Channeled into baseball by an overbearing, perfectionist father, Eric Show became a decent, if controversial, pitcher for the San Diego Padres. Although generally not considered the top pitcher for the pitching-poor club, as of 2018 he held the Padres record for career wins (100). During his major-league career, he spent 10 years with the Padres and one last forgettable year with the Athletics.
Looking back at Show’s baseball life, his friends saw three common threads:
- He cared about many people and things, maybe too much sometimes.
- He loved to learn and strived to push the limits of his knowledge.
Though he enjoyed baseball, it didn’t rank higher on his list than many of his other interests, especially music.1
Born on May 19, 1956, in Riverside, California, Eric Vaughn Show (pronounced to rhyme with “now”) was the only son of Les and Yvonne Show. He grew up with two younger sisters, Leslie and Cindi.2 Les was a jig builder at Rohr Industries constructing airline parts. His dad grew up fatherless in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and loved two sports, boxing and baseball. He wanted to transfer his strong love of baseball pitching to his son. He had high baseball expectations and he punished Eric, both verbally and physically, if he failed to live up to them.
In one episode, as the family left a poor pitching performance by Eric, his father reached over into the back seat of their car and began slapping him on the side of his head. As Les continued, his screaming wife tried to cover her son. His siblings looked on in horror.3
Soon, as a Little League pitcher, Eric began to mirror his father’s behavior. He was fine when everything was going well. If there were problems, he would seem to pout on the mound, publicly humiliating teammates and/or umpires if he thought they made a mistake.4
When Eric began pitching for Ramona High School in Riverside, his father’s continual verbal abuse was on full view, his “guttural” yelling aimed at Eric. Sometimes Les would stick his head into the side of the dugout and berate his son for a real or imagined pitching mistake. Sitting in the stands behind the catcher, he began calling his son’s pitches. When Eric’s catcher figured out what Les was doing, he confronted him. Les backed off.5
As a child, perhaps as a reaction to his father’s domineering personality, Eric found refuge in both his guitar music and his mother’s strong Christian beliefs. He taught himself the guitar and with the help of a close childhood friend from Riverside, Steve Tyler, he ended up able to play rock, popular and jazz music.
Religion also became very important to Eric, particularly in dealing with his volatile father. Nearly every Sunday Yvonne took young Eric and his sisters to church. Show became a born-again Christian in his early 20s. During his time with the Padres, he regularly attended the club’s Sunday chapel services. He sometimes signed his autograph with a religious citation: Acts:12, which deals with salvation coming only from belief in Jesus Christ.6
Several of Show’s seemingly odd behaviors may have come from his religious convictions: taking homeless strangers to dinner, calling a freelance sportswriter after midnight to discuss whether God exists, and his fascination with physics as a possible way of explaining the universe. These were among his actions that subsequently drew ridicule from both his teammates and the press for being weird.
In high school Les, baseball, and music continued to dominate Eric’s life. Eric started his own band, grew his hair long, and rode a motorcycle. His home life deteriorated as Yvonne divorced Les. Despite his father’s erratic behavior, he continued to “idolize” him.7
After high school, Eric accepted a baseball scholarship to University of California-Riverside. Les followed him. Once again, he began sticking his head inside the dugout and berating Eric.8
A major turning point in Eric’s life came in 1975. He went to Wichita, Kansas, to play in a college summer league and met Cara Mia Niederhous. Cara Mia was “cover girl’ beautiful and became a stabilizing influence on him.9 He quickly became the number-three starter on the 1977 University of California-Riverside team that won the Division II College World Series. He made a substantial contribution to the team’s success as he won the regional championship game.10 He maintained a lifetime relationship with his school. Later, in 1986, Show was inducted into the UC Riverside Athletics Hall of Fame.11 In 1989 he provided the funds to endow a baseball scholarship at the school.12
Show had the most electric stuff on the Riverside staff – a low easy 90s fastball and a wicked slider. The influence of Les, however, continued to undermine his efforts. In stressful situations, if things didn’t go his way, he would still become unglued and sulk on the mound. Memories of Les continued to slow his baseball development.13
Based on his potential, in June of 1978, Show was drafted in the 18th round by the Padres. The team initially sent him to Walla Walla, Washington, of the low Class-A Northwest League. He pitched 60 innings and went 5-2. Another benefit from now being a professional baseball player was that his father would not be allowed to yell at him in the dugout if he made a pitching mistake. In his second season, the Padres sent Show to Reno in the high-A California League, where he pitched 169 innings and ended with a 13-9 record.
