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Come back to Life, Sobriety and the College

After winning a battle against alcohol abuse and surviving a heart attack that took him to the edge of death, Jeff Musselman '85 made his return to Harvard to speak with athletes and coaches about alcoholism and athletics, and now Musselman has.

By Y. TAREK Farouki

The 1985 season proved bittersweet for the Harvard baseball team and its star pitcher Jeff Musselman `85. Powered by Musselman's nasty slider and tireless left arm, the Crimson mounted an amazing comeback, winning 13 straight games to finish the regular season with a 15-3 league record and force a one-game playoff with Princeton for the conference title.

The Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League named Musselman its pitcher of the year for his 9-2 record, and a few weeks after the season the Toronto Blue Jays picked the southpaw in the sixth round of the draft.

But Musselman was also on the mound for that one-game playoff against Princeton, and he gave up 11 hits and three runs in 6 2/3 innings as the Crimson lost the game and the crown, 5-1.

Eight years and a life's worth of struggles, defeats and triumphs later, Musselman made another bittersweet comeback when he returned to Dillon Field house last week to speak with current Harvard athletes and coaches.

Dressed casually in a collared shirt and slacks, Musselman looked thoroughly at ease in the sports complex that he had called home for four years in the early 80s. His charismatic eyes and disarming smile drew his listeners in almost as much as the story he told.

Musselman told his story, a story he hoped would help people today learn about the ever-present and insidious danger of alcohol abuse.

After graduating with a degree in economics, Musselman moved through the Toronto organization and, at the age of 24, complied a 12-5 record with three saves for the Blue Jays in his rookie season in 1987.

Alcohol forced him into a treatment center in the middle of the next season. Musselman lived through the fight and made his way back to Toronto, but was traded to the New York Mets in 1989 in the Mookie Wilson deal.

After an unexplained heart attack unrelated to his drinking came minutes away from ending his life at the age of 29, Musselman has resigned himself to the fact that his baseball days are over, and his return to Harvard reflects a change in his priorities.

"Everyday, I get the itch to throw," Musselman said. "I have some great friends who just won the World Series, but I just had to retire."

In addition to working with his attorney in the negotiation of sports contracts for baseball players, Musselman provides counseling for athletes with alcohol problems.

It is this work with individuals with problems that is really important to him.

"It's a gift that I like to pass on," Musselman said.

Musselman presented Harvard students, coaches and administrators with this gift when he fielded questions from athletes and met with heads of the Harvard's Project ADD (Alcohol and Drug Dialogue) as well as the Bureau of Study Counsel to discuss what more can be done to help students with abuse problems.

"The disease is all about denial," Musselman said. "It's the mastery of self-deception."

The deception aspect of alcohol abuse is why Musselman has emphasized the need for programs here that target problem students instead of waiting for them to seek help.

"There are some wonderful programs here, but it's hard to go to someone and convince them they have a problem," Musselman said. "There has to be a way to point a student in the direction of an organization more effectively. Something that puts the individual first."

In Musselman's college days, the thought of seeking help for his drinking problem never entered his mind. In short, Musselman said, he didn't believe he had a problem.

When he entered Major League Baseball, he found beer everywhere--in the clubhouse, in the dugout's refrigerator, in the hotel rooms--and this ubiquity made Musselman feel that the league provided "a safe environment for the problem drinker."

Harvard also was and is safe for people already battling or on the edge of alcoholism, according to Musselman.

"All the parties had kegs and all the bars had alcohol," Musselman said. "Harvard may not be on the list of the biggest `party schools,' but alcohol is everywhere. But I don't think if you made this a dry campus you would solve the problems."

Alcohol abuse is a matter of individual susceptibility to the disease, Musselman said.

"My wife got sick once in college because of alcohol and never got sick again. She just stops after one or two drinks," Musselman said. "I can't imagine how she just stops. I'm jealous. When I had a drink or two or three, I felt that I was in complete command."

If Musselman deceived himself when he drank, alcohol also deceived Musselman by giving him this illusory sense of complete control. Musselman's return reminded him of all that he missed when he attended Harvard because of his problem with control and because of what he thought was important back then.

"Being back here made me realize what I didn't take advantage of when I was here," Musselman said. "I didn't do so much. I didn't go see the professors because I was too scared to see them. Those things in school, I just didn't care about. Why not live on the edge? That's what it was all about.

"I remember we'd start tailgating here at six [in the morning] to get a good parking spot. I'd be drunk by ten and look at people who didn't drink like they were losers."

"I look back now and say, how did I do that? Why did I do that?" Musselman said.

Alcohol made living on the edge possible for Musselman, who said he used the "legal drug" as a crutch.

"I relied upon it to get me through everything. The alcoholic is blinded," Musselman said. "My drinking was a symptom of other things, fear, anxiety, anger, loneliness."

These other things, anxiety and fear especially, usually prevent comebacks, and when one speaks of Jeff Musselman it's hard to believe there is anything from which he can't come back.

He came back from the void alcohol had eaten into his life. He came back from death itself when emergency medical technicians revived him after his heart attack. And he came back to Harvard to tell a story that may spare someone the journey he has taken.

Welcome back Jeff. Welcome back.

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