Eric Show and the wrong side of history

ESPN has a moving article about Eric Show today. Eric Show was one of several tragic figures from the mid-1980s San Diego Padres who stood in the shadow of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest hitters ever.

Show’s family would prefer that people remember him as the millionaire pitcher who was fond of inviting the homeless people he passed on the street to dinner.

But generally speaking, people remember him for a hit he allowed in 1985. A hit to a much lesser man. And nine short years later, Eric Show was dead at age 37.

Show’s tragedy, sadly, wasn’t unique among his teammates. Left-handed pitcher Dave Dravecky lost his arm to cancer. Second baseman Alan Wiggins became the first baseball player to die of AIDS. Tony Gwynn, of course, died much too young as well.

Supposedly the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs are cursed, but their 1980s teams have nothing on that.

But I’m way ahead of myself.

In some ways, Eric Show was a Greg Maddux-like pitcher. He didn’t have overpowering stuff, but he threw a lot of pitches well, and was much smarter than most of his opponents. Show never matched Maddux’s best numbers, but spent most of his career just short of the brink of Maddux-like superstardom. Scarred by a poor relationship with an abusive father, Show’s difficulties bouncing back when little things went wrong turned him into an all-or-nothing pitcher, and those occasional games where he had nothing were the difference between him and guys like Maddux.

Show put together a perfectly respectable career, even if he never lived up to his full potential. During his career, the Padres went from last place to the World Series, and he played a key role in that transformation. Even ignoring what he did off the field, people should remember him as a very good pitcher for a very good team.

Instead, he’s the guy who gave up a record-setting hit. He’s also the guy who hit Andre Dawson with a beanball in 1987. That is, when someone remembers him at all.

But there was a lot going on with him behind the scenes. Show was a gifted musician. Routinely he asked homeless people to join him for dinner. He handed out $50 bills like candy to people less fortunate than him. He was a committed Christian. Finally, he was a deep thinker and only two of his teammates understood him.

Show started falling apart in 1987, when the Padres traded those two friends–Mark Thurmond and fellow tragic figure Dave Dravecky. That was the same year he hit Andre Dawson. I’m familiar with the other side of that story. I was a Cubs fan in 1987, and I’m related to ex-Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe had lobbied hard for the Cubs to sign Dawson. When he saw his man go down, Sutcliffe went after Show. The commissioner fined and suspended him 8 games for his role in the brawl.

What I didn’t know was that Eric Show hand-wrote an apology and tried to give it to Dawson.

Abandoned and injured, Show did something completely out of character. The man who talked junkies on the street into going into rehab turned to drugs himself. First it was greenies, which propelled him to his last great season in 1988. But that soon led to crystal meth, cocaine, and heroin. After two barely mediocre seasons, the Padres let him go, and at age 35, he signed with Tony LaRussa’s Oakland Athletics. The ESPN article calls the move naive, but I disagree. Show was exactly the kind of reclamation product that LaRussa’s longtime pitching coach, Dave Duncan, specialized in.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, it didn’t work out. Show didn’t turn into one of Duncan’s success stories.

In 1992, Show was out of baseball and in rehab when he went to see his former teammate, Dave Dravecky, give a lecture. Dravecky wrote two books about his battle with cancer and embarked on a long career as a speaker and author. Dravecky recognized him and asked him to call, but Show lost his number.

ESPN has the rest of the story.

But I agree with his family that Eric Show’s legacy ought to be as a man who took homeless people out to dinner and who forgave and repeatedly tried to reconcile with his abusive father.

I’ve been following baseball for as long as I could read. I’m sure Eric Show isn’t the only baseball player who ever took a homeless person to dinner. But I never heard of any other.

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