He also married Cara Mia, who would become a key figure in his life. She provided balance. She didn’t grow up immersed in the baseball world; in fact, she didn’t particularly like baseball. But she recognized the challenges Eric faced and tried to help him. She knew how sensitive he really was. They never had children.14
In 1980 Show opened the season at Double-A Amarillo and posted a 12-6 record in 166 innings. He began 1981 pitching at Triple-A Hawaii, working 85 innings and posting a 7-3 record. He was called up by the Padres when rosters expanded in September and made his major-league debut on September 2, 1981 against the Chicago White Sox. He pitched two innings in relief as the Padres won. Used primarily as a relief pitcher, Show appeared in 15 Padres games in 1981 with a 1-3 record. His father loved it. Les had raised a major-league baseball player.
Show was in the major leagues to stay. In 1982, he posted a 10-6 record in 150 innings. By 1983, he was in the starting rotation, and posted a 15-12 record pitching 200⅔ innings.
He also formed close friendships with two other Padres pitchers Dave Dravecky and Mark Thurmond. They attended team-sponsored Sunday chapel meetings at the ballpark. The three soon became inseparable and were all considered eccentrics by their teammates, who nicknamed them Manny, Moe, and Jack after the Pep Boys. All three held strong Christian beliefs.15
In spring training before the 1984 season, Show, probably looking for something new to read, went into a John Birch Society bookstore in Arizona. He found their anti-communist views intriguing, so he took some of their literature. With Dravecky and Thurmond, he discussed the society’s ideas, which primarily addressed anti-communism. All three decided to become members. It was a big mistake. They were unaware that some critics had stigmatized the Birch Society as racist and anti-Semitic. For Show, his association with the negative aspects of the Birch Society would dog him throughout his baseball career.16
In June 1984, the trio distributed literature at a John Birch Society booth at the Del Mar (California) fair. Once their Birch membership was discovered, critical media articles followed, characterizing the three as anti-Semite and anti-black.17 As the news coverage intensified, team owner Joan Kroc ordered all the players to cease political proselytizing in the clubhouse.18
As Show had always prided himself on not having the same biases as Les, he was stunned. In 1984 he had a Hispanic financial adviser, a Jewish lawyer/agent and black friends in both baseball and his music world. Most of his teammates, including future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, agreed that Eric was no bigot.19 His lawyer subsequently theorized that “Eric joined the Birch Society because he thought it would provide answers to how the world works. He was always looking for answers.”20
The 1984 season was a magical one for the Padres. For the first time they won the National League West Division championship. The three “pep” boys combined for 38 wins and 8 saves or 50 percent of the team’s 92 wins.21
Despite distractions of the Birch fiasco, Show posted a 15-9 record and pitched 206⅔ innings. His baseball success inspired a song which he titled “Padres Win Again.” He recorded the song with the help of his friend Mark Augustin.22
Show started Game One of the 1984 National League Championship Series (at Wrigley Field) and was pounded for five runs in four innings. Key hits for the Cubs included a home run by opposing pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. Show also started Game Five and again was hit hard. In the two appearances, Show pitched 5⅓ innings and was 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA. The Padres won the series over the Cubs.
In the World Series, Show started Game Four, pitched 2⅔ innings and gave up two two-run home runs to Alan Trammel. The Padres lost to the Detroit Tigers in five games. Show finished the Series with a 10.13 ERA. Based on his 1984 regular-season performance, Show’s 1985 salary jumped to an estimated $537,500.
