Samuel Edward Thomas "Sam" McDowell (born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), is a former pitcher in Major League Baseball, playing his first 11 seasons for the Cleveland Indians before a 1971 trade to the San Francisco Giants and subsequent stints with the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates. Tall (6 feet, 5 inches) and powerful, his left-handed fastball was delivered with an unusually calm pitching motion which led to his memorable nickname: "Sudden Sam." His strikeout prowess was sometimes nullified by periodic control problems.
In 1960, McDowell signed with the Indians for a six-figure bonus. He appeared in his first big league game a year later, one week before his 19th birthday.
After struggling over the next two seasons, McDowell became a starting pitcher in 1964 and became a workhorse over the next eight seasons. He tossed over 200 innings in seven of those years and ranked among the American League's leaders in strikeouts. To date, his 2159 strikeouts trail only Bob Feller's 2581 among Indian pitchers. He twice exceeded 300 K's in a season, including 325 in 1965—second in franchise history to only Feller's 348 in 1946.
A six-time All-Star (1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1971), McDowell was also the league leader in ERA and strikeouts in 1965, led in strikeouts and shutouts in 1966 and led the league in strikeouts again in 1968 and 1969. In 1970, he put together his best season, when he was named "Pitcher of the Year" by The Sporting News, once again leading in strikeouts while winning 20 games for the first and only time of his career.
He was traded to the San Francisco Giants for star spitball-throwing pitcher Gaylord Perry and light-hitting shortstop Frank Duffy. The trade turned out to be a disaster for the Giants. In 1972, McDowell had his worst season as a starting pitcher, posting his highest earned run average in ten years. Meanwhile, Perry posted 24 wins with a 1.92 earned run average for Cleveland, winning his first Cy Young Award. At just 30 years old, McDowell was finished as a starting pitcher.
San Francisco traded McDowell during the 1973 season to the New York Yankees. He pitched one more season for the Yankees in 1974. McDowell's final major league season came in 1975 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
McDowell finished with 2,453 career strikeouts and an average of 8.86 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. At the time of his retirement, his strikeout rate was bested by only two pitchers: Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax.
McDowell finished his pitching career with 2,453 career strikeouts and an average of 8.86 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, ranking him eighth all-time. His ratio of 7.03 hits allowed per nine innings places him ninth. He ranks fifth all time on the list of career ten or more strikeout games with 74. His 2159 strikeouts as an Indian place him second all time on their career list, behind only Bob Feller. In four All-Star appearances, McDowell struck out twelve NL All-Stars over eight innings, and was the losing pitcher, (in relief) in the 1965 game.
Following his "retirement", the drinking increased, finally to the point where it cost him his marriage. His wife left him, taking their two children with her, leaving him desolate and broke. A failed business venture had left McDowell $190,000 in debt, and by early 1980 was living with his parents at his childhood home in Pittsburgh. McDowell was working as an insurance salesman by day, McDowell’s drinking increased. Eventually, McDowell checked himself into rehabilitation. One of the first things McDowell did when he got out of rehab was call all his creditors with the promise to repay every penny he owed. After repaying his debts, he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned associates degrees in sports psychology and addiction. Eventually, McDowell returned to the major leagues as a sports addiction counselor with the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers. McDowell earned a World Series ring while working with the 1993 Blue Jays. McDowell also works as a consultant with the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) and the Major League Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA). In 2001, McDowell remarried, and started a retirement community for former players. He became chairman and CEO at The City of Legends, a retirement resort in Clermont, Florida. The character of Sam Malone, the alcoholic ex-Red Sox pitcher portrayed by Emmy Award winning actor Ted Danson in the television program Cheers, was based on the baseball life of McDowell.
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