Sam Malone

This article was written by David Krell


Near Boston Common and downstairs from Melville’s Seafood Restaurant,1 former Red Sox pitcher, reformed alcoholic, and unreformed ladies’ man Sam “Mayday” Malone ran a sports bar2 at 112½ Beacon Street — Cheers.3 The building that housed Melville’s and Cheers had once been a private home.4

Malone pitched five years for the Red Sox in the 1970s, earning his nickname as a relief specialist.5 He bought Cheers during a sober moment6 in either 1975 or 1976 from Gus O’Malley.7 Malone employed his former coach, Ernie Pantusso, as a bartender; Pantusso had coached him in Double-A ball with Pawtucket and in the majors.8

In 1986, Malone admitted, “I drank myself out of baseball and out of a marriage.”9 The following year, he added that “a whirlwind romance” led to the marriage, which “turned out to be a disaster.”10 During his baseball days, the press did not treat him well because of the drinking.11

Malone carried a talisman inspiring him to refrain from drinking, no matter how great the temptation — a beer bottle cap from the last alcohol he ever drank. But in an act of generosity, he gave it to struggling Red Sox hurler Rick Walker as a good luck charm in 1982; Walker got three saves and two wins in two weeks before losing the lucky item in Kansas City. Now without it, Malone thought he was jinxed because of a series of unfortunate events, including the inability to perform his “bar slide” — sending a mug of beer at a 90-degree angle to a waiting patron. When he and his future on-again, off-again girlfriend — and Cheers waitress — Diane Chambers were alone, he poured a bottle; on the verge of drinking, he did the slide successfully and kept the bottle cap as a new lucky charm.12

The Malone family’s life in America began with the great-grandfather who came from County Cork to Boston and refused to change his name in the face of bigotry and “No Irish Need Apply” signs.13

Even though he reached the major leagues, Malone always felt inferior to his brother, Derek, an international lawyer with his own plane, a fantastic singing voice, and the ability to tap dance; “trick pool shots” were also in his repertoire.14 Derek also spoke four languages; when the Malone brothers were younger, they shared a bunk bed and were closer.15 Malone admitted that it “seems like my whole life I’ve been trying to get out from under his shadow.”16

Malone’s relationship with his parents was also complicated. In the 1980s, there was a three-year period where he didn’t speak with them.17 And yet his father had a workshop in the house, which caused Malone “to love the smell of sawdust.”18

Because he was recruited to Class A in his senior year, Malone never finished high school. So in 1985, he went to night class with Pantusso, who also needed credits to get his diploma. Initially, Malone reverted to his “Don Juan” approach to life and slept with the teacher. When he broke up with her to earn a grade on his own, he studied with Pantusso and got a D in his geography class, sufficient to get the diploma. Pantusso got an A.19

Malone called his early baseball career the “best time of my life.” When the righthander was 19, he and his best friend Buck, a teammate in the minors, hitchhiked on Route 66. Buck got in the Hall of Fame but hadn’t talked to Sam since then, for no apparent reason.20 Malone estimated that he flew 200,000 miles when he played baseball.21

There were moments of greatness in Malone’s career, including striking out Norm Cash, Al Kaline, and Bill Freehan with the tying run on second in a game against the Tigers.22 But Malone said that his greatest day on the mound came during a doubleheader against the Orioles in 1972, when he saved both games in the ninth inning on seven pitches. A few years before his death in 1985, Pantusso said “the most exciting thing I ever saw” involving Malone was not his performance in the outings against Baltimore, but an Opening Day game in New York when he gave up a grand slam to Bobby Murcer.23

But there’s a conflict — Malone later said that his first major-league save came on August 5, 1973 in Baltimore during a doubleheader on a “sweltering day.”24

Still, Malone’s prowess earned the respect of an obnoxious Yankees fan named Eddie, who was prone to gloating at Cheers after the Bronx Bombers beat the Red Sox. Eddie allowed that Malone had a “darn good hard slider.”25 A colleague of Cheers patron and psychiatrist Frasier Crane remarked that Malone faced Reggie Jackson and “made him look like a fool” by striking him out; Malone acknowledged the tribute but also noted that Jackson smacked a line drive next time up and knocked him off the mound.26

