Book chronicles Howsam's role
By John Erardi • email@example.com • June 11, 2009
Another month, another book on the Big Red Machine, but this one is exclusively about the architect, the late Bob Howsam.
Author Daryl Smith, who had "seven or eight" telephone interviews with Howsam from 2004 through early 2008, and about seven hours of face-to-face time, says his book is the first to delve exclusively into Howsam's role in building the Reds into the best franchise in baseball in the 1970s.
Howsam may yet be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. A call Wednesday to Cooperstown by The Enquirer turned up the fact that in the most recent Hall of Fame vote (2007) for executives, Howsam was the leading vote-getter among general managers with 25 percent of the vote; 75 percent is needed for induction. With time, Howsam's percentage could grow, because there are so many GMs, owners and baseball writers who are aware of Howsam's work. These people make up the veterans' committee which elects executives to the Hall of Fame.
In the 2007 election - which inducted former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, former Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley and former Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss - the voters included Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt, whose father ran the Reds.
Smith cites Howsam's Hall worthiness as including the fact that he led two franchise over the 2 million mark in annual attendance (St. Louis and Cincinnati), built the Big Red Machine into what most experts regard as one of the best five baseball teams in history (some believe it is No. 2 all-time behind only the 1927 Yankees), and helped bring the Rockies expansion franchise to Colorado, his native state.
"I think it was out of respect for former Cardinals owner August Busch that Mr. Howsam didn't want me to include it in the book that he modernized the Cardinals' (marketing and) ticketing operation, bringing in season tickets (and group sales)."
Even though Smith had been told by former manager Sparky Anderson that Howsam was a very considerate person - scouts over the years have commented on the same thing - Smith was struck when he saw it for himself.
"He was a complete and total gentleman, very polite and considerate," Smith says. "Unbelievably so ... When (my wife and I) entered the dining room, he introduced us to several of his friends and said, 'Joe and Sue, we would like you to meet our friends Kelly and Daryl.' He was genuinely interested in us.
"He'd think through answers before he gave them. If somebody asked him to solve a problem, he would think long and hard and then take action. Whether it was how to provide for his grandchildren's future or how to keep the memory alive of an individual who had been important in Sun City, Ariz. He was the same with baseball."
Howsam made over the Reds business structure when he came to Cincinnati from St. Louis in 1967.
"The thing he was proudest of about his work with the Reds was the type of organization (he had transformed them into becoming)," Smith says. "He knew the franchise (had become) admired, and that meant a great deal to him. He was also very happy that he had such a positive impact on the city of Cincinnati.
"Baseball-wise, his proudest moment was the sweep of the Yankees. He had their Triple-A club in Denver during the 1950s, so he knew the organization well when they were at their peak. For his Reds team to demolish the Yankees (with a four-game World Series sweep in 1976) really validated his baseball life's work."
The other franchise that Howsam admired was the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"He'd bring every scout to Riverfront Stadium in August or September for a Dodgers series and say, 'Here's what we're up against,' " Smith describes. "He had tremendous respect for Walter O'Malley (and later his son, Peter). Mr. Howsam was amazed at how Mr. O'Malley would work his magic at the owners' meetings. Mr. O'Malley would start talking as if he was on the opposition's side on a certain issue, but by the time he got done he had pulled everyone in the room around to seeing it his way."
Of the Reds players, Howsam thought most highly of Tony Perez, with Joe Morgan second, Smith says.
How did Howsam feel about Pete Rose?
"We didn't talk a lot about Pete until the end of (the big May 2005) interview. He told me he knew many people in baseball had been fighting hard to get Pete in the Hall of Fame. But when Pete came out ... (in a book) and admitted that he indeed had bet on baseball (even though Rose first admitted it to baseball commissioner Bud Selig), they 'dropped him like a hot rock,' (Howsam said)," Smith recalls. "Mr. Howsam did not believe Pete should be in the Hall of Fame (because he had bet on the Reds)."
But Howsam gave Rose his due as a player.
"He marveled at how Pete could basically psyche the other team out," Smith says. "(Howsam noted how) Pete would really challenge other teams and players and often they'd back down. Mr. Howsam said they had almost (such) an awe or respect for Pete ... that it (became) a practical reality."