“Your Ballpark is a stage. People sit there for three hours watching a show. The players are the actors in uniform. The producers are the coaches and managers throughout the system. It is up to them to make the actors perform well.”
Bob Howsam Big Red Machine
Not only did Bill DeWitt vacate the owners’ office, but also his departure left the team without a GM. The 617 Inc. Company knew very little about the business of baseball, and like good businessmen they embarked on a search to find the right man for the job. Initially, the group had two targets. Ironically both had history of working with Branch Rickey.
Out west they eyed Dodger employee Buzzie Bavasi. Though flattered, Buzzie rebuffed the groups’ advances, hoping instead to one day be named GM of the Dodgers. The Reds other choice was current Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam, who had reached the major leagues, ranks a few years earlier and helped the Cardinals win the famous 1964 pennant race. Howsam’s contributions in St Louis included opening their new stadium and leaving them a great roster of players, which was evident by their back-to-back pennants in 1967and 1968, after Howsam left for the Reds job. Howsam had shallow roots in St Louis, and found the challenge in Cincinnati to be intriguing. This time the new owners were successful, luring Howsam away from the Cardinals, on January 22nd 1966. Bob Howsam joined the Reds front office, becoming the 5th Branch Rickey disciple since 1934 into the leadership role of the Cincinnati Reds.
Howsam’s family owned the Denver Bears in the early 50’s, and it was there that Howsam learned to market a baseball team to a community. He did such fine job in 1951 that he was named The Sporting News Minor League Executive of the year. Before expansion and an organized draft a well-run minor league organization could count on being courted by a Major League team in search of a new talent pipeline. It wasn’t until 1953 that Howsam’s real education in baseball would begin. At the conclusion of the 1953 season, the Denver team severed their working agreement with the Braves and began courting relationships with other franchises. At the time Rickey was with the cellar dwelling Pirates, and was working diligently to expand the team’s meager talent base. Rickey, always on the lookout for bright young men, struck an agreement with the Bears. Thus, Branch Rickey began his relationship with Bob Howsam.
“I would watch him work with the pitchers, listen to him lecture the players, and I was like a puppy dog. He allowed me to be right at his elbow,”
Bob Howsam. Big Red Dynasty
Howsam leaned towards the Rickey style of play throughout his career as a GM, citing speed as a key asset, looking for power first foremost, and eschewing smaller pitchers if a larger man was available. Later on that decade, Howsam worked with Rickey on the plans for the Continental League, and also helped with the forming of the American Football League, becoming the first owner of the Denver Broncos. In the early 60’s, Howsam thought that his career in sports had come to an end, until once again a Branch Rickey recommendation was solicited. This time it was the Cardinals doing the asking.
In 1964 Rickey was an advisor to owner Augie Busch, who happened to be displeased with current Cardinals GM Bing Devine. Just as he had endorsed Larry MacPhail at that National League meeting 30 years prior, Rickey recommended Bob Howsam as the man capable of being the right kind of leader to guide the franchise in the increasingly modern times. Like a good Rickey pupil, Howsam expanded the scouting staff and traded the aging veterans after their initial success. However, after too many office power struggles in St. Louis, Howsam was more than happy to listen to any other offers.
The Reds situation wasn’t without its problems. DeWitt’s ownership was marked with a distinct lack of cash, evidenced by the small staff and sub standard equipment they had been using
The infrastructure of the Reds operation was not up to Howsam’s standards. His immediate reaction to the situation recalled MacPhail’s vigor in remaking the franchise during the darkest days of the Depression. Shortly after arriving, Howsam had lobbied for more cash, and poured this money into a larger, more experienced staff and facilities. A first class organization consisted of capable people from top to bottom, and the best equipment to get the job done. Howsam wasted no time, adding a new minor league team to the club’s holdings, and expanding the scouting network far beyond the prior administrations. This increased the sheer number player the Reds had under contract, allowing them to have more prospects to pick and choose from than ever before. Howsam’s skills reached beyond the office. He made astute trades for players like George Foster, Cesar Geronimo, Joe Morgan, Fred Norman and Clay Carroll over the years.
His ability to see the impact of the game on turf, early, enabled him to capitalize on this knowledge when the Reds moved out of Crosley and into Riverfront. Howsam created the Reds Speaker Bureau and expanded the Reds off-season marketing push in the outer areas of Reds country, soliciting the longtime listeners of Reds announcing legend Waite Hoyt. The next ten years of Reds baseball produced five NL West titles and four World Series appearances. After handing off the GM job to his long-time assistant Dick Wagner, Howsam returned to the Reds in the mid 80’s, restoring the team to a contender almost as fast as Wagner had destroyed it. Bob Howsam brought the knowledge of modern day sports marketing to the Reds and tethered it to the game philosophy espoused by Rickey. His guidance was the major component in building a legendary team that the city embraced with never-matched passion.
No Owner or general manager is perfect, each one of these men had qualities that has negatively affected the Reds franchise as well as enriched it. Even Bob Howsam had shortcomings. His failure to embrace free agency helped hasten the Reds demise from super team to also-rans. Thirty years after the famous 1975 World Series, “The Big Red Machine” still casts a very long shadow in the Ohio Valley. Every Reds team has been, and will be always measured against them.