Sammy Stewart, 63, popular pitcher who fought addiction to crack cocaine
HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. — Sammy Stewart, who helped the Baltimore Orioles win the 1983 World Series and pitched for the pennant-winning Red Sox in 1986 before falling into a life of crack cocaine addiction and arrests, was found dead Friday at a residence, authorities said. He was 63.
No cause for his death had been determined as of Sunday.
Known as the ‘‘Throwin’ Swannanoan’’ for his hometown in North Carolina, Mr. Stewart became an instant hit in Baltimore. The right-hander with a big fastball set a Major League record by striking out seven straight batters in his Major League debut in 1978 against the White Sox at Memorial Stadium.
With flowing hair and a bushy mustache, a country twang, and a penchant for telling funny stories, Mr. Stewart was widely popular with his Baltimore teammates.
‘‘We had some incredible days with this guy,’’ former catcher Rick Dempsey said alongside Mr. Stewart during an Orioles telecast in 2016.
Mr. Stewart enjoyed plenty of successful days on the field, too, especially in the postseason.
Mr. Stewart had a 0.00 ERA in four World Series games, spanning 7⅔ innings. He made three appearances in the 1983 championship victory over Philadelphia.
In a picture that captured his personality, Mr. Stewart was shown holding an umbrella as a teammate poured champagne after the Orioles clinched the 1983 AL East title with a win at Milwaukee.
After the 1985 season, the pitcher was traded to the Red Sox in exchange for shortstop Jackie Gutierrez.
He pitched in 27 games for the Sox in 1986, winning four games and losing one with a 4.38 ERA. He became a free agent at the end of the year and played his final season with the Cleveland Indians.
In all, Mr. Stewart went 59-48 with 45 saves and a 3.59 ERA in 10 seasons. He pitched in 359 games, including 25 starts. Stewart threw 956⅔ innings, striking out 586 and walking 502.
After his career ended in 1987, he settled in Framingham.
But his life spiraled out of control. Many who knew him said Mr. Stewart declined after the death of his son at 11 to cystic fibrosis.
He was arrested dozens of times as he dealt with addiction to crack cocaine.
“The first time I ever smoked crack was in Framingham, Mass.,” Mr. Stewart told The Boston Globe during an interview from the Piedmont Correctional Institution in 2006. He was serving six years for being a habitual felon and drug possession. “I never started smoking cocaine till I was 33 years old, till after I got out of baseball. I couldn’t stop once I started. I’d go on a binge for three or four days or 35 days. I’d go till all the money was gone.”
One of the reasons he settled in Boston, he said then, was his love for the fans. But the lure of drugs soon overwhelmed his life.
“I went to a party and there were some girls moving around a little funny after going into the bathroom. I said, ‘What are they doing?’ and they said they were smoking crack. And I said, ‘Won’t that bust your heart?’ They said, ‘No, no, try it.’ The high was euphoric, super. It took away the absence of baseball. It made me the big dog again, I guess. It made me the center of attention. It was a new toy.”
He estimates he made $3 million playing Major League Baseball and lost all of it within a few years of his retirement. He pawned his diamond-studded 1983 World Series championship ring for drugs, he said.
“As far as demons, I take responsibility for everything I’ve done.
“There’s a lot of times I wished I would have died because I was pathetic,” he told the Globe. “I guess I started digging a hole for myself and it got so bad I got homeless, moneyless, friendless. I just started covering myself up instead of climbing out of the hole.”
He was released from prison in North Carolina in 2013.
Mr. Stewart stayed in touch with teammates and did autograph shows with them after getting out of prison. He had worked as an instructor at a baseball and softball center in North Carolina in the past year.
“He had two kids with cystic fibrosis,” Hall-of-Fame hurler and former Orioles teammate Jim Palmer told the Globe in 2006.
Mr. Stewart’s son, Colin, died in 1991 at age 11; his daughter Alicia, had a double lung transplant. “He had a lot of demons, but he was a very, very likable guy.’’
Another former Orioles teammate, pitcher Mike Flanagan, wrote a letter to the judge in support of Mr. Stewart.
“I guess I wrote it because I remembered back when — all the hope and promise that he had,” Flanagan told the Globe. “He’s had a horrible journey.
“Boy, he was abundantly talented. He could do just about anything. He could pitch every day. Pitch long, pitch short. He was talented in other ways, too. He could amuse the whole team with comedy routines we had. There were so many avenues that he could’ve gone into after baseball, certainly. Broadcasting, certainly. Great storyteller . . . that’s what we all remember.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this obituary.