Tim Cowlishaw

Drunk on Sports, the Intro…

In Drunk On Sports: The Book on November 7, 2012 at 11:11 am

I am going to post what is meant to be the introduction to my book “Drunk on Sports.” Actually, it will follow Charles Barkley’s foreword, I think. I had Charles write that because he’s a (current) friend and (former) drinking buddy. I will save what Charles has to say for later.

Today, you’re getting the intro for free. I’m hoping you will get the entire book by early 2013. It’s at least 80 percent written. I will tell you more about it later. Jimmy Johnson, Jerry Jones, Josh Hamilton and others pop in and out of the book. I hope you will get something out of it — if nothing else, more than a few laughs, generally at my expense.

I’m new to this website so excuse the errors if I screw up attaching this. With the help of my son Ben, I will eventually figure it out.

Here you go.

Drunk on Sports




For most of my life, that number looked like a batting average to me. Perhaps during my three-year run as a hockey beat writer in the ‘90s, I would see that figure and think of a really, really efficient power play. But for most of my first 50 years – starting at age six while studying the backs of baseball cards — .266 looked like a batting average.

It means something else to me now.

It was my blood alcohol level on Christmas night, 2008 – actually, the early hours of Dec. 26, to be accurate. That was the night I went to Parkland Hospital with a fractured skull, possibly spilling some of those batting averages and other sports numbers that have been spinning around in my brain for so many years along with, yes, an amount of blood the hospital report lists as “significant…can’t stop.”

Considering that the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle in the state of Texas is .08, some people might consider .08 to be a significant amount of alcohol. Honestly, I don’t think it’s that much even to this day. I think you set the law at .08 to try to keep people from driving when they’re at .14 or .15. But .26 – that’s, allow me to say, in another ballpark.

It’s a figure I wasn’t certain that I had reached until the summer of 2011 when I started working on this book. I remembered someone in the hospital talking to me shortly before I checked out on Dec. 29, saying that a .26 blood alcohol level was extremely dangerous and that I needed to curtail my drinking immediately. My answer was something along the lines of, “Well, I wasn’t driving that night.’’

I thought maybe it was a ploy. I don’t even remember what the man looked like but he wasn’t anyone who had consulted with me or spoke to me the previous three days. He was not a doctor. Seemed more like an administrative type. I thought maybe this was something that all the drunks were told as they were leaving the hospital, sort of Parkland’s own “scared straight” tactic.

Not that I completely doubted its veracity. But it wasn’t until a neurologist friend was able to find it in Parkland’s records one summer afternoon in 2011, two years into my self-imposed sobriety, that I knew for sure that I had, in fact, been hauled out of an ambulance — just a few hours after celebrating a completely sober Christmas with my kids – with a .266.

The way I saw it: Slightly higher than Roger Maris’ career average.

The way my neurologist explained it, honest to God: “That’s a very respectable blood alcohol level.”

Thanks, Doc. I tried.

This is not an anti-drinking book. I wouldn’t care to read a book of that type and I surely wouldn’t know how to write one. I was in love with alcohol for 35 years. It was a love affair that lasted longer than either of my marriages and certainly longer than any of my affairs. We had a good run, me and beer, from the early days when pounding down those cans of Budweiser made the hangovers worthwhile to that last great run with the lovely and delightful Stella Artois.

Oh, Stella. I first met her in New York City at P. J. Clarke’s and at the bar that took over the new Runyon’s spot on 2nd after the old Runyon’s had closed around the corner. It seems like I drank it on visits to Washington, D.C. for Cowboys-Redskins games as well, but the Belgium brew wasn’t distributed nationally at the time. When you look forward to Stella’s arrival date in Dallas (February, 2005, select bars) as enthusiastically as I did, it might have been time to recognize that there was a problem.

But that would take four more years, a trip to one hospital with a fractured skull, time missed from work, a trip to another hospital following a seizure, and, oh yeah, did I mention some time behind bars – not in that order – before I would decide that this was an affair that really needed to cross the finish line.

I can’t blame that on Stella. Put that one on her more dangerous half-sister, Stoli.

If I was in love with beer for most of my adult life, I became a serial stalker of vodka in my late 40s and early 50s. It didn’t have to be Stoli, that’s just what I usually ordered in bars because it was a buck cheaper than Grey Goose. But it could have been the Goose. Could have been Svedka (really reasonably priced and just as good as the premium brands, I highly recommend..oh, wait, that’s going to have to be a different book) or even the tasteless Skyy. Hell, at home it was frequently the plastic 1.75 ML bottle of Gordon’s that did the trick which, basically, consisted of putting me to sleep at night.

But like I said, it was mostly a good run because I was mostly a good drunk. Funny most of the time. Even charming to some. Dare I say sexy? Why not? It’s my book.

But not violent, not in the least. Much, much more likely to simply walk out of a party or a bar than to turn angry in any meaningful way.

When I told Sports Illustrated’s S.L. Price, a friend from my San Francisco Giants beat writing days in the late 80s, the name of the book I was writing, he looked puzzled, then said, “Wait. I don’t remember. Were you that bad of a drunk?’’

Nope. That’s the point. Just as “not guilty’’ is too often confused with “innocent,’’ I can tell you that “Not that bad” isn’t the same as “everything’s OK.”

But that’s probably why it lasted as long as it did. If I had been waking up on a regular basis in jail or with cuts and bruises covering my body from a lost fight, I might have figured out that drinking – for me – was a lost cause much sooner.

