Sam McDowell Interview: All-Star Player with Hall of Fame Second Act
Diana Landau | May 10, 2022
This week Carl interviews baseball legend "Sudden Sam" McDowell. After a record-setting career as a Major League pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sam embarked on a stellar second act as a sports psychologist and motivational speaker, creating addiction and recovery programs for players (and their families) in all sports. He had many ups and downs in his own baseball career, however. "My career was fueled by alcohol and addiction," he shares. Sam is also author of the book, "The Saga of Sudden Sam: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of Sam McDowell."
Growing up, Sam's family (including his 6 siblings) lived in Pittsburgh, PA. Sam's focus was sports. He played baseball, basketball, tennis and ran cross-country. (Fun Fact #1: His father was a football quarterback in the Rose Bowl.) At the young age of 17, the Cleveland Indians recognized his talent and he was recruited with a big signing bonus. By the time he was 18, he was already pitching in the major leagues. Sudden Sam became a star, a six-time All-Star and led the American League in strikeouts five times. By 1971, he injured his rotator cuff and his decline continued. "I didn't retire, I was kicked out," says Sam. The anxiety and depression that came from the pressure of being such a young superstar took a toll and his drinking continued.
After a short career in real estate and then in insurance, Sam hit rock bottom, losing his wife, family and mountains of debt from a failed business venture. The turning point came when he moved in with his mother. "I woke one morning at 3am and felt in my heart like something beat me." He made a call to a recovery center that morning. (Fun Fact #2: TV Show "Cheers" based their Sam Malone character on Sam.)
After learning in recovery that alcohol is a genetic disease, he says the lights went on. His own therapist encouraged him to become a sports psychologist and help other players with addiction and recovery. Sam attended Harvard's continuing education program in sports psychology and eventually was hired by the Texas Rangers to be their sports psychologist, a first in any sport. After a very successful second career in baseball, now at age 80, he continues to help players and former players in all sports through his programs. He has two World Series rings to show for it from the '90s. "The Toronto Blue Jays felt I was valuable in helping them win it all!"
Sam's Advice on (Un)Retirement Success:
Financial security: "It is extremely important. You must be honest and realistic with yourself. Be sure to consult a financial planner—you may live until you're 90!"
Cheering has stopped: "Yes, you had a successful career. Accept it. Now go on."
Second act: "Get a hobby, volunteer, play sports. Where does self-worth come from? Set out to accomplish a goal, then do it. This builds your self-esteem."
• Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” weekly blog.