20th anniversary: Rod Scurry dies from drugs

Twenty years ago today, former Pirates reliever Rod Scurry died due to drug addiction. Officially, it was a heart attack that killed him, but even more officially it was a cocaine-induced heart attack. Thus ended one of the saddest stories—maybe the saddest storry—of drugs and baseball.

Scurry was hardly the only player from his era to become involved with drugs, and he certainly wasn’t the most high-profile athlete, but he paid the ultimate price.

Born in Sacramento in 1956, the Pirates claimed him out of high school in the 1974 draft, and after toiling in the minors for several years, in 1980 Scurry made his big league debut with Pittsburgh.

The early-1980s Pirates clubhouse proved to be the worst possible environment for Scurry. At the time, baseball—like the nation as a whole—was in the midst of a surge in the usage of recreational drugs, most notably cocaine. For baseball, Pittsburgh was the center of drug usage. In the mid-1980s, baseball’s cocaine trials would take place in Pittsburgh, and the public would learn that drug dealers sometimes would enter the Pirates clubhouse, and that even the man inside the Pirates Parrot mascot costume was implicated in drug dealing.

That’s what Scurry walked into and what he got involved in. Scurry’s career as a relief pitcher began well with very nice campaigns in 1980 and 1982. In 1983, the wheels fell off. He was no longer using drugs recreationally; Scurry had become a full-blown addict.

When the Pittsburgh drug investigation began, Scurry was one of the players named publicly. He testified to purchasing cocaine nearly 20 times in 1982-83. Several of his Pittsburgh teammates, including future manager Lee Mazzilli and former MVP Dave Parker, also were involved.

Most of the other guys involved managed to clean themselves up. Parker rebounded and had several quality seasons once he got his groove back. Mazzilli, as noted, became a manager. But Scurry was too far gone. He hung around baseball, bouncing from team to team in the latter 1980s, until he was out of the game by the end of 1988. He may have been out of the game, but he never got the drugs out of his system.

The end came sadly in late 1992. On Oct. 29, one of Scurry’s neighbors called the cops to report Scurry’s erratic behavior. The police found him outside his home, claiming there were snakes inside that had been biting him. The police attempted to handcuff the clearly off-kilter Scurry, but he became agitated and violent and then stopped breathing. He’d just had his cocaine-related heart attack.

Scurry went to the hospital, where life support kept him alive for another week, but on Nov. 5, 1992, he died at just 36 years old. The story of Rod Scurry is a sad one, and it’s one that ended 20 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim through the list.


3,000 days since the Cubs sign weak-hitting shortstop Neifi Perez.

3,000 days since Larry Walker suffers his worst game ever according to WPA. He’s 0-for-5 with two GIDP and three Ks for a –0.513 WPA. The Pirates top his Cardinals, 3-2.

4,000 days since Bo Belinsky, pitcher, dies.

6,000 days since Darryl Kile ties a big league record by hitting four batters in one game.

6,000 days since Orel Hershiser walks in a run, something he hadn’t done in over 1,700 innings.

7,000 days since the first all-Canadian battery in baseball history takes the field when pitcher Denis Boucher throws to catcher Joe Siddall. As an added bonus, they play for Montreal. The Expos top the Rockies, 4-3.

7,000 days since Rafael Palmeiro gets four extra-base hits in a game for the second straight game.

10,000 days since Texas trades veteran pitcher Frank Tanana to the Tigers.

30,000 days since Indians star Earl Averill hits three home runs in one game and misses a fourth one on what might be just a bad call by an umpire. He ends up with a career-high eight RBIs in Cleveland’s 13-7 win over the Senators.

30,000 days since Flint Rhem reappears. Two days ago, the Cardinals pitcher vanished just before a big start. Today, he claims gamblers kidnapped him and forced him to drink.


1867 Elton “Ice Box” Chamberlain, pitcher, is born.

1900 Pete Donohue, Reds pitcher, is born.

1901 AL honcho Ban Johnson and Charlie Comiskey lease Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis for five years for an AL team, which will be the St. Louis Browns.