The Padres were active during the offseason, bringing in former Cy Young Award winner Lamarr Hoyt to be the ace of their pitching staff. The move would also lessen Show’s workload. With Show’s record standing at 9-9 in early September, the Padres flew to Cincinnati for a three-game series. It was an important series as Pete Rose needed one hit to break Ty Cobb’s career hit record. In the first game of the series, Rose, the Reds’ player-manager, elected to sit out the game. In the second game, Hoyt held Rose in check by throwing nothing but high inside fastballs. In game three, on September 11, it was Show’s turn. Pitching to Rose, he threw a slider that didn’t slide. It looked like a “grapefruit,” Tom Friend of ESPN wrote. Rose hit the pitch into left field for the record hit. Immediately Show ran over to Rose to congratulate him on breaking Cobb’s record.23
Before the game, the Reds alerted the Padres that there would be a 20-minute delay when Rose got the record-breaking hit. They were to stay on the field until the celebrations were completed. Many speeches and gifts (including a car) were to be given to Rose.24
Show stood on the mound for a few minutes and then felt his back beginning to tighten up. He decided to sit down on the mound to watch the celebration. Several sportswriters and some teammates questioned Show’s reasons for sitting down and criticized him for trying to show up Rose. Show lost the game, 2-0, but he won three of his last four starts and finished with a career-best 3.09 ERA for 233 innings, and a record of 12-11. However, he carried the burden of being considered the pitcher who gave up Rose’s record-breaking hit for the rest of his life. Reporters wanted to know how it felt to go down in history as a goat.25
In 2015 an extensive review undertaken to examine Cobb’s hit totals determined that Rose had really broken Cobb’s record in a game against the Cubs on September 8, three days before Show’s game. Show’s angst was totally unwarranted. He did not give up Rose’s record-breaking hit. He went to his grave believing that he did.26
During the offseason, Show decided to confront his father. He arranged for a sit-down with Les to talk through their issues. Show began by laying out the abuse on and off the field. Les took responsibility for nothing. He blamed either his own upbringing or his son. Nothing was resolved. Show finally threw up his hands and walked out.27
Show had a series of nagging injuries that limited him in 1986. He pitched 233 innings in 32 appearances 1985 but dropped to 136⅓ innings in 24 appearances in 1986. In mid-August the Padres essentially shut Show down. According to Show, the key issue was that he had broken his big left toe and then consistently aggravated the injury when he tried to pitch. Rather than risk his career, the Padres let him rest.28
In 1987 the Padres broke up the Pep Boys in midseason. Thurmond was traded to Detroit, and Dravecky to the San Francisco Giants. Both of Show’s best friends on the Padres were gone. On July 7 Show, with a 4-9 record, started against the Cubs in Chicago. The contest was subsequently called a “brawlgame” as seven players were ejected. Show was at the center of the action as he hit Andre Dawson, the 1987 National League Most Valuable Player, in the face with a splitter/fastball.29
Initially stunned, the crowd of 26,000-plus crowd became an angry mob. Rick Sutcliffe charged at Show and began pummeling him. A dazed Dawson picked himself up and began looking for Show. An umpire quickly escorted Show off the field. As he left the park with a security escort, an observer said he appeared to be in shock.30
The Padres issued a statement for Show that said: “I sincerely regret the unintended pitch that hit Andre Dawson. I have never intentionally thrown a pitch to hit a batter in my life, and I was not even intending to brush him back. I don’t believe that throwing at a hitter is a part of the game. I apologize to the Cubs, the fans of Chicago and especially to Andre Dawson. It was unfortunate, and I’m sure I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. I don’t know any other words to express my feelings at this time.”31
The incident happened in the third inning and both Dawson and Sutcliffe were ejected. The Padres felt like sitting ducks for the rest of the game. In the fourth inning, Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux and manager Gene Michael were ejected after Maddux hit a Padres batter. In the fifth Cubs pitcher Scott Sanderson threw behind Tony Gwynn four straight times and was ejected. Seven Cubs ended up being ejected during the game. The experience unnerved Show. Overall, he finished the 1987 season with an 8-16 record, making 34 starts, and pitching 206⅓ innings.
Show’s 1988 season was one of his best. He established career highs in innings pitched (234⅔), victories (16), and complete games (13). The Padres rewarded his improvement with a nearly $600,000 pay raise. His salary was now an estimated $1,450,000.
