Bob Howsam (or Could You Trade Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday)


Trade Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday ?   Are you crazy ?

That is exactly what General Manager  Bob Howsam did, or at least he did to their early 60’s counterparts (Ken Boyer and Bill White).

Who is Bob Howsam, you ask ?  Ask a Cincinnati Reds fan and they will tell you.  It was Bob Howsam that put the final pieces in place for the Big Red Machine dynasty in the 1970s.  His predecessor, Bill DeWitt (father of current Cardinals owner, Bill DeWitt, Jr.) drafted and developed the core players, but it was Howsam that put the finishing touches on one of the most ferocious teams of the era.  It is not a coincidence that many of those players got their start in St. Louis.

Taking Over

Before his time with the Reds, Howsam served as General Manager for the Cardinals, taking over from Bing Devine in August 1964.  In a surprise move, largely orchestrated by the legendary Branch Rickey,  owner August Busch replaced Devine out of frustration that the team was falling farther and farther behind the league leading Phillies.   It was Devine that had transformed the Cardinals from a middle of the pack team to legitimate contender,  but because of the impatience of the owner, he would not be able to enjoy the championship that he built for St. Louis.

After winning the 1964 World Series, the first challenge confronting Howsam was replacing manager, Johnny Keane.   Leo Durocher was the name being thrown around, but Howsam went with the local hero, Red Schoendienst.   Looking back at his decision, he couldn’t have chosen a better manager.  By keeping it in the family, so to speak, the fans and media warmed up to the new skipper, which would be very important as his first two years were pretty rough.

1965

The next task was to retool the ’65 Cardinals.  Baseball was very quickly becoming a pitching dominated game, and all it took was a look to the West Coast and the two-headed monster of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax to tell you what you need to improve if you wanted to compete.  Pitching, pitching and more pitching.

Howsam’s first big trade was with the New York Mets.  He sent Gordie Richardson and Johnny Lewis to the Mets for Tracy Stallard.   Richardson had been one of the bullpen heroes for the Cardinals as they chased Philadelphia down the stretch in 1964 and Lewis was a promising young outfielder, but with the addition of Mike Shannon, the Cardinals outfield was getting a bit crowded.  Stallard was a big right hander that had developed into an inning eating starter for the Mets.  In spite of losing 20 games in 1964, he had a respectable ERA of 3.79.   Stallard would be inserted into the Cardinals rotation to start the 1965 season, and he would turn in a career year, posting an 11-8 record with a 3.38 ERA.  Stallard would start the 1966 season in the bullpen, being bumped by a couple of young lefties, Larry Jaster and former Mets teammate, Al Jackson.  Stallard did not pitch well in relief – May was a complete disaster for the right hander.  He would get a few turns in the rotation as the temperatures starting going up in June, but didn’t fare much better.   He would be sent back to the bullpen, but after a terrible outing, and a bit of complaining about his new role, he was sent back to Tulsa (AAA) and would never pitch in the major leagues again.

Howsam would continue to try improving the pitching staff by sending Roger Craig and outfielder Charlie James to the Cincinnati Reds for veteran Bob Purkey.   Roger Craig was a hard luck pitcher for the Cardinals in 1964,  ending the season with a losing record in spite of a very good ERA.  All of that was forgotten when he turned in a brilliant performance in Game 4 of the World Series, in relief of a faltering Ray Sadecki.  James had been the every day left fielder, but lost his job when the Cardinals acquired Lou Brock in June 1964.  Purkey was a knuckleballer, and one of the better ones in the early part of the 60s.  He twice won 17 games for the Reds and had a career year in 1962 with a 23-5 record, a 2.81 ERA and an an incredible 288 1/3 innings.   He would split time between the rotation and the bullpen for the Cardinals in 1965, butneither very successfully.   His knuckler was starting to get hit with regularity and his ERA ballooned up to over 5.  He would be traded to the Pirates prior to the start of the 1966 season, where he would finish his career.

Lost in all of this were three key amateur signings.

Pedro Borbon – one that got away.  Howsam took Borbon with him to Cincinnati and he became of the best rubber arms out of the bullpen.   Lots of appearances, gobs of innings and an ERA that floated between 2.00 and 3.00

Wayne Granger – a hard throwing right hander that developed into one of the best closers in the game.  The Cardinals failed to invest in him, and Howsam stole him for the Big Red Machine.

