The six foot one, right hander was signed by the New York Mets in the third round of the 1982 draft.
In the minor leagues he was still a starting pitcher, going 11-12 at AA Jackson in 1983. In 1984, with the AA Jackson Mets, he suffered an arm injury missing all but three games that season.
After the injury he converted from being a starter to being a full time relief pitcher. McDowell’s best pitch was his sinker ball which made him a right handed ground ball specialist.
McDowell made the 1985 Mets staff out of Spring Training. McDowell debuted on April 11th, 1985 in the second game of the season. He earned the win that day, as the Mets beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1, when Danny Heep drew a bases loaded 10th inning walk from Neil Allen. McDowell earned another win two days later, in a 2-1 Mets win over the Cincinnati Reds.
On April 28th he got a start & gave up three runs in five innings of work. After a May 4th start where he was shelled for six runs in Cincinnati, he became a full time reliever.
He adjusted quickly, with three saves & two wins in the month of May. He rolled along into mid June going 5-1 with four saves & a 2.64 ERA. Soon McDowell & lefty Jesse Orosco formed an awesome closing duo out of Davey Johnson's strong Mets bull pen.
In July McDowell recorded five saves & four more in August. In September he was very busy, making 17 appearances earning four more saves. He allowed three runs to the Dodgers in Los Angeles on September 7th, blowing the save opportunity. He blew another at Wrigley Field when veteran Chris Speier got a walk off single off him.
He would blow six saves on the year. In the final week of the month he blew two saves including a game in Pittsburgh on September 29th, that put New York three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals with six left to play, including a three game set in St. Louis. Although the Mets took two of three it wasn't enough as they ended the season 98-64 three games out.
McDowell would finish the year leading the team in appearances with 62 and matching Jesse Orosco for the team lead in saves with 17 (9th most in the NL). He posted a 6-5 record with a 2.83 ERA, striking out 70 batters In 127 innings making the Topps All Star Rookie team.
In the 1986 Championship season, McDowell was most valuable out of the bullpen. He had an incredible year as a reliever, beginning with two wins in the month of April. On April 21st it was Gary Carters walk off base hit that beat the Pirates & three days later George Fosters base hit in the the top of the 10th inning beat Todd Worrell & the St. Louis Cardinals.
Over the course of the season, he would pitch three innings or more in fifteen different outings. In August he recorded seven saves, with six in six straight games, in the final two weeks of the month.
Overall he finished 14-9 with 22 saves (8th in the league) and 3.02 ERA, striking out 65 batters in 128 innings pitched in 75 appearances (2nd most in the NL).
The Hot Foot: McDowell was legendary on the '86 Mets for being the leading practical joker. McDowell became a popular player around Shea Stadium & a star in the Mets 1986 “Let’s Go Mets " video. In that video, he gave in depth detail on how to give a “Hot Foot” with his accomplice , Howard Johnson.
The hot foot was a lit matchbook stuck with bubble gum onto the back of a player’s cleats. He instructed youngsters not to try it at home, as it was only to be done by professionals.
The prankster McDowell also had a classic stunt performed on a nationally televised game. He came out of the dugout wearing his uniform upside down, pants on his head, jersey on his legs doing a hand stand around the field.
In another game he appeared on the field dressed in full attire alongside a mariachi band. He appeared on MTV’s Rock & Jocks program often wearing wigs & kilts.
1986 NLCS: McDowell was fantastic in the 1986 NLCS against the Houston Astros, pitching in two games allowing only one hit in seven innings pitched.
He pitched five of those innings in the epic sixteen inning Game #6 at Houston. From the 9th through the 13th inning, McDowell allowed no runs on one hit with no walks while striking out two Astros.
1986 World Series: In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, his first appearance came when he closed out two innings of the Mets 7-1 win in Game #3 at Fenway Park.
He then allowed two runs in 0.2 innings pitched in the Game #4 Mets loss, earning no decision.
In the classic Game #6 he originally allowed the Sox go ahead run in the seventh inning, on a ground out by Dwight Evans. The run was a result of a walk & an error made by Ray Knight at third base. He pitched the 7th & most of the 8th inning in that game, getting relieved by Jesse Orosco with two on & two outs.
In Game #7 it was McDowell who got credit for the win, pitching a scoreless seventh inning, before New York broke it open in the bottom of the inning highlighted by Ray Knight's HR.
All in all he appeared in five World Series games, getting one win, allowing four earned runs with two strike outs, four walks & ten hits in seven innings.
In 1987 McDowell emerged as the teams main closer ahead of Jesse Orosco. He began the year in May due to an injury but quickly posted himself eleven saves by the All Star break. His ERA was over four but he earned two wins & six saves over the next month before taking a loss. In August he posted five saves in the last week but only saved three games, with two blown opportunities in September.
On September 11th he gave up a big game tying HR to St. Louis’ Terry Pendleton during the tight pennant race. Jesse Orosco took the loss the next inning, as the game is looked back on as being a major turning point to the Mets missing the post season.
