The Tragedy of Addiction: Sammy Stewart

On September 1, 1978, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Sammy Stewart set the MLB rookie mark by striking out 7 batters in a row in one game as a pitcher facing the Chicago White Sox.

Over the past half century, plus some single digit years, time span of my chosen career as a psychotherapist, I have been asked many times: What’s the difference between dangerous compulsions and addictions? The older book answer always was that “compulsion” is the psychological basis for repetitive destructive behavior, whereas, “addiction” is the physiological bond that ties the individual to the craving for particular substances or activities.

Today, with only a little more than five months left on the clock before my complete and final retirement from private practice at the end of the day, Friday, August 31, 2018, I prefer to describe the differences in these terms:

“Compulsion” is anything we do, seek, or avoid because we think we have no choice. Chances are, we do. We simply will not allow ourselves to see the alternatives because we “fear” changing our ways – or we think we will feel “guilty” for the disappointment that our change will cause us – or  others close to us.

“Addiction” is the harder stuff of physical craving. Whatever it is, if we are now addicted to it, we no longer have any choice but to seek its satisfaction at whatever cost to self or others that now rolls from it. The physical addiction must be halted, over hours or days, or however long it takes, by restraint from access to the source that feeds it. Then we have to see if there’s enough person left to work the long hard walk to sober recovery with all the help we can muster.

It isn’t easy – for anybody involved in the treatment process because we are all, patient and treatment team members alike, in a slightly different way, taking up arms against the force behind every Gothic villain you ever read about in literature.

Addiction is the appetite that uses the human body to get what it wants at any cost it requires.

I’m saying all these things today in the hope that you will keep them in mind before you read the following link to the tragic story of Sammy Stewart and his death from addiction. The odds were against him finding religion or recovery on his own. And Sammy Stewart was a guy who had made greater contact with powerful people who may have wanted to help him. Didn’t happen. Usually doesn’t. The cold wild eyes of addiction see a well-intentioned do-gooder coming at them from a mile away.

Addiction. So sad. Now all we have to is bury a fellow who was once the young pitcher from Baltimore that struck out a rookie record seven batters in a row during his first 1978 major league game against the White Sox.

Addiction. It is the cancer of mental illness.

Addiction. Wish we could get some powerful people behind programs that might save a few more Sammy Stewarts than we now do.

Sammy’s Death. Sammy could have died far more horribly, given his history with drugs. He was fortunate. He died at home, suffering from heart disease, but clean and sober, with the wife who loved, and at peace with God in terms that made biblical sense to him.

Our heart prayer go out to his still grieving widow and friends. Sammy apparently brought more good to life than he probably will ever get credit for too.

Addiction: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/06/obituaries/sammy-stewart-pitcher-whose-life-took-a-downturn-dies-at-63.html

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Thank you, Rob Sangster, for bringing the death of Sammy Stewart to my attention.

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

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3 Responses to “The Tragedy of Addiction: Sammy Stewart”

  1. Rick B. Says:

    Reminds me of the unfortunate death of another drug-addicted pitcher – one whom I saw pitch at old Three Rivers Stadium – Rod Scurry of the Pirates.

    Here is a link to his obituary that describes the state in which he was found immediately preceding his death: http://www.nytimes.com/1992/11/06/obituaries/rod-scurry-36-dies-ex-baseball-pitcher.html?pagewanted=1

  2. Cherie Says:

    My name isCherie Stewart, Sammy’s wife (widow, if you must). I am appalled with what I just read and am wondering what your source was to say “tragic story of Sammy Stewart and his death from addiction” and an entire paragraph telling the world how YOU thought he spent his last days. I’ll tell you where his “appetite had taken him” – the Bible and taking care of himself. He died from heart disease! There were NO DRUGS in his system. Just thought you should know the truth.

    Sincerely,

    His grieving wife

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Dear Cherie, Please know that it was never my intention to say how Sammy died beyond what I knew at the time – that he died home. I had simply included all those other possibilities as sad endings that could have befallen him, had he continued under the direct influence of drugs. I know about these things from a half century of working with addicts as a counselor. Few that do drugs heavily over time with no period of sobriety somewhere get to die clean and sober at home with someone they love by their side. Sammy was blessed in that regard.

      I’ve chosen to simplify and clarify that point in the body of the original story with the rest of “the truth” about Sammy’s death that you have brought to our attention by your comment.

      Sammy Stewart was a good man with exceptional baseball talent. He was also a fortunate man to have gone through all the two of you went through together ~ and still had you there with him to the end.

      You will be in my prayers to go through the grief work that now hurts so bad and keep the love that is even stronger than the hurt you now feel – somewhere down the road. Hope you are getting help with that too for your own sake. You matter too.

      Godspeed,
      Bill McCurdy

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