This is not a self-help book. I am by no means a regular reader of self-help books, so why would I attempt to write one?

That doesn’t mean it can’t help you if you do, in fact, have a drinking problem. Yes, I’m looking at you. You know who you are. If you don’t, I’ll tell you later in the book.

I know for a fact that there are people who can derive some benefit from hearing what a life fueled by alcohol, initially, did for me. In fact, I saw drinking as something that helped me in my work on many occasions. I know this to be a fact…before the bastard turned on me and sent me to jail and nearly killed me on Christmas night, 2008, and, yes, played a role in a marriage gone off the rails.

I know there are people who can benefit simply from the reaction I received from writing one column in the Dallas Morning News in the summer of 2009 after the news of the Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton’s relapse became public knowledge. It was overwhelming.

Normally, anything I write about the Cowboys is going to get 3-4 times the response of anything I write about the Rangers. But this was huge, the emails, the text messages and the personal comments dwarfing the usual reaction to anything about the Cowboys and Rangers put together. Because this was about something else.

I was not even three months into my self-imposed sobriety at the time, so I was fully aware that I was barely out of the starting blocks. I had been reluctant to mention it publicly for that reason, but in this case with Hamilton’s story having taken another turn, I thought the timing was right.

The point then and the point now is that you don’t have to be an All-Star center fielder with a past history of alcohol and drug abuse. You don’t have to be the completely-out-of-your-mind star of “Two and a Half Men” living with porn stars and drifting in and out of expensive rehab facilities.

You don’t have to have a history of crime or violence to recognize that what once was a reasonable amount of social drinking that allowed you to fit into your circle of co-workers, sorority sisters, high school buddies, etc., can reach an entirely different and more damaging level.

The fact that you can point to a friend and say, “He’s way worse than me,’’ doesn’t necessarily mean you should feel good about taking yourself off the hook. The fact that you aren’t the drunkest guy at the party or you aren’t the girl who always seems to have the easiest access to drugs doesn’t mean you don’t need to pull back on the reins just a bit.

And, if my last few years have indicated anything, if you are scared of the idea of rehab clinics and don’t really gravitate towards the camaraderie of AA meetings, maybe this can be for you, too. I never went to rehab and my only trip to an AA meeting in 2010 was to support my father as he got his 17-year chip.

Don’t get me wrong. I would be more out of my mind now than I was on Christmas night, 2008, to say I’m against rehab clinics or Alcoholics Anonymous. Without a doubt, rehab facilities have turned around thousands of lives. I know for a fact that AA has saved the lives of many more and added years – good, quality years – to my father’s life.

I’m saying only that what works for one person might not necessarily benefit the next one. My decision to stop drinking didn’t have anything to do with a team of medical professionals working to get me sober. It wasn’t about 12 steps, a support group or a belief in God.

Before I had become a drunk commenting on sports in the Dallas Morning News and on ESPN, I had been drunk on sports at a very early age. I needed to find a path back to those days.

Back to when .266 was nothing more to ponder than the batting average on a lazy, summer day.

That’s where this journey began. In Tulsa, Oklahoma. With one really bad baseball card trade.

Based on personal decisions I would make throughout my life, not to mention more than a few failed predictions over four decades, some might have called that trade a sign of things to come.

  1. Solid start Cowlishaw, thanks for posting it. Hope you find a publisher soon, can’t wait to read the whole thing. Keep up the good work on ATH…and on that sobriety thing too.

  2. I thought your name was “Tom?”

  3. This will definitely be a daily visit, please update regularly. Can’t wait to read the book, sounds like we’re in very similar circumstances. best wishes

  4. Please find a way to get this published. Lives are at stake.

  5. Tim, I’m a Texan living in MI and I’ve always been a huge fan of yours. I think I heard bits and pieces about your decision to change things, mainly from you, a few years ago, but figured if I didn’t hear details, that things were OK. I’m happy for you and I can’t wait to read this book.

  6. Wow, awesome writing, hope you keep updating this blog in the future.

  7. Wishing you continued success down the road of sobriety and many more returns to ATH.

  8. Well written scary account of your fall from grace. Sounds like you are back on track which is good to hear. Stay on course and get that publisher on-board. I’d like to hear the whole story.

  9. Thank you for keeping hockey in mainstream sports conversations, you have quickly become my favorite sports commentator/writer/personality (own ESPN radio show…maybe???). Thank you for sharing your experiences so candidly. I’ll be waiting patiently to read more!

  10. Sign me up for the book today. If the intro is even half as good as the rest of the book, you may outsell Jackie Mac!

  11. I have gotten to know you only on ATH. Thank you for sharing these experiences and I will be interested in reading more!

  12. Tim, I am 24 and I recently relocated to NYC and have felt myself traveling down a similar path. Reading this excerpt and the chapter you posted hit home pretty hard. Thank you for sharing this very personal story and I wish you continued success.

  13. Reblogged this on Drunk On Sports and commented:

    Re-posting the intro to Drunk on Sports for those who might have missed it Wednesday. Hoping to hit home with a few, give a few laughs to others. Thanks, have a great weekend…

  14. Tim, I really enjoyed reading this. I appreciate your honesty and your use of personification when it comes to alcohol. I have always enjoyed watching you on ATH, but was not aware of your struggles. Thank you for sharing this and I hope someone publishes it soon.

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