For 1987, he posted a career high 25 saves (5th best in the league) going 7-5 in 56 games with a 4.16 ERA. After the season, Jesse Orosco was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers after saving 16 games with the '87 Mets. McDowell platooned with the new young fire ball pitcher; Randy Meyers in the closer roles.
In the Mets 1988 NL Eastern division winning season, McDowell saved 16 games with a much better ERA (2.63) while putting up a 5-5 record. In 62 appearances he pitched 89 innings with 46 strike outs, 31 walks & getting credit for seven holds in a set up role to Meyers.
That season he moved into third place on the All Time Mets save list behind Tug McGraw & Jesse Orosco. But Meyers was better, saving 26 games with a 7-3 record & a 1.72 ERA. It was clear he was the new closer & had a bright future ahead of him. McDowell already had posted ten saves by the All Star break but saw less action in the second half, although he still had 25 appearances with six saves.
Post Season: In the 1988 NLCS he pitched in four games of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In Game #4 at Shea Stadium he came on to pitch the 12th inning after Mike Scioscia had tied up the game hitting his infamous HR off Dwight Gooden.
McDowell then gave up the next big blow, a game winning HR to Kirk Gibson taking the loss. That game killed the Mets.
Overall in the Series he gave up three runs, with six hits, five strikeouts & two walks in six innings pitched going 0-1.
By June of 1989 McDowell was 1-5 with four saves and a decent ERA of 3.31. The Mets then made a horrible trade sending McDowell & Lenny Dykstra to the Philadelphia Phillies for Juan Samuel. Samuel was a huge disappointment, while Dykstra became a league MVP. McDowell posted a 1.11 ERA while saving 19 games for the last-place 1989 Phillies, finishing with 23 overall (9th in the league).
In 1990 he went 6-8 with 22 saves moving up to 6th best in the league. By June of 1991 he had only three saves & a 3.20 ERA when he was traded to the Dodgers for two minor leaguers. He went 6-3 with seven saves and a 2.55 ERA in Los Angeles for the remainder of the season.
In 1992 his ERA ballooned to over four while leading the league in relief losses and having the lowest save percentage of closers. That year the Dodgers finished with their only last-place finish of the 20th century.
By 1993 McDowell had become a middle reliever playing in Los Angeles for two more seasons. He signed with Texas in 1995, and was second in the A.L. in appearances (64) going 7-4 with four saves & a 4.0.7 ERA. He signed on with the Orioles for 1996 under his old manager Davey Johnson, and with team mate Jesse Orosco. A shoulder surgery ended his season in mid-August & two more shoulder surgeries forced him to retired in 1997 at age 37.
Career Stats: In his 12 year career he was 70-70 with 159 saves (74th all time), 524 strikeouts and 1050 innings pitched in 723 games (86th all time).
In his five seasons with the Mets he was 33-29 with 84 saves (7th all time on Mets list) posting a 3.13 ERA in 280 games (13th all time on Mets list).
In 2006 McDowell replaced Leo Mazzone as the pitching coach of the Atlanta Braves and has held the position through 2016. His staff had improved each year, until the final three seasons when the organization went into a rebuilding mode.
In 2011 his staff was first in innings & strikeouts, fourth in ERA & fifth in victories. They allowed the third most HRs & runs scored.
In 2010 they were third in wins, ERA, walks & earned runs as well as being first in HRs allowed.
Drama: In April of 2011 in San Francisco a fan claimed McDowell used foul language, homosexual slur & obscene gestures after being heckled before a game at AT & T Park. The person making the claims also said McDowell said "kids don't belong at a ball park" & threatened them with a bat.
McDowell apologized two days later but Commissioner Bid Selig said his actions were inappropriate. He was placed on leave by the Braves & then suspended two weeks by MLB. He had to attend sensitivity classes & the everything was on. He returned in his role as pitching coach later that season.
In 2012 his second place Atlanta Braves staff was third in the NL in wins (94) & complete games (5). They were first in shut outs (4) & fourth in ERA (3.42).
In 2013 McDowell's staff led the NL in ERA (3.18) & Craig Kimbrel helped his bullpen be second in the league in saves. But the 96 win Braves were eliminated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2013 NLDS.
Since then from 2013-2016, the Braves fell under .500, finishing in last place in 2016. Fredi Gonzales was replaced by Brian Snitker as manager. McDowell's staff was 13th in wins (68) with the third most losses in the NL (93).
They were 11th in ERA, runs, & tenth in walks. It was announced after the season was over, that he will not return to Atlanta in 2017.
He was dismissed after eleven seasons. "Roger is a terrific coach and an even better person," general manager John Coppolella said. "We wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future."
Trivia: In the classic Seinfeld episode in which his former Mets team mate Keith Hernandez stars, Roger McDowell makes a vido cameo & is blamed for the spitting upon Kramer & George Castanza. McDowell claims he get a check for $13.52 every time it airs.