Willie Montanez – became the top prospect in the Cardinals farm system.  Taken by the Phillies when Curt Flood refused to report after being traded.  Oh, how the 70s might have been different for the Cardinals if Montanez had worn a Redbird uniform.

Howsam made one more big trade in 1965 that worked out well for the Cardinals in the short term (1966) but was a total disaster when you look back at it.  He sent hard throwing left hander, Mike Cuellar to the Astros for veteran lefty, Hal Woodeshick.  Woodeshick took over the closer role with the Cardinals and was spectacular, turning in an ERA under 2.00.  He was just as good in 1966, but lost his closer role to the hard throwing Joe Hoerner, another Houston Astros castoff.  A tired arm troubled Hoodeshick through the 1967 season, but he would earn a World Series ring for his efforts.  Cuellar became one of Houstons’ better starters, but when he mastered the screwball and went to Baltimore in 1969, he became one of the games best.  He would win 20 or more games 4 different times, and 18 games twice more.  He won one Cy Young award (1969), but could easily have won as many as four.

OK, so that trade does not get a gold star.

1966

So what’s all this about trading Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday ?

That would come next, in a span of just one week.   Before looking at those deals, it is important to remember that Howsam was taught by Branch Rickey, who once said,

“Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”

And that’s exactly what he did.

The 80-81 7th place finish in 1965 was disappointing, coming off consecutive 93 win seasons and a World Series Championship.  Not only was more pitching needed, more offense would be required to keep pace with the Dodgers.  Pitching help would come in the first trade following the 1965 season.

If you ask a fan of the early 60s who their favorite Cardinal was, the answer is likely to be Ken Boyer.  Boyer was the Albert Pujols of that team.  The veteran third baseman had come up through the Cardinals farm system, had been a perennial All Star and won the 1964 National League Most Valuable Player.  He was an exceptional defender, earning 5 gold gloves in his career.  If there is one thing you must know about Ken Boyer, he had a reputation of getting the big hit when needed.

Following Rickey’s guidance, Howsam traded the long time Cardinal favorite to New York for left handed starter, Al Jackson.  While Boyer’s best year were behind him, he still had plenty of gas in the tank, and Howsam used that to obtain one of the most underrated pitchers in the game.

The little lefty had an abysmal win-loss record with the Mets, twice losing 20 games in a season.  The Cardinals had seen something in Jackson, and indeed he almost cost the Cardinals the 1964 pennant,  and Howsam thought he would fit well into the rotation.  He would have a career year in 1966, besting nearly all of his pitching statistics, but still posted a losing record.  That was not Jackson’s fault, and help would soon be on the way.  1967 would be something altogether different for Jackson as he split time in the bullpen and in the rotation.  His greatest performance as a Cardinal came on April 25, 1967 when he took a no hitter into the 8th inning.  He would finish with a 1 hit shutout – the best game of his career.  Jackson would also post the only full season winning record in his career, going 9-4 for the soon-to-be World Champion.

Another part of the Boyer deal was third baseman, Charlie Smith.  He would take over for Boyer, but his greatest value would come a year later when he was traded to the Yankees for Roger Maris.   That was the final piece in another World Championship team, but that is another story.

To bolster the offense, Howsam sent the 60’s equivalent of Matt Holliday, Bill White, along with Dick Groat and Bob Uecker to the Philadelphia Phillies for Alex Johnson (outfield), Pat Corrales (backup catcher) and Art Mahaffey (pitcher).  Johnson was the player that Howsam wanted, and on paper it was a brilliant move.  Johnson was an amazingly talented player but had a reputation of having a poor work ethic and not being a good team player.  Howsam took the chance that this would change in St. Louis.  If it did, the outfield of Brock, Flood and Johnson would be one of the best in the game.  As fast as Brock and Flood were, Johnson could leave them in his dust.  It was worth the gamble, but unfortunately it would not work out for the Cardinals.  Johnson was a flop and would be traded to the Reds (where Howsam happened to be as the new GM) prior to the 1968 season for another outfield prospect, Dick Simpson.  Simpson would not do any better and in June 1968 would be traded to the Astros for Ron Davis.  Johnson would find his motivation with the Reds and finally became the impact player that Howsam knew he would would be – just one team too late for the Cardinals.

