Steve Howe, the top relief pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who has been treated for an admitted cocaine dependency twice in eight months, has been fined a record $54,000 by owner Peter O'Malley, the club announced yesterday.
The decision was reached "in coordination and consultation with the commissioner's office," O'Malley said in a statement. "We will not tolerate the use of illegal drugs by anyone in our organization."
Howe also was placed on probation for three years. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn issued a statement in New York saying he was in total agreement with the Dodgers.
The fine represents one month's salary, the length of time that Howe was hospitalized for the second time. Howe has 30 days to pay the fine, the money to be directed to a suitable drug rehabilitation program.
Howe's agent, Tony Attanasio, was "extremely disappointed with the size of the fine." When asked why Howe was fined, Attanasio said: "If we knew why, we would be the happiest people around. We don't know why. The punitive action doesn't do anything."
Dr. Joseph Pursch, who treated Howe, believes the pitcher must keep active to avoid a relapse.
"Here's a real good excuse for Steve to miss his meetings with me or the other counselors," Pursch said. "He'll say, 'I have to see my lawyer about figuring out a way to pay this fine.'
"This is a lot to put on a young man (whose wife) just had a baby. In my opinion, he has to focus on his problem, which is the disease he has, and to keep busy."
The fine is the largest ever levied against a player. San Diego owner Ray Kroc was fined $100,000 in 1979 for tampering with Graig Nettles and Joe Morgan before the free agent reentry draft.
Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia said, "I'm sure they're trying to use him as an example. It's been a struggle for Howe. I hope I never go through anything like that."
Pursch and Howe, 25, met for more than three hours Monday in Los Angeles with Sandy Hadden, staff counsel in the commissioner's office; Harry Gibbs, director of security; Attanasio; Al Campanis, Dodger vice president; Bob Walker, a Dodger lawyer; Nancy Broff, staff counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association, and Roy Bell, Howe's lawyer.
The players association expressed displeasure with the fine. "Our position is that chemical dependency problems are a disease and should be treated as such," said Broff. "The league should encourage and assist players to seek medical treatment. We believe the Dodgers' action is inappropriate. A player should be put on the disabled list, not disciplined."
Howe, the 1980 National League rookie of the year, was reactivated today, after spending a month on the disabled list. He entered a hospital the day after failing to attend the May 28 game against San Francisco. He left the hospital on June 24.
In his statement, Kuhn said: "Baseball's policy does not guarantee amnesty for renewed drug usage or for failure to follow a rehabilitation program." Kuhn also said that if Howe violates his probation the "most severe discipline would be considered."
The last major leaguer to be dealt with this severely was Denny McLain, who was given a three-month suspension in 1970 for gambling. At the time McLain earned between $3,500 and $4,000 a week.
Howe's hospital program consisted of a detoxification period of four to six days, followed by an "in-patient" phase, which was really the rehabilitation period. During that four-week phase, Howe attended individual and group therapy, and counseling; during the last week Howe's wife Cyndy and his parents attended him.
Howe now is in the "out-patient" phase, a two-year period where "trust must build" in Howe, according to Pursch. "This is a critical time for Steve. He must attend meetings with other groups, like Cocaine Anonymous, as well as consult with me on a weekly basis." Howe was originally treated for his dependency on cocaine last winter at The Meadows, a center in Wickenburg, Ariz.
"If you took every 22-year old American male from a small town in the South, gave him the keys to a fantastic condo in Santa Monica, a $300,000 salary, the keys to a Jaguar, and wall-to-wall playgirls, guess what would happen," said Dr. Pursch.