On July 14, 1975, Malone delivered a formidable performance when he pitched three innings against the Orioles. But it was a low point for his public image because excessive drinking caused him to mistake the Orioles mascot for a huge mutant bird; he threw a fastball that gave the mascot a concussion.27

Cheers regular Norm Peterson said in 1982 that Malone “used to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.”28 But in 1990, he had a different take. When longtime Cheers waitress Carla Tortelli LeBec mentions that the Red Sox often called on Malone and his “slider of death” in pressure situations, Peterson responded that Malone usually gave up a three-run homer. The Red Sox teammates nicknamed the pitch.29

Indeed, Malone’s mound performance was uneven. In 1989, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Crowe visited Cheers and recognized the ex-pitcher. “Nobody gives up towering home runs like Sam Malone. I wish our missiles flew as high and as far.”

A few years after he retired, Malone attempted a new career as advertising pitch man in the early 1980s. His agent was a forward, sophisticated woman about 15 years his senior who specialized in male athletes, preferably younger ones. Not surprisingly, Malone had an affair with her. She got him a commercial for Field’s Light Beer with former Boston teammate Luis Tiant. Even though she procured an offer for Malone to do a national commercial with The Osmonds, he broke up with her because he didn’t like her continued expectation of sex; he was used to being the pursuer in his affairs and flings. Ironically, she dropped him as a client because, in her view, a past intimate relationship with a client could be harmful to conducting business.30

Around this time, former roommate and battery mate Tom Kenderson revealed, to Malone’s surprise, that he was gay in an autobiography titled Catcher’s Mask.31

Malone’s ultra-competitive spirit overtook his penchant for women during a charity softball game in either 1984 or 1985 against Playboy bunnies — one of them crowded the plate, so the ex-major leaguer brushed her back. With 17 strikeouts and a 7-0 score, Malone felt the urge to get back into baseball until Cheers waitress and Malone’s on again, off again paramour Diane Chambers opined that Malone’s fear of losing drove him to drink and drinking ended his career. Malone revealed to her that his parents were tough on him; when he pitched a two-hitter in high school, his father harped on the two hits.32

Malone got a comeuppance of sorts in 1986, when he donated one of his old Red Sox jerseys (#16) for a charity public television auction. After he found out that Chambers bid $100, he asked her to take back the bid. When nobody bid on it the second time around, he imitated a woman on the phone and offered $200, only to call again and retract the offer. Somebody — not a baseball fan — then offered $300, bought the jersey, and returned it to Malone because the jersey’s continued resurfacing at the auction annoyed him.33

In 1987, Sam got the chance to be a substitute sports anchor for baseball pal Dave Richards.34 Using a clichéd newscaster voice, his bland commentaries addressed being nicer at Fenway Park, artificial turf vs. natural grass, and rap music to reach younger viewers.

After 15 years, Malone reconnected with umpire Doug Aducci in 1990. “One of the best damn umpires in the American League,” described Malone. They reminisced about the last time Malone played in front of him — a Yankees-Red Sox game in 1975. In the ninth inning, Aducci awarded a walk to Thurman Munson; Chris Chambliss came up next and hit a home run. Malone said that Aducci had called the ball-four pitch to Munson a strike on Roy White; by force of habit, they started arguing and Aducci ejected Malone from the bar. Then the former umpire admitted it may have been a strike and implied that his divorce distracted him.35

Malone’s former rival Dutch Kincaid, a Yankees slugger, came to Cheers in 1991 to ask the hurler for a favor — pitch to him on Dutch Kincaid Day at Yankee Stadium. But it was a setup; Kincaid’s talent manager wanted Malone to serve up a home run ball during a ceremonial at bat. At first, Malone ignored the request because he wanted retribution for the past; he acceded when a kid claiming to be Kincaid’s grandson asked him. It was, however, a ruse — the talent manager sent the kid to pretend he’s the grandson. Kincaid knew what happened and returned to Cheers asking for Malone’s best. So, they went in the street where Kincaid smacked Malone’s pitches at least 226 times.36

In 1992, Malone tried a comeback with the Red Sox farm team in New Britain, Connecticut. After a good outing he revealed to Carla, “I don’t think I like baseball anymore.” While his younger teammates reveled in the victory and wanted to celebrate, Malone realized that baseball’s post-game shenanigans no longer held appeal.37

