Coming up Red
Howsam engineered Cincinnati dynasty
By CRAIG MUDER
November 18, 2009
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Bob Howsam’s brushstrokes are spread throughout the sports world of the 1960s and 1970s.
But in the final analysis, it’s Howsam’s work as the Cincinnati Reds’ general manager that will be remembered as his masterpiece.
“Mr. Howsam was the one who cemented that team together,” said Ken Griffey Sr. of the Big Red Machine.
|Bob Howsam is one of twenty finalists for election to the Hall of Fame Class of 2010 by the Veterans Committee. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)|
It turned out the be a mix that bonded one of the greatest teams in baseball history.
Howsam, who also was the general manager of baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals, is one of 10 finalists on this year’s Veterans Committee executives/pioneers ballot at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Veterans Committee will vote on Dec. 6 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 7. The results of the Veterans Committee election for managers/umpires will also be announced on Dec. 7.
The 10 candidates on the executives/pioneers ballot are: Gene Autry, Sam Breadon, John Fetzer, Ewing Kauffman, John McHale, Marvin Miller, Gabe Paul, Jacob Ruppert, Bill White and Howsam. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010.
Born Feb. 28, 1918, in Denver, Howsam served as a Navy pilot in World War II before leading the Denver Bears of the Class A Western League and Triple-A American Association from 1947-62. Howsam was twice named The Sporting News Minor League Executive of the Year during that time, and in 1959 he helped with a bid to create a third major league with the Continental League.
The Continental League never materialized, but its proposal led to expansion by the American League in 1961 and by the National League in 1962.
By then, Howsam’s family had established the Denver Broncos in the American Football League – making them one of the self-proclaimed “Foolish Club” for taking on the established National Football League. The Howsams sold the Broncos in 1964, and today the team is considered one of the model franchises of the NFL.
As for Howsam, he found work during the 1964 baseball season as the Cardinals’ general manager after St. Louis owner Gussie Busch fired Bing Devine in August. The Cardinals caught fire after Howsam took over, and eventually defeated the Yankees in seven games to win the 1964 World Series.
Over the next two seasons, Howsam installed Red Schoendienst as manager and acquired Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris in trades, setting the stage for the Redbirds to win the 1967 World Series and 1968 NL pennant. But by then, Howsam had become the general manager of the Reds.
Howsam quickly went to work in Cincinnati, and by 1970 – after Howsam hired future Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson – the Reds were back in the World Series. But after losing to the Orioles that fall and failing to make the playoffs in 1971, Howsam decided a change was necessary.
On Nov. 29, 1971, Howsam traded Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart to the Houston Astros for Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke and Ed Armbrister.
“On the morning of the trade, I told my team I had just given Houston the championship,” Howsam said. “But we were building for the future and needed speed for the AstroTurf (at the Reds’ new Riverfront Stadium). As it turned out, we shocked everybody and won the pennant in 1972.”
The Reds lost the World Series to the A’s in seven games that year, but by 1975 the Big Red Machine was ready to roll. That season, Cincinnati won 107 regular season games and the NL pennant, then defeated the Red Sox in seven games in a thrilling World Series. The next year, Cincinnati won the Fall Classic again – etching the team into the nation’s sporting consciousness.
Morgan, the key in that 1971 trade, won back-to-back NL MVPs in 1975-76 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1990.
After retiring in 1978, Howsam returned to the Reds briefly in the early 1980s. He was elected to the team’s Hall of Fame in 2004.
“From what I have seen, the Big Red Machine will always be the greatest team ever in baseball,” Howsam said. “We were so balanced.”
Howsam died on Feb. 19, 2008.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.