Bob Howsam engineered Cincinnati dynasty

Written by: Craig Muder

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.

It turned out to 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 and a charter owner of the American Football League’s Denver Broncos, is one of 10 finalists on this year’s Golden Era ballot that will be considered by the committee on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The 16-person committee will vote at baseball’s Winter Meetings in San Diego, Calif., and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 8.

The 10 candidates on the Golden Era Committee ballot are: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant, Maury Wills and Howsam. Any candidate who is named on at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be inducted in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2015.

The Golden Era Committee consists of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Fergie Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond, and Bob Watson; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.

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 Broncos in the AFL – making them one of the self-proclaimed “Foolish Club” for taking on the established National Football League. The Howsams sold the Broncos in 1961.

As for Howsam, he found work during the 1964 baseball season as the Cardinals’ general manager after St. Louis owner Gussie Busch dismissed 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 year, Cincinnati won 108 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

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