Malone’s success with women would have put Casanova to shame, especially during his playing days; he referred to himself as the “Cy Young of skirt chasers,”38 once dated Miss Tennessee,39 and claimed to have slept with more than 1,000 women.40

His sexual track record was the basis of idolatry by the Cheers barflies — primarily know-it-all postman Cliff Clavin and beer-guzzling accountant Peterson. In 1984, one dalliance turned nearly fatal when the woman’s husband threatened Malone with a gun. Malone said he didn’t know she was married because he doesn’t date married women; after persuading the cuckolded husband to give him the gun, Malone shot himself in the backside.41 His sexual prowess went global by 1990 — a Frenchman said that airline stewardesses talk about him.42

Malone asserted that his first sexual experience was in the sixth grade with a school crossing guard.43 Perhaps that led to a subconscious attitude of not discriminating against older women — in addition to his commercial agent, Malone slept with one of Cheers manager Rebecca Howe’s former college professors, apparently in her late 60s. “When the lights go out, everybody’s the same age and nobody’s lonely,”44 said the ex-ballplayer. From 1971 to at least 1991, Malone met a woman named Lauren — seemingly about 20 years older — each year on Valentine’s Day. This arrangement presumably excluded the time he dated Diane.45

But age caught up to Malone in the late 1980s, when he dated Erin, a gorgeous, younger blonde who was active in tennis, biking, running, skiing. Even though he was a former pro athlete, she didn’t think that he was on her physical level. Exhausted from the pace of her lifestyle, Malone planned to end the relationship, then decided otherwise when Erin promised him a bubble bath and lying in bed. But Malone collapsed from tiredness on the stairs that lead from Cheers to Beacon Street.46

Malone’s most impactful relationship was with Chambers. When they broke up in 1984, Malone relapsed into drinking and started dating waitress replacements; there were eight of them in six months. Chambers was not unscathed either. She returned from a sanitarium after having a nervous breakdown;47 Malone started going to AA.48

In 1986, Malone began dating Janet Eldridge, a city councilwoman running for reelection; it had the promise of a substantive relationship — the combination of a rising politician and sports celebrity gave Boston a new power couple.49 Plus, it opened up new connections for Malone: he bonded with Senator Gary Hart — a 1984 candidate for the Democratic nomination for president — in a game of Trivial Pursuit because his knowledge of sports gave them an edge. Late one night at Cheers, Eldridge asked Malone to fire Chambers; his previous one-year relationship with the intellectual, sometimes snobby waitress made the aspiring politician insecure. Malone’s relationship with Chambers had been his longest to that point in his life. Chambers overheard them and quit.50

When Chambers disrupted a press conference and asked whether marriage was in the future after the six-week relationship for the councilwoman and the ex-jock, a reporter followed up the question, which irritated Malone. It devolved into a farce with mocking facial gestures and Chambers squirting Malone with a water pistol.

Seeing that a spark remained between Malone and Chambers, Eldridge broke up with Malone and told him that he needed to grow up and make a commitment, something lacking in their own relationship. Realizing that he was pushing 40 and still alone, Malone called up Chambers and asked her to marry him.51

His attraction to the intellectually curious Chambers — she often read serious literature during her breaks at the bar — led to the altar in 1987, but he stopped the wedding because she had a chance to publish her novel. They agreed to six months apart so she could finish writing it; Chambers never got it published and did not return to Malone’s life until years later.

In 1989, Malone dated a psychiatrist who said, “You’re an aging Lothario who uses sex to cover up massive insecurity, a fear of true intimacy, fear of a relationship, and quite frankly not only a fear of dying but a fear of living, too.”52 In 1993, an argument with Howe exposed a harsh truth to Sam — he’s a cliché who’s the subject of women’s ridicule behind his back. Although Howe took back her words — presumably to soothe his feelings and not from sincerity — the ex-jock confronted his sex addiction and attended at least one group therapy session.53

Soon after this realization, the Malone-Chambers dynamic reemerged. Upon receiving his telegram congratulating her for winning the 1993 Cable Ace Award — Best Writing in a Movie or Miniseries for The Heart Held Hostage — Chambers called her old flame and returned to Boston. While they each pretended to be happily married with children, their respective charades were exposed. Immediately, they rekindled their romance and headed toward marriage again, then realized that they’re ultimately not right for each other.54