With the Cardinals off to a terrible start in 1966, Howsam made one last big move.   A sudden surplus of pitchers gave the GM a chance to improve the offense by sending Ray Sackecki to the San Francisco Giants for slugger Orlando Cepeda.  The deal was good for both clubs.  The Cardinals had pitchers but needed offense.  The Giants had an excess of outfielders and needed pitching.  Both players had worn out their welcome with their respective clubs and could use a fresh start.  Sadecki struggled immediately after the trade, but then gave the Giants two very good years in the rotation – his best since his enigmatic 20 win season in 1964.  In return, Cepeda would earn the NL MVP award in 1967 and helped  the Cardinals advance to the World Series twice, and if that wasn’t enough, was then traded to Atlanta for future MVP, Joe Torre.

Yes, this deal more than makes up for the Alex Johnson boo boo.  Gold star for this one.

While all of this is going on, Howsam also continued retooling the starting rotation.  With the emergence of lefties Steve Carlton and Larry Jaster, plus right handers Nelson Briles, Jim Cosman and Dick Hughes, Howsam released Barney Schultz and sent veteran Curt Simmons to the Cubs.  These last two moves severed the ties with the 1964 team he inherited.  It was now his team, win lose or draw.

Another amateur free agent signing that happened at this time was Jose Cruz.  Cruz was a pure hitter.  He would eventually accumulate over 2,000 hits, many of them for extra bases.  Unfortunately he would do most of this while wearing the Astros uniform, but it was Howsam’s scouting team that found Cruz and put him in the Cardinals system.

The last deal that Howsam would make brought the final piece to the 1967 Cardinals Championship team.  In December 1966, he sent Charlie Smith, obtained in the Ken Boyer trade a year earlier, to the Yankees for Roger Maris.   The Yankees were glad to get rid of Maris and the Cardinals couldn’t be happier to have the former 2 time AL MVP.   While his best years were clearly behind him, Maris helped transform the ’67 team into a disciplined group of team players, bringing that Yankee know-how to go along with Orlando Cepeda’s Cha-Cha-Cha.  The result was two trips to the World Series, winning in 1967 and coming within a couple of innings of another in’68.

Putting it all in Perspective

History has not judged Howsam’s contributions to the Cardinals organization in a favorable light.  Two lackluster seasons, 80-81 and 83-79, tell only part of the story.  It is true that the Bing Devine’s firing in August 1964 was a poor decision, made in frustration and haste.  It is also true that Howsam stepped in and put the final pieces in place to complement Devine’s core players, resulting in  two NL Pennants and another World Series Championship.   It is no fluke that he repeated that feat in the 1970s with the Cincinnati Reds, using many of the players he drafted and developed while running the Cardinals system.

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7 Responses to Bob Howsam (or Could You Trade Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday)

  1. Erika says:

    Hit a sore spot when you mentioned his trading away sluggers for pitchers! I still miss Luddy!

    More history and a new name I had not heard before!
    Thanks for the story, Bob!

    Like

  2. Oops, sorry about that. I miss Ludwick too. He reminds me so much of Maris.

    The thing that impresses me so much about Howsam were the bold moves. Trading away Boyer and White. And when they didn’t work out, he traded the parts for other things.

    A terribly forgotten part of Cardinals history. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Like

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  6. Bill Ruby says:

    Bob Howsam didn’t make the Charley Smith-Roger Maris trade. Howsam resigned to take the GM job with the Reds on the eve of the 1966 MLB Winter Meetings. Howsam preferred a deal the Cubs offered, Billy Williams for Steve Carlton and Nelson Briles (that trade offer was verified by Chicago baseball writer Jerome Holtzman). Before Gussie Busch hired Stan Musial to be the successor GM, Gussie asked the Anheuser-Busch executive (and former Cardinal GM, 1954-55) Dick Meyer to examine the potential options for RF aside from trading for Billy Williams, and Meyer suggested Maris. And then Meyer and Mr. Busch had to talk Maris out of retirement in order to pull the trigger on a Smith-Maris trade.

    Howsam resigned his job with the Cardinals in part because he felt he wasn’t allowed enough autonomy to make the deals he wanted, as evidenced by the team not acquiring Billy Williams…but the Cards might not have won the 1967-68 pennants without the pitching that Carlton and Briles contributed….particularly 1967, when Briles filled in for an injured Bob Gibson.

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  7. Bill Ruby says:

    Alex Johnson was a tremendous athlete, but sadly, he suffered from severe bi-polar disorder (manic depression), and the 1960’s were a time when bi-polar disorder wasn’t easily understood, or diagnosed, and certainly not effectively treated (if any treatment was provided at all). Too many people rip Johnson while being unaware of his very disabling illness.

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