Monday, December 29, 2008

#92 Dick Howser

howser by you.
Dick Howser is modeling his batting stance, the form made him the first Florida State University alum to play in the major leagues. The Miami native and two-time All-American was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1958, and debuted with the club in a big way in 1961. He played in 158 of the team's 161 games, leading the A's in runs scored (108), hits (171), walks (92), and steals (37). His .280 average and 29 doubles would be career highs as well. The 25-year-old was selected to both All-Star Games that year and The Sporting News Rookie of the Year. He was also runner-up to Red Sox pitcher Don Schwall for the BBWAA top rookie honors.

Howser had trouble building on his initial performance, and spent the next two years fighting for playing time while his average stalled in the .230s. A mid-1963 trade to Cleveland gave him a spark, as he pulled his average up from a putrid .195. The next year, the Indians made him their full-time shortstop and he played all 162 games at that demanding position. He scored 101 runs and walked 76 times to lead the Tribe, and drove in a career-high 52 runs. But Howser lost his starting job again in 1965, and spent the final four seasons of his career as a part-timer with the Indians and Yankees.

After his retirement in 1968, Dick spent ten years as third base coach and winter league instructor for the Yankees, and then returned to Florida State in 1979 to coach the baseball team for which he once starred. The next year, George Steinbrenner enticed him to replace Billy Martin as the manager of the Bronx Bombers. Despite winning 103 games as a rookie skipper, Howser was subjected to constant meddling by King George. Shortly after falling in the ALCS to the Royals and refusing to fire third base coach Mike Ferraro, the man who had led New York to its most wins since 1963 was shown the door.

Howser was back in a major league dugout midway through 1981, returning to Kansas City to replace Jim Frey as manager of the Royals. The club won 20 of 33 games under its new boss, finishing first in the A.L. West for the second half of the season. Under special split-season rules put in place because of the midsummer players' strike, KC advanced to the Division Series, where they were swept in three games by Oakland. After second-place finishes the next two years, Dick brought home a West division crown in 1984. Another clean sweep out of the playoffs (at the hands of the rampaging Tigers) left his charges hungry, and they responded by winning 91 games and returning to the playoffs in 1985. This time, the Royals got over the hump, outlasting the Blue Jays in a seven-game ALCS to advance to the World Series. In an intrastate matchup, they spotted the Cardinals a three-games-to-one lead before staging a big comeback and winning the championship in seven games.

During the All-Star Break in 1986, disaster struck. Howser seemed out of sorts at times while managing the American League All-Stars, and admitted that he had been feeling ill. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and stepped away from his duties with Kansas City. After undergoing aggressive treatment, he returned to the helm in Spring Training the next year, but quickly found that he was not physically up to it and left the club once more. On June 17, just a month after his 51st birthday, Dick passed away.

Following his death, the tributes were numerous. His jersey number (10) was the first to be retired by the Kansas City Royals. The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce established the Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball's answer to the Heisman Trophy. Florida State University renamed their baseball stadium in his honor, and placed a bust of Howser on stadium grounds.

Fun fact: Dick's only home run in 1965 came on July 2 against a rookie Orioles reliever who was mopping up with the Indians leading 7-0. That pitcher? None other than future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer.
howserb by you.

No comments:

Post a Comment