In 1995, Malone left his fiancée, Sheila — whom he met during a sexual-addiction group meeting — at the altar after a six-month relationship. Apparently, Malone felt overwhelming guilt for having sex with another woman twice on the day they got engaged. But Sheila had also been unfaithful — she slept with two Cheers regulars.55

Malone’s initial ownership of Cheers lasted from the O’Malley deal in the mid-1970s to 1987 — After the aborted wedding to Chambers, Malone sold Cheers to the Lillian Corporation, which then made the bartenders and waitresses dress in striped shirts, green vests, name tags, and bowties. Malone’s venture to sail around the world failed — the boat sank in the Caribbean. To help him get a bartending job at Cheers, his friends conspired to win a bet with bartender Wayne, who had claimed he could make any drink. If Wayne couldn’t fill a drink order, he would leave Cheers and Malone would get his job. When several patrons ordered a Screaming Viking — a fictional drink — Wayne left in frustration.

Admitting that Cheers is “closest thing I have to a real home,” Malone got hired as a relief bartender. But Howe’s boss thought it would be effective to have him full time because his celebrity would be, as Malone argued, a lure for customers.56 Malone’s athletic background prompted the corporation to make him Eastern Regional Sales Manager. The promotion filled Malone with pride — he called his father whom he hadn’t talked to in three years and then remarked to Howe, “For the first time ever, he told me how proud he was of me.” She then revealed the truth — the promotion was in name only; Malone got the job because they needed him to pitch on the company softball team in the league playoffs. Malone left the hollow position for his bartending job.57

In October 1989, Malone got a bank loan to buy a bar on the waterfront and call it Sam’s Place. Howe’s boyfriend and business magnate Robin Colcord convinced Malone it was a bad investment, persuaded him to pursue his real dream of owning Cheers again, and offered to help get Malone out of the deal. But it was an act of avarice, not altruism — Colcord owned adjacent real estate and bought the waterfront site with the goal of redeveloping the area with a high-rise apartment building and commercial real estate. It was an idea that Malone had mentioned — and perhaps unwittingly planted — during their conversation.58

Later that year, Malone had a meeting with corporate executives about buying back Cheers. To raise money, he agreed to sail Colcord’s boat in the Cape Cod Regatta — first prize was $10,000. When he, Peterson, and LeBec discovered a bomb on the boat intended for Colcord, they sailed to an inlet and the bomb exploded. Colcord wanted Sam to sign release forms absolving him of any liability for injuries and offered $50,000 plus $10,000 in stock options. Though Malone needed the money for the bar, his integrity won out. Human life and dignity prevailed over the money.”59

Malone did not harbor a grudge, though — he accepted Colcord’s invitation to a Carl Yastrzemski testimonial dinner with Howe also attending. Colcord offered a $1,000 fee for a tutorial on baseball so he could talk with a modicum of understanding about the game with the Hall of Famer. But when Colcord and Howe got aroused in the limo on the way to the testimonial, they dumped Malone out on the road.60

In 1990, Malone’s fortunes turned on goodness. Colcord proposed to Howe right before she was ready to inform the company brass that he got inside information from her computer without her knowledge. Colcord’s hostile takeover plans came to naught, though. When company executive Jim Montgomery told Malone that he planned to call the authorities because of Howe’s suspicious computer activity, Malone revealed that Colcord was the culprit.61 Colcord got indicted and went to prison; he and Howe never married but continued a relationship. As a gesture of gratitude, the board of directors offered the bar to Malone for $1; he could only scrounge up 85 cents from the patrons. Montgomery accepted the reduced payment.”62

Malone and Howe tried to have a baby together, without marriage.63 Their efforts were unsuccessful. In September, 1992, she burned part of the bar and Melville’s by throwing cigarette in trash before leaving for the night. Malone had a $25,000 insurance deductible and the banks wouldn’t give him a loan. His backup strategy included cashing in his baseball pension, maximizing his credit cards, moving to a cheaper apartment, and selling his prized Corvette.

