The candid autobiography of all-star pitcher “Sudden Sam” McDowell, whose alcohol-fueled life quickly and famously spiraled out of control, and his ultimate redemption as a counselor for other athletes suffering from addiction.
Sam McDowell seemed to have it all. Considered by many to be the next Sandy Koufax when he signed with the Cleveland Indians, Sam boasted one of the fastest arms in major league baseball. But on the inside, he was playing in an alcoholic fog, beset by addiction, depression, narcissism, and thoughts of suicide.
The Saga of Sudden Sam: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of Sam McDowell is the captivatingly honest autobiography of the six-time American League all-star pitcher and self-admitted “worst drunk in baseball.” Sam holds nothing back, sharing the pressures he felt as a young baseball phenom, his frustrations over a lack of coaching to help develop his talent, the pitfalls of his dangerous alcoholic lifestyle, and his attempted suicide. When “Sudden Sam” finally hit rock bottom, certain he had been defeated by alcoholism, he instead found hope, rehabilitation, and sobriety. After extensive education and training, he emerged as the first successful counselor in major league baseball. Sam helped to turn around the lives of players who, just like him, had fallen into the abyss of addiction or faced psychological and emotional problems that were destroying their careers.
With details of his own severe battles with depression and addiction told alongside the struggles of players who came to him for help, The Saga of Sudden Sam offers special insight into the longstanding addiction issues that plague Major League Baseball. It also provides understanding and hope to anyone struggling with addiction and shows that recovery is attainable.
Sam McDowell was a six-time American League all-star pitcher whose career was derailed by alcoholism. After hitting rock bottom in 1980 he launched his recovery and studied psychology, sports psychology, and counseling. He has worked as an addiction counselor, EAP, and career enhancement counselor for Major League Baseball and the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) for more than 40 years. He lives in The Villages, FL.
Martin Gitlin won more than 45 awards as a sports writer, including first place for general excellence from the Associated Press for his coverage of the World Series. He is the author of more than 200 books on a variety of subjects, including many about baseball. Gitlin lives in North Olmsted, OH.
Foreword by Steve Garvey
Chapter 1: A Gun to My Head
Chapter 2: The Melancholy Child
Chapter 3: Unrecognized Greatness
Chapter 4: The Battle for Sam McDowell and Beyond
Chapter 5: The Debut
Chapter 6: Better Pitcher, Bigger Boozer
Chapter 7: The Battle with Birdie
Chapter 8: Dark Brings Ligh
Chapter 9: Goodbye, Cleveland
Chapter 10: Hello, Misery
Chapter 11: A Sour Bite of the Big Apple
Chapter 12: The Lost Years
Chapter 13: Gateway to Sobriety
Chapter 14: My New Life
Chapter 15: The Triumphs of Triumph
Chapter 16: Resistance and Acceptance
Chapter 17: Expanding My Horizons
Chapter 18: Going to B.A.T.
Chapter 19: A Whole New Ballgame
Chapter 20: Sudden Sam, Mayday Malone, and a New Bride
Chapter 21: Vices Bad and Good
About the Authors
McDowell, former All-Star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, holds nothing back in this searing take on his career and his long battle with alcoholism. The emotional toll is front and center from the beginning, when McDowell recounts his unsuccessful attempt in 1963 to kill himself after his wife moved out. The pitcher then retraces how he sunk to that level of despair. Unsurprisingly, his mental turmoil sprang forth from his “joyless” childhood growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1940s with parents who “refused to praise” him. The scars of that upbringing stuck with him through adulthood, prompting him to drown his demons with alcohol, even as he achieved professional success in the years following his suicide attempt (which, for a long time, he told no one about). It wasn’t until the 1980s that McDowell got a handle on his illness after going to rehab and finding sobriety. In a moving reflection on that time, he points out, “Addiction is never obvious to the addicted.” Hoping to help other major leaguers hindered by the same disease, he became a professional counselor. “All I needed,” he writes, “was a chance.” This raw account is a worthy addition to the addiction memoir canon.
In this first book, former pro baseball pitcher McDowell tells his rise and fall, both on and off the mound. A six-time American League All Star for the hapless 1960s Cleveland Indians, McDowell was known for his 100-mph fastball. Off the pitch, McDowell writes, he was struggling with alcohol addiction, and his personal and professional life spiraled out of control until episodic behavioral rages cut short his promising career. However, McDowell’s story does not end there, and he describes eventually finding his way to rehab and sobriety. Afterward, in an attempt to better understand his past behavior, McDowell studied psychology. He would eventually, in the 1980s, become one of the first sports psychologists, giving his career in professional athletics had a second life. McDowell’s book is a memoir as well as a cautionary tale of addiction and its effects, particularly in Major League Baseball. McDowell also warns that an individual might not be able to handle their emotional scars without professional help. A personal account that is especially recommended for readers who want to understand the consequences of addiction and how to overcome it. McDowell’s story will find an audience beyond baseball fans.
The Saga of Sudden Sam is an affecting story of hope.
What makes the book stand out is McDowell’s ability to use what he has learned as an addiction expert to reflect and explain who he was as a younger man. It can be a bit jarring to read just how honestly and clinically McDowell writes about his past failings and feelings (or lack thereof).... The book is a fascinating insight into baseball during the 60s and 70s, the job of pitching in the major leagues, and the perils of alcoholism and addiction in a sporting environment.
I've known Sam since 1962 when I was a 17 year old assistant clubhouse manager for the Angels. Of all the players I've known throughout the years I've respected Sam the most. He has been a very close friend, mentor and literally saved my life. To know him and see him turn his life around and save so many hundreds of players’ lives is truly a miracle.
Sam McDowell has performed miracles with B.A.T. since 1987. He’s played an integral part in saving lives and keeping families together. His Hall of Fame work off the field has impacted not only our applicants but the B.A.T. board, staff, consultants and everyone in baseball!
In his heyday, circa 1964-1970, Sam McDowell, a 6-5 lefty with a blazing 97 mph fastball, was the most feared pitcher in baseball. He was also an often out-of-control drunk. In his recently released autobiography with Martin Gitlin, McDowell tells a painfully compelling story of how he essentially drank his way out of baseball, never fully realizing his vast potential, only to find redemption after getting sober and becoming an addiction counselor for dozens of professional baseball players, saving lives along the way.
3/27/22, The News-Herald: McDowell and his book were featured in this piece.
4/4/2, “Sports Talk” with Doug Miles and Don Henderson: Sam McDowell was interviewed about the book.
4/24/22, TTMCast Sports Talk Radio with Jeff Baker: Sam McDowell discussed his athletic and personal journey in this author interview.
4/25/22, Cleveland.com: Sam McDowell and the release of the book were highlighted in this news piece.
5/28/22, New York Daily News: The book was featured in baseball columnist Bill Madden’s Sunday column.
6/1/22, Farther Off the Wall: This book was included in a recap of books reviewed in the month.
6/14/22, Pandemic Baseball Book Club: Sam McDowell talked with Dan Blewett about the book.