It was one of the oddest moments of my five year run in sales with the Orioles. I had come out late from a game through the employee entrance. And there was waiting a large group of fans eagerly looking for the players.
I can remember one kid smiling broadly at me and pounding his glove hard. “Sammy, Sammy, he yelled at me. I got it. I was wearing a mustache at the time. But come on kid, I’m 5-foot-10 and the stud Sammy Stewart towers at 6-3.
I said no I wasn’t Sammy and moved out of there. But the expressions the kids showed off that night was exhilarating. Those fans loved and admired the Orioles players.
What Orioles fan couldn’t feel great about Sammy Stewart? He was big and threw hard. I never met him but what an explosive pitcher he could be.
I had a meeting a few years back with a school principal out in Illinois, who played minor league baseball with Stewart. And then I broke the news to him that Stewart was behind bars.
What happens to a ballplayer when his playing days run out? Some get a job in baseball. Some in broadcasting. Most take their money and have a good life.
Stewart took his fortune and invested in illegal drugs. He’s been arrested so many times that I’m sure he’s in some sort of Hall-of-Fame for that. He’s in jail in his hometown state of North Carolina. There are stories of Stewart begging for money and living like a bum. What a sad story.
Maybe he can reflect on his pitching debut in Baltimore on the first day of September, 1978. It was a twin bill with the Chicago White Sox. The Birds were 14 games over .500 but still buried in fifth place behind first-place Boston.
Stewart would pitch in game two of the doubleheader. Jim Palmer claimed his 17th win in the first game out-dueling Chicago’s Steve Stone 3-0. Stewart would be faced by another young pitcher in Ross Baumgarten. And it was a strange first inning for both hurlers.
Stewart’s no-hitter vanished immediately when Claudell Washington singled to center. Catcher Dave Skaggs helped his rookie pitcher by throwing out Washington stealing. The White Sox didn’t score that inning but it was clear Stewart was nervous. He uncorked a wild pitch and made an error in that frame.
The Orioles’ bats made Stewart feel welcome in the home half of the first. Rich Dauer’s RBI scored Mark Belanger to put Baltimore on the board. Eddie Murray had a sacrifice fly and Lee May added a two-run homer. A four-run first chased Baumgarten.
And then Stewart settled in. Jorge Orta struck out., Chet Lemon struck out. And Thad Bosley struck out in the second. In the third, Mike Colbern, Kevin Bell and Washington fanned. In the fourth inning, shortstop Greg Pryor whiffed giving Stewart seven strikeouts in a row. It was a major league record for a pitcher making his debut appearance in the majors. That mark was later tied by Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg.
Stewart won his first game 9-3 with help from reliever Joe Kerrigan. He fanned nine in this victory which would prove to be his career high in that first game.
In his 362 major league games, Stewart wore his Orioles uniform in 310 of those contests. Stewart also had the luxury of pitching in four World Series games. He also picked up a four-inning save in an American League playoff win over the White Sox in 1983. He notched 57 wins in an Orioles uniform.
And then he discovered drugs.