Furious, Malone kicked Howe out of Cheers. She returned with an envelope that represented her checking account, savings account, and other money that she raised. Realizing that Howe gave him a break five years before when he had no money and no job, Malone hired her back. Malone’s neighbor Kirby bought the Corvette,64 a red 1964 model.65

Later that year, Kirby died from a heart attack; Sam met his widow, Susan, and began spending time with her in hopes of getting the car back at a good price. Instead, she gave him the keys. But when the car got four dings in a week, guilt overwhelmed him — he offered a down payment of the fair market value. When he came to her kindergarten class and tried to apologize, Susan made him sit in the class doghouse, where liars go to learn a lesson. But she forgave him and exchanged the car for the down payment.66

During a retrospective conversation at Cheers the night he and Chambers went their separate ways in 1993, Malone had an epiphany. After Clavin, LeBec, Crane, and Woody Boyd (Pantusso’s successor as bartender) had left, only Peterson remained. Before departing, he told Sam, “You can never be unfaithful to your one true love. You always come back to her.” At first, Malone didn’t know who that was. Then, alone in the dark, he realized that it was Cheers, and proclaimed himself to be “the luckiest son of a bitch on Earth.”67

 

Author’s note

This SABR “biography” is based on the author’s screening of all 270 episodes of Cheers on Netflix and treats the baseball information in the dialogue as factual. No attempt has been made to fact-check statistics or information about players and games. Cheers aired on NBC from 1982-1993; the Malone character made a guest appearance on Frasier in 1995.

This story is limited to the information in those episodes. There’s no indication whether the show referred to fictional participation by Malone in the 1975 American League playoffs and World Series. Any attempt at including Pantusso’s baseball career and more information about Malone would have gone beyond the goal of capturing sufficient information for this account. In addition, there is no information regarding cast interviews or television critics because that would have interfered with the goal of treating the fictional Malone as a real player.

 

Acknowledgments

This article was reviewed by Rory Costello and Joe DeSantis.

 

