May 14 – Happy Birthday Dick Howser

I was a Dick Howser fan. The 1979 Yankee team had been a mess. Everybody expected them to compete for a third straight World Series ring and they ended up in fourth place in their division. George Steinbrenner’s indecision about who should manage, Billy Martin or Bob Lemon, kept the players and coaching staff on constant edge. Thurman Munson’s death in a tragic plane crash was the final straw to a season that Yankee fans wanted to forget. Enter Dick Howser.

The Miami, Florida native’s big league playing career had began with an AL Rookie of the Year performance as a shortstop for the 1961 Kansas City A’s. That playing career ended in pinstripes, as a utility middle infielder for the 1967 and ’68 Yankees. When he retired the following season, he joined the Yankee coaching staff for the next ten years. Then in 1979, Howser accepted the head baseball coach’s position at his alma mater, Florida State University.

When it became clear to Steinbrenner that neither Martin or Lemon was the right choice as Yankee skipper, the Boss surprised everyone by hiring Howser for the job. He proved to be up to the task immediately as the 1980 Yankees got off to a fast start and ended up winning 103 games and the AL East Pennant. The Yankee clubhouse under Howser was more harmonious and conflict free than it had been in years. Reggie Jackson loved playing for the guy and responded with his best-ever Yankee regular season. The only hiccup to a perfect year for the team was a slight slump in August and good old George turned it into a giant belch. He started criticizing Howser’s every move and telling the Big Apple sports press that his rookie manager lacked the baseball intelligence of veteran skippers like Baltimore’s Earl Weaver.

Howser somehow kept his composure as did his team and the Yankees ended up facing their old nemesis, Kansas City in the AL Playoffs for the fourth time in five years. But unlike the previous three times, the Yankees lost and as we all now know, George Steinbrenner was a very poor loser. He shocked me and I’m sure, thousands of other Yankee fans by dumping Howser. Of course George explained that Howser had decided on his own not to return as Yankee skipper in ’81 because he had been offered some sort of amazing opportunity in Florida real estate that he simply couldn’t pass up. When New York sportswriters questioned the departing Manager about the opportunity, however, the perplexed and angry Howser didn’t know what they were talking about.

He did end up returning to Florida where he began collecting the final two years of his three-year Yankee contract but he didn’t stay their long. The team that had just beat him in the playoffs decided to make their own managerial change during the strike-shortened 1981 season and the Royals hired Howser to replace Jim Frey. During his first five years at the helm, Kansas City finished second twice, won three AL West Division titles and a World Championship. It all ended tragically for Howser a year later, when he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He fought the disease valiantly, but lost his battle in June of 1987 at the age of 51.

Howser shares his May 14th birthday with the Yankee’s first great center fielder, this former reliever and this versatile Yankee pitcher from the 1970s.

Howser’s record as a Yankee player

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1967 NYY 63 179 149 18 40 6 0 0 10 1 25 15 .268 .381 .309 .689
1968 NYY 85 189 150 24 23 2 1 0 3 0 35 17 .153 .321 .180 .501
8 Yrs 789 2937 2483 398 617 90 17 16 165 105 367 186 .248 .346 .318 .664
CLE (4 yrs) 385 1464 1246 191 307 45 7 7 72 48 170 105 .246 .336 .311 .646
KCA (3 yrs) 256 1105 938 165 247 37 9 9 80 56 137 49 .263 .359 .351 .710
NYY (2 yrs) 148 368 299 42 63 8 1 0 13 1 60 32 .211 .350 .244 .594
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2013.

Howser’s record as Yankee manager

Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
1 1978 42 New York Yankees AL 2nd of 3 1 0 1 .000 1
2 1980 44 New York Yankees AL 162 103 59 .636 1
New York Yankees 2 years 163 103 60 .632 1.0
Kansas City Royals 6 years 770 404 365 .525 1.7 1 Pennant and 1 World Series Title
8 years 933 507 425 .544 1.5 1 Pennant and 1 World Series Title
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2013.

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