A key reason for Show’s better performance may have been that he started taking an amphetamine called Fastin. According to his wife, Show had been experiencing increasing back pain. Fastin took away the pain. (Show always had trouble sleeping after games.) Initially, Fastin seemed to address the problem. In a short time, however, he began to need more. Once again, he began having trouble sleeping at night.32
During the 1988-89 offseason, Show released a jazz record album titled America: 4/4 To Go. All his five-member group contributed. Show wrote and arranged the Latin-flavored numbers. “He is on his way to mastering jazz with the musical statements he makes,” said Bob Cartwright, a prominent jazz guitarist.33
However, Show’s back pain continued. Increasing his dosages of drugs made his pain tolerable. However, by doing so he had damaged his disc area, and he had to have surgery on a disc in the lower lumbar region.34
To make it through the 1990 season, Show decided he also needed help from a stronger medication. To pitch without pain, he took a cortisone shot. He also upped his consumption of amphetamines, trying to deal with the drug’s impact by drinking a lot of beer.35
As his pain continued, Show needed stronger medicines. He asked for help from the only drug addict he knew, his younger sister Cindi. Cindi, who called herself the “wild child” of the Show family, became Eric’s drug supplier. Sister and brother began taking drugs together, particularly crystal methamphetamine. Eric also began experiencing hallucinations and paranoia, both possible side effects of drug abuse.36
Show tried many things to address his addictive issues. He went to an estimated 10-plus detox faculties. He again tried to reconcile with his father. They talked again but Les had already been diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s and could not answer basic questions. Show had intended to try to help Les find Christ but Les didn’t have the faintest idea of who Christ was. Cara Mia said later that he had finally made peace with Les.37
After the 1990 season the Padres let show go in free agency. As a Padre he had won 100 games and lost 87. Show signed a two-year free-agent contract with the Oakland A’s in December 1990. The A’s had good success in dealing with player drug-related issues. But with Show, their efforts produced the same results: irregular behavior and a high ERA. In 23 games he was 1-2 with a 5.92 ERA. Surprisingly, the A’s picked up his option for 1992.
At the beginning of 1992 the Athletics released Show. Again, the cause was his erratic behavior probably fueled by drugs.38
After baseball, Show’s drug troubles continued to wreak havoc with his life. He went to another detox center. Once again, he began having drug-related hallucinations. On March 16, 1994, he died in a detox center in Dulzura, California. A loaded .22-caliber revolver was found under his pillow. He was 37 years old. According to a toxicology report delivered to his wife, Cara Mia, Show died of acute morphine and cocaine intoxication.39
At Show’s funeral only one former Padre, teammate Dave Dravecky, showed up. Dravecky delivered Show’s eulogy. His Hispanic financial adviser, Joe Elizondo, also spoke and characterized him as a devoted friend. And then there were the letters. They came from all over the United States thanking Show for encouraging them to go back to church.40
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and baseballalmanac.com
1 Brent Schrotentboer, “Mystery Man,” San Diego Union Tribune, May 18, 2008: 1-8.
2 Tom Friend, “The Tortured Life of Eric Show,” ESPN.com, September 7, 2010: 1-19. https://espn.com/espn/print?id=5543839.
6 Ira Berkow, “Eric Show’s Solitary Life, and Death,” New York Times, March 27, 1984.
7 Tom Friend, “The Tortured Life of Eric Show.”
11 Brent Schrotentboer, “Mystery Man.”
13 Tom Friend, “The Tortured Life of Eric Show”
14 Tom Friend, “Eric Show Q&A: Whether the Subject Is Politics or Pitching, the Man Is a Puzzle,” Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1986. ESPN, p.6
15 Tom Friend, “The Tortured Life of Eric Show.”
20 Ira Berkow, “Eric Show’s Solitary Life, and Death.”
21 Tom Friend, “The Tortured Life of Eric Show.”
25 Tom Friend, “For Eric Show, It’s Trivial and Probably Inescapable,” Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1985.
26 Kirk Kenney, “Did Rose Really Set Hits Record Against Padres?” San Diego Union Tribune, September 11, 2015: 1-4.
27 Tom Friend, The Tortured Life of Eric Show.”
28 Tom Friend, “Eric Show Q&A.”
29 Bill Plaschke, “Show Hits Dawson With a Pitch, Sparks Brawlgame Won by Cubs,” Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1987: 1, 2.
31 Associated Press, “Seven Ejected in Beanball Exchange,” New York Times, July 8, 1987: A23.
32 Tom Friend, “The Tortured Life of Eric Show.”
33 Hilmer Anderson, “San Diego Padres Pitcher Eric Show Hopes the Jazz…,” upi.com/Archives/1989/02/08/San-Diego-Padres-pitcher-Eric-Show-hopes-the-jazz/7311602917200/.
34 Tom Friend, “Ailing Eric Show Not Expected Back This Season,” Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1989.
36 Tom Friend, “The Tortured Life of Eric Show.”
38 Ira Berkow, “Eric Show’s Solitary Life, and Death.”
39 Tom Friend, The Tortured Life of Eric Show.”