Back when the Baltimore Orioles were among baseball's best teams, Sammy Stewart was a key part of a bullpen that supported the best starting rotation in the majors. Now he's trying to save his reputation from a prison cell.
Best known for his thick black hair and vintage late 1970s mustache -- and for winning the American League ERA title in 1981 -- Stewart is in a Asheville, N.C., prison.
Stewart fell for crack cocaine after retiring from the Major Leagues. That addiction left Stewart broke and living on the streets. He's been busted for 60 crimes in a 10-year stretch of drug abuse. Now Stewart is in the middle of a six-year prison term on a felony drug charge, with hopes of getting a taste of freedom in January of 2013.
Stewart sent a heartfelt letter to the Baltimore Sun, mourning the loss of his buddy Mike Flanagan to suicide and asking Orioles fans for forgiveness in an open letter to supporters of the birds.
"Everyone wants to come of age and everyone wants to be real," he wrote. "I don't want any more or less. I would like to say I'm sincerely sorry for hurting anyone in any way. Sometimes we aren’t given a chance to tell people that we care; I'm glad, fortunate, that you are a part of my life. So many opportunities vanish."
The father of three children, one of whom has cystic fibrosis, Stewart, 56, also pitched for the Red Sox in 1986 and the Indians in 1987. Despite being part of the pennant-winning Sox, Stewart didn't pitch in the post-season.
Stewart debuted in Baltimore with a bang: On Sept. 1, 1978, he struck out seven consecutive White Sox, an impressive record for a big league coming out party. His letter continued by sharing memories about his former teammate "Flanny."
"I will never again get the opportunity to tell Mike Flanagan thanks for helping me through my troubled mission," Stewart wrote. "Never again will I hear his New Hampshire accent and quick wit except in memories. I still see him as he was, sweat-covered, during his Cy Young season of 1979 when he led us to my first World Series. Good memories. Flanny was a leader who was looked up to and 'cooler than a fan on a hot day.' I often simply sat next to him while we were right beside each other in the Orioles' locker room. I smile at his pranks. He once nailed my shower shoes to the floor. He switched pictures of me with ones of him. He cut the pants legs off my dress pants in Texas; and we laughed in good times and shared seriously about my son's (cystic fibrosis) and the very serious possibilities of 'test tube' babies."
Stewart ended his emotional letter with hopes of returning to Baltimore after his release from prison. He wants to be a part of the 30th anniversary of the 1983 world champion Orioles.
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