1914 A court of appeals upholds a ban on Sunday baseball in Washington, D.C.

1922 The Pirates select pitcher Jim Bagby off waivers from the Indians. In 1920, he won 30 games for Cleveland, but then his arm fell off (not literally, of course).

1936 The Dodgers name Burleigh Grimes their new manager, replacing Casey Stengel.

1940 Walter Johnson fails in his bid to win election to Congress. He ran as a Republican in Maryland.

1951 George Stovall, early 20th century infielder, dies 18 days before his 74th birthday.

1958 Baltimore makes Lee MacPhail their GM. Previously, Paul Richards was GM and manager, but now he’ll just manage.

1959 Lloyd Moseby, Toronto outfielder, is born.

1962 Amateur free agent Rudy May is signed by the Twins.

1970 Charlie Root, the winningest Cubs pitcher of all time, dies at age 71.

1970 Javy Lopez, Braves catcher, is born.

1971 Toothpick Sam Jones, maybe the best pitcher in the NL in 1959, dies at age 45.

1973 Johnny Damon is born.

1976 In a rare move, a team trades a manager for a player. Oakland trades skipper Chuck Tanner and $100,000 to the Pirates for catcher Manny Sanguillen. Tanner will last much longer with the Pirates than Sanguillen does with the A’s.

1976 For the first time ever, MLB holds a free agency draft. The Cubs, Twins, A’s, White Sox, Royals, and Reds refuse to participate.

1976 The American League holds an expansion draft for Seattle and Toronto. The Mariners take Ruppert Jones from the Royals, Dave Collins from the Angles, and Steve Braun from the Twins. The Blue Jays land Ernie Whitt from the Red Sox, Jim Clancy from the Rangers, Rico Carty from the Indians, Pete Vuckovich from the White Sox, and Bill Singer from the Twins.

1997 Bud Selig announces that the Brewers will move to the National League in “Phase One” of a proposed realignment plan.

1997 In an odd pair of events, Davey Johnson is named Manager of the Year and loses his job with the Orioles. He quits the job, sick of the interference by owner Peter Angelos.

2000 Willard Marshall, mid-century outfielder, dies at age 79.

2001 Ruben Sierra is released by the Rangers.

2003 A young Reds outfielder named Dernell Stenson is kidnapped, robbed, and murdered by four men in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 25 years old.

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Professor Longnose
10 years ago

The 1985 Rod Scurry Yankee card is one of the greatest cards in Statis-Pro history. He was only in 5 games, but had 12.1 K’s and only 3.6 hits per 9 innings.

10 years ago

“Born in Sacramento in 1956, the Pirates …”

Actually, they were born in 1882 as the Pittsburg(h) Alleghenys.

10 years ago

People in Pittsburgh like to wax nostalgic about what a great guy Chuck Tanner was, but his obliviousness to what was going on in his clubhouse contributed, even if in just a tiny way, to Scurry’s death. Scurry had one of the most devastating curveballs you’d ever see, and his 1982 was a pretty damn good season. The Pirates really could have used that season in 1983, when they were in a race with the Phillies to the last week. Instead, Rod had easily his worst season.

Bruce Markusen
10 years ago

Buc, if you want to say that Tanner should have been aware that players were using drugs, OK, but please, please, please do not tell me that Tanner deserves any blame for Scurry’s death. That falls squarely on the shoulders of Rod Scurry. He made the choice to use drugs in the first place, not Chuck Tanner. If you have to blame someone other than Scurry himself, then how about blaming the seedy drug dealers that sold cocaine to him to begin with?

Furthermore, Scurry died many years after he left the Pirates and Tanner. Scurry had many chances during the interim to stop using drugs. That’s not Chuck Tanner’s fault.

Frank Jackson
10 years ago

Rod Scurry’s son (also named Rod but he has a different middle name, so technically he’s not a junior)has pitched in the minors in recent seasons, most recently in 2012 with Sioux Falls of the American Association.