Sam McDowell (born September 21, 1942 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), is a former left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball, playing his first 11 seasons for the Cleveland Indians before a 1971 trade to the San Francisco Giants and subsequent stints with the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates. A tall (6 feet, 5 inches) and powerful left-hander whose blazing fastball led to his memorable nickname: "Sudden Sam". His strikeout prowess was sometimes nullified by periodic control problems, but the true decline of what many thought would be a Hall of Fame career was the result of alcoholism.
After signing with the Indians in 1960 for a six-figure bonus, McDowell appeared in his first big league game one year later, one week before his 19th birthday.
After struggling over the next two seasons, McDowell returned in 1964 to became a starter, and became a workhorse over the next 8 seasons. He tossed over 200 innings in seven of those years and ranked among the American League leaders in strikeouts (twice exceeding 300 strikeouts in a season).
A six-time All-Star (1965-66, 1968-71), McDowell was also the league leader in ERA and strikeouts in 1965, led in strikeouts and shutouts in 1966, and led the league in strikeouts again in 1968 and 1969. In 1970 he put together his best season when he was named "Pitcher of the Year" by The Sporting News, once again leading in strikeouts while winning 20 games for the first and only time of his career.
He was traded to the San Francisco Giants for star pitcher Gaylord Perry and light-hitting shortstop Frank Duffy. The trade turned out to be a disaster for San Francisco. In 1972, McDowell had his worst season as a starting pitcher, posting his highest earned-run average in ten years. Meanwhile, Perry posted 24 wins with a 1.92 earned-run average for Cleveland, winning his first Cy Young Award. At just 30 years old, McDowell was finished as a starting pitcher.
San Francisco traded McDowell during the 1973 season to the New York Yankees. He pitched one more season for the Yankees in 1974. His final season came in 1975 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
McDowell was known to be a heavy drinker, with his sometimes erratic behavior the end result of his alcohol problem. He later said that he was "the biggest, most hopeless, and most violent drunk in baseball", and Indian teammate Dick Radatz said "We thought he was stupid. It turned out he was never sober."
McDowell finished with 2,453 career strikeouts and an average of 8.86 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. At the time of his retirement, his strikeout rate was bested by only two pitchers: Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax.
After undergoing treatment following his retirement, McDowell became a drug and alcohol counselor, often working with major league teams to combat drug abuse.