Notes

1 St. Elsewhere, “Cheers,” MTM Television, NBC, March 27, 1985.

2 Cheers, “Bad Neighbor Sam,” Paramount Television, NBC, November 15, 1990.

3 Cheers, “The Stork Brings a Crane,” Paramount Television, NBC, November 2, 1989.

4 Cheers, “Diane’s Nightmare,” Paramount Television, NBC, October 31, 1985.

5 Cheers, “Relief Bartender,” Paramount Television, NBC, March 27, 1986.

6 Cheers, “Give Me a Ring Sometime,” Paramount Television, NBC, September 30, 1982.

7 Cheers, “The Last Picture Show,” Paramount Television, NBC, February 25, 1993.

8 Cheers, “Give Me a Ring Sometime,” Paramount Television, NBC, September 30, 1982.

9 Cheers, “Young Dr. Weinstein,” Paramount Television, NBC, November 13, 1986.

10 Cheers, “The Godfather: Part III,” Paramount Television, NBC, March 19, 1987.

11 Cheers, “Bar Bet,” Paramount Television, NBC, February 14, 1985.

12 Cheers, “Endless Slumper,” Paramount Television, NBC, December 2, 1982.

13 Cheers, “Unplanned Parenthood,” Paramount Television, NBC, October 24, 1991.

14 Cheers, “Showdown: Part 1,” Paramount Television, NBC, March 24, 1983.

15 Cheers, “The Art of the Steal,” Paramount Television, NBC, November 30, 1989.

16 Cheers, “Paint Your Office,” Paramount Television, NBC, November 5, 1987.

17 Cheers, “The Sam in the Grey Flannel Suit,” Paramount Television, NBC, March 3, 1988.

18 Cheers, “A House Is Not a Home,” Paramount Television, NBC, April 30, 1987.

19 Cheers, “Teacher’s Pet,” Paramount Television, NBC, January 31, 1985.

20 Cheers, “Get Your Kicks on Route 666,” Paramount Television, NBC, September 26, 1991.

21 Cheers, “Airport V,” Paramount Television, NBC, February 25, 1988.

22 Cheers, “Give Me a Ring Sometime,” Paramount Television, NBC, September 30, 1982.

23 Cheers, “Sam at Eleven,” Paramount Television, NBC, October 21, 1982.

24 Cheers, “Simon Says,” Paramount Television, NBC, March 5, 1987.

25 Cheers, “The Tortelli Tort,” Paramount Television, NBC, October 14, 1982.

26 Cheers, “The Visiting Lecher,” Paramount Television, NBC, May 4, 1989.

27 Cheers, “Norm’s Big Audit,” Paramount Television, NBC, January 14, 1993.

28 Cheers, “Give Me a Ring Sometime,” Paramount Television, NBC, September 30, 1982.

29 Cheers, “Indoor Fun with Sammy and Robby,” Paramount Television, NBC, February 22, 1990.

30 Cheers, “Now Pitching, Sam Malone,” Paramount Television, NBC, January 6, 1983.

31 Cheers, “The Boys in the Bar,” Paramount Television, NBC, January 27, 1983.

32 Cheers, “King of the Hill,” Paramount Television, NBC, January 24, 1985.

33 Cheers, “Take My Shirt…Please,” Paramount Television, NBC, January 9, 1986.

34 Cheers, “I on Sports,” Paramount Television, NBC, October 1, 1987.

35 Cheers, “Breaking in Is Hard To Do,” Paramount Television, NBC, November 1, 1990.

36 Cheers, “Pitch It Again, Sam,” Paramount Television, NBC, March 28, 1991.

37 Cheers, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” Paramount Television, NBC, March 26, 1992.

38 Cheers, “Executive Sweet,” Paramount Television, NBC, November 10, 1988.

39 Cheers, “How To Marry a Mailman,” Paramount Television, NBC, October 19, 1989.

40 Cheers, “The Improbable Dream: Part 1,” Paramount Television, NBC, September 21, 1989.

41 Cheers, “Sam Turns the Other Cheek,” Paramount Television, NBC, November 1, 1984.

42 Cheers, “Woody Interruptus,” Paramount Television, NBC, December 13, 1990.

43 Cheers, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” Paramount Television, NBC, February 11, 1988.

44 Cheers, “Sammy and the Professor,” Paramount Television, NBC, January 4, 1990.

45 Cheers, “Sam Time Next Year,” Paramount Television, NBC, February 14, 1991.

46 Cheers, “Don’t Paint Your Chickens,” Paramount Television, NBC, February 23, 1989.

47 Cheers, “Rebound: Part 1,” Paramount Television, NBC, September 27, 1984.

48 Cheers, “Rebound: Part 2,” Paramount Television, NBC, October 4, 1984.

49 Cheers, “Strange Bedfellows: Part 1,” Paramount Television, NBC, May 1, 1986.

50 Cheers, “Strange Bedfellows: Part 2,” Paramount Television, NBC, May 8, 1986.

51 Cheers, “Strange Bedfellows: Part 3,” Paramount Television, NBC, May 15, 1986.

52 Cheers, “What’s Up, Doc?,” Paramount Television, NBC, March 30, 1989.

53 Cheers, “The Guy Can’t Help It,” Paramount Television, NBC, May 13, 1993.

54 Cheers, “One for the Road,” Paramount Television, NBC, May 20, 1993.

55 Frasier, “The One Where Sam Shows Up,” Paramount Television, NBC, February 21, 1995.

56 Cheers, “Home Is the Sailor,” Paramount Television, NBC, September 24, 1987.

57 Cheers, “The Sam in the Grey Flannel Suit,” Paramount Television, NBC, March 3, 1988.

58 Cheers, “A Bar Is Born,” Paramount Television, NBC, October 12, 1989.

59 Cheers, “Sam Ahoy,” Paramount Television, NBC, December 14, 1989.

60 Cheers, “Finally!: Part 1,” Paramount Television, NBC, January 25, 1990.

61 Cheers, “Cry Hard,” Paramount Television, NBC, April 26, 1990.

62 Cheers, “Cry Harder,” Paramount Television, NBC, May 3, 1990.

63 Cheers, “Baby Balk,” Paramount Television, NBC, September 19, 1991.

64 Cheers, “Little Match Girl,” Paramount Television, NBC, September 24, 1992.

65 Cheers, “Rebecca’s Lover…Not,” Paramount Television, NBC, April 23, 1992.

66 Cheers, “Love Me, Love My Car,” Paramount Television, NBC, December 17, 1992.

67 Cheers, “One for the Road,” Paramount Television, NBC, May 20, 1993.

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