. He has a lot of wonderful qualities."

Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, in St. Louis where the team will play the Cardinals in a four-game series beginning today, said:

"It was surprising to hear that this is what the guy felt he needed. I'm concerned for the guy. I hope he gets back on the right track and gets back into a productive way of life."

Asked if he thought pressures on a baseball player were greater in L.A. than anywhere else, Lasorda said: "I have no idea on that. I love L.A. myself. . . .

"I look back on when we brought him in as a youngster, he was a tremendous competitor. To hear him say he can't cope with it right now, that's tough.

"I feel awfully bad about this thing. It's a sad moment."

Catcher Mike Scioscia said: "I just feel that if this is what Steve wanted, I'm happy for him. I hope everything works out."

Asked if he thought Howe would be able to pitch again, Scioscia said: "Physically, I'm sure he'll be able to. I thought he was coming along (from the elbow surgery), although he might have been expecting too much of himself.

"But it's tough for me to say. I don't know the extent of his problems."

In Howe's six years with the Dodgers, it seems that no one ever has.

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