Known almost as well for his music exploits as he was for his split-fingered fastball, the goateed McDowell had a striking personality both on the field and off. Though his 1993 Cy Young Award was thought to be just the tip of his iceberg of talent, Black Jack became hampered by a plethora of injuries, and eventually saw his career fizzle as soon as it had caught fire, recording only about six seasons in which he was fully healthy.
1987 was a banner year for the 6'5" McDowell. He led Stanford to the College World Series title, was the Chicago White Sox' top pick in June, helped Double-A Birmingham capture the Southern League crown, and joined the White Sox in September. He began his major league career with 13 scoreless innings before finishing the year at 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA. But in 1988 he missed several starts with a tired arm and only tallied a 5-10 record, far less than what White Sox management was expecting.
After languishing in the minor leagues through 1989, McDowell returned to the Sox with a vengeance in 1990, going 14-9 with 165 strikeouts. Over the next three years, Black Jack established himself as an intimidating power pitcher, using a split-fingered fastball and forkball to go 59-30 over the span. In 1993, he won the Cy Young Award, winning 22 games and notching a 3.37 ERA.
After a disappointing '94 (by his terms) and outspoken comments about White Sox management, McDowell was traded to the Yankees for pitcher Keith Heberling and a player to be named later (outfielder Lyle Mouton). Thanks to one well-documented July 1995 outing at Yankee Stadium, in which he flipped the booing crowd his gangly middle finger after a particularly poor start, McDowell's tenure in pinstripes was short-lived. He still went 15-10 with a 3.93 ERA despite the incident, and signed with the Cleveland Indians in December 1995.
Perhaps it was Black Jack's musician mentality, the side of him that dressed nattily, had a fashionable goatee, and toured with a rock band that caused these sporadic outbursts. After all, McDowell's group V.I.E.W. (later to become Stick Figure, appropriately named considering his 6'5", 188-pound build) did receive respectable album reviews from Rolling Stone magazine. He also hung out with the right disenchanted stars; in a New Orleans tavern in 1993, the gangly pitcher got into a brawl defending Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. When the dust cleared, McDowell had been punched out by the bouncer.
But it was that fiery spirit that hurt McDowell's career as much as helped it. His menacing look assisted him on the mound, intimidating batters who knew he would pitch inside -- they respected or feared his cockiness and mental toughness, enabling him to get out of jams and last into late innings. However, it was this same stubborn attitude that got him suspended in August 1991 for an altercation with Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Mark Whiten, made him lose his temper in New York, and haunted his health with the Tribe.
Refusing to tell anybody when he strained a forearm muscle in his first season with Cleveland, McDowell pitched in pain before finally succumbing to the disabled list for the first time in his career. The additional stress he placed on his muscle worsened the initial injury, and Jack couldn't throw at full effectiveness for the rest of the season. Still hampered by his arm problems, McDowell appeared in only eight games the following year before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery.
When he wasn't tendered a contract by Cleveland at the end of 1997, McDowell signed on with the Anaheim Angels. He started 18 games with the Halos over the next two years, taking extended time off with elbow inflammations and a torn labrum, rehabilitation assignments in the minors, and one suspension for his part in a June 1998 brawl against the Kansas City Royals.
After three years of contemplating retirement because of his nagging arm troubles, Black Jack finally hung up his cleats after he was released by the Angels in August 1999. (AG/RL)
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FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»June 2, 1987: The Mariners select Cincinnati high schooler Ken Griffey Jr., the son of Braves OF Ken Griffey, with the first pick overall in the free-agent draft. Picking 2nd, the Pirates take Mark Merchant, while the Twins take another high schooler Willie Banks with the 3rd pick. The Cubs pick Mike Harkey and the White Sox pick Jack McDowell with the 6th selection. McDowell will be the first of this class to reach the majors, Picking 9th, the Royals take Kevin Appier and on the 58th round, take UCLA's Jeff Conine. With the 22nd pick, the Astros take Seton Hall's Craig Biggio, who will be the first non-pitcher from the draft to make the majors. Picking 6th in the first round, the Braves select Derek Lilliquist, and on the 13th round take Mike Stanton. Because of his expected high price tag, Mike Mussina is selected in the 13th round. Albert Belle, suspended by LSU's coach after chasing a fan, goes to the Indians in round 2. Robb Nen goes in the 32nd round.
»August 30, 1990:
Minnesota CF John Moses misplays a long drive by Ron Karkovice, and the White Sox catcher ends up with an inside-the-park grand slam. That's all the scoring Jack McDowell needs as the Sox win, 4–3.
»July 19, 1991:
Robin Ventura drives in six runs on two homers and two doubles to lead Chicago to a 14–3 win over Milwaukee. Jack McDowell (12-4) is the winner.
»August 29, 1991: The White Sox Carlton Fisk crashes two homers to become the oldest player in the 20th century to accomplish the mark. He'll top this by hitting two homers on October 3rd. Jack McDowell (15–8) goes the distance to beat Cleveland, 7–2.
»December 14, 1994: The Yankees obtain P Jack McDowell from the White Sox in exchange for minor league P Keith Heberling and a player to be named.
»July 18, 1995: The White Sox blast Yankee P Jack McDowell for 13 hits and nine runs in four 2/3 innings in their 11-4 win in the 2nd game of a doubleheader. McDowell makes an obscene gesture to the fans as he is booed walking off the field.
»September 11, 1995: At Jacobs Field, the Yankees record a rarity in their 4–0 win over the Indians—no assists. Jack McDowell allows four hits, walks four and strikes out eight in the nine innings as the Yanks register the 3rd no-assist game in the American League this century. Black Jack retires the side in the 9th on three pitches. The outfield makes eight of the 27 putouts. It last happened in the ML in a Mets-Phils game on June 25, 1989, the only time in the National League.
»December 14, 1995: The Indians sign free agent P Jack McDowell to a 2-year contract.
»May 16, 1996:
Albert Belle homers twice, his 15th and 16th of the year, to lead the Indians to a 8–3 win over the Tigers. Jack McDowell (5–1) is the winner for the division leading Indians, now five 1/2 games ahead of the White Sox. Before the game, the American League orders Belle to receive "immediate counseling" and do community service as a result of his winging baseballs at a photographer several weeks ago. Belle's agent replies that the star is already doing both.
»July 11, 1996:
In the Twins 11–7 loss to the Indians, Chuck Knoblauch completes his 10th multi-hit game in a row—the longest such streak in the ML since 1978. Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle drive in nine runs between them for the Tribe, and Jack McDowell picks up the win.
»May 20, 1997:
Cleveland's Jack McDowell undergoes arthroscopic surgery on his elbow that will sideline him for two months.
»September 19, 1998: Mariners SS Alex Rodriguez hits his 40th home run of the season, off Jack McDowell of the Angels, to become the 3rd player in history to have 40 home runs and 40 SBs in the same season. Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds are the others. The Mariners lose the game, however, 5–3.