Verducci: Drug users, has-beens and never-weres on 1986 San Jose Bees

From Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated on September 16, 2016:

Mike Norris awoke on New Year’s Day 1986, in bed with a 300-pound woman he did not immediately recognize. He staggered to the Oakland dive where he had spent New Year’s Eve. The bartender was the only person there. The wall behind the bar was mirrored. Norris saw his reflection. It horrified him. Usually a proud dresser, he was wearing the previous night’s clothes. They hung on his thinning frame as sad as sails on a windless day. “Major league ballplayer, my f—— ass,” he snarled at his reflection. It was only six years since he had won 22 games and a Gold Glove as a righthanded pitcher for the A’s. “I see an addict! I’m no better than the pimps and whores I’m hanging with!”

“Greatest day of my life,” he says now.

Two months earlier Norris had been in a Dominican jail on drug charges. He had been through drug rehab five times in four years. This was bottom.

Norris used to mock the many teammates who snorted cocaine during his big year, in 1980. “Don’t you know that stuff is going straight up your nose to your brain?” he told them. But when Norris tried smoking it, in ’82, suddenly he too was hooked.

Cocaine and an achy right shoulder kept him out of baseball in 1984 and ’85 except for two games in Class A. His New Year’s dive bar epiphany pointed him toward sobriety and baseball again. But there was one big problem with his plan.

What team would be crazy enough to take a lost soul like him?

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Originally published: September 16, 2016. Last Updated: September 16, 2016.