It’s OK if you’ve never heard of Bob Howsam, virtually no one else has either. Before the rise of celebrity GMs, he turned a talented young core of players into the Big Red Machine. This year the Golden Era Committee of the Hall of Fame considers him as its only non-player on the ballot. So how do we assess Howsam’s case?
With players, we’ve got a ton of good stats and myriad ways to analyze them. With managers we know a lot, and the invisible parts of the job don’t much get in the way of understanding their performance. Execs aren’t as directly connected to the field, especially if they are above the GM. Their contribution has a much more qualitative flavor and encompasses many potential roles.
But we do have some helpful information, and we can look at it to gain some clarity on the Hall’s standards and on Howsam’s candidacy.
Baseball Execs in a Word Cloud
Let’s start with what the Hall of Fame says about its inductees. As I did previously with hitters and pitchers, I’ve word-clouded the plaques of each executive honoree. Like me, you might be surprised to learn there are 34 of them.
I took a liberty, however. I represented morphological siblings or certain synonyms with a common word. For example build, building, and built are all represented by built, while all references to winning a World Series have all been transformed to World-Series-Championship. Here’s the cloud (thanks, Tag Cloud!):
Where player plaques focus strongly on individual achievements, execs’ plaques have a strong trend toward roles (executive, owner, manager), service to team or league (helped, served, team names, league names, and lots of references to length of service in years), and firsts (founded, organized, and, well, first). Most of all, it’s about winning: won, World-Series Championships, pennants, New-York-Yankees.
In a nutshell, the Hall likes longtime, innovative executives who win a lot.
But what exactly does the Hall mean by executive? Just as the Hall has different standards for different positions, they may also have different standards for different executive roles. Howsam’s role is pretty specific: team-builder, aka: general manager. It turns out that only nine executive honorees had longtime teambuilding careers that contributed materially to their candidacy. The other honored roles appear to include pioneers, commissioners and league presidents, and dynastic owners. While Howsam primarily competes with team builders, he also competes with everyone in his category.
Baseball Execs by the Numbers
Thanks to “Nerdlinger,” we have helpful information about nearly every executive we might care to mull (scroll about halfway for a CSV; hat tip: BTF poster Bleed The Freak).
I’ve added Connie Mack to the nine executives with teambuilding chops. Mack was his own GM and famous as a team builder. Now to the numbers:
REGULAR SEASON | POSTSEASON NAME YRS W L PCT. | APPS LGCHAMP WSCHAMP========================================================= ED BARROW 26 2449 1532 .611 | 14 14 10 WARREN GILES 15 1136 1165 .491 | 2 2 1 PAT GILLICK 27 2276 1993 .533 | 11 3 3 CLARK GRIFFITH 30 2275 2315 .492 | 3 3 1 CONNIE MACK 38 2600 3163 .448 | 5 5 3 LARRY MacPHAIL 10 794 733 .514 | 2 2 1 LEE MacPHAIL 15 1270 1136 .526 | 0 0 0 BRANCH RICKEY 37 2992 2676 .524 | 8 8 4 BILL VEECK 7 557 530 .510 | 1 1 1 GEORGE WEISS 19 1612 1356 .541 | 11 11 8 --------------------------------------------------------- AVERAGE 22 1796 1660 .517 | 6 5 3 MEDIAN 23 1944 1444 .519 | 4 3 2
To put this in a familiar context, the average Hall of Fame executive’s resume closely resembles that of Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie. These figures are consistent with what the plaques implied, and the Hall does appear to have a high standard for team-building candidates. Once the other roles that some of these guys played are considered, there’s no clear Wilbert Robinson or Bruce Sutter head-scratchers here.
Hall of Fame Execs and Special Sauce
Baseball executives don’t just do the GM thing. A lot of the ten fellows above had some further credentials and some key historic innovations.
- Ed Barrow: Managed the Red Sox to a World Series win, converted Babe Ruth to the outfield, and brought him to New York
- Warren Giles: Longest serving NL president, oversaw relocation and expansion
- Clark Griffith: Outstanding pitcher, successful manager, long-time owner
- Connie Mack: Owner/manager for 50 years
- Larry MacPhail: Night baseball innovator
- Lee MacPhail: President of AL
- Branch Rickey: Created the farm system and modern baseball analysis, brought Jackie Robinson to the majors
- Bill Veeck: Eddie Gaedel, exploding scoreboard, Disco Demolition Night, and Larry Doby
Even Pat Gillick and George Weiss, both a GM’s GM, brought some special sauce. Gillick took four different teams to the postseason, while Weiss played an important role in establishing the Mets in New York.
What About Bob Howsam?
Let’s see how Howsam stacks up.
- Long timer? 15 years, which is below the below the Hall average but not short.
- Innovator? Not really, no. But neither are Gillick and Weiss—most modern GMs are not because innovation is harder today in a Fredrick Jackson Turner kind of way.
- Winner? Yup.
What exactly did he do with St. Louis and Cincinnati?
- St. Louis: Laid groundwork for 1967–1968 World Series teams—Hired longtime Cards manager Red Schoendienst; traded away declining players in the Cardinal infield; brought in Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris; promoted Steve Carlton
- Cincinatti: Hired Sparky Anderson; surrounded homegrown core players with excellent team and kept the Big Red Machine purring for a decade by acquiring Joe Morgan, George Foster, Bobby Tolan, Jack Billingham, Pedro Borbon, Jim McGlothlin, and Clay Carroll; drafting Ken Griffey, Don Gullet, Pat Zachary, Rawley Eastwick, Ray Knight, Ross Grimsley, and Wayne Simpson; signing Dave Concepcion and Dan Dreissen.
Here’s Howsam’s numbers versus the Hall averages as well as four other eligible GMs:
REGULAR SEASON | POSTSEASON NAME YRS W L PCT. | APPS LGCHAMP WSCHAMP ========================================================= BOB HOWSAM 15 1369 1050 .566 | 6 5 3 BUZZIE BAVASI 29 2386 2166 .523 | 10 8 4 HARRY DALTON 26 2175 1965 .525 | 6 5 2 CHARLIE FINLEY 13 1091 1005 .520 | 5 3 3 JOHN SCHUERHOLZ 26 2348 1974 .567 | 16 6 2 --------------------------------------------------------- AVERAGE 22 1796 1660 .517 | 6 5 3 MEDIAN 23 1944 1444 .519 | 4 3 2
Howsam’s teams’ success may outweigh the relative brevity of his tenure. But Nerdlinger’s numbers appear to give Howsam credit for the 1964 Cardinals World Series championship. Bing Devine, fired by St. Louis in August 1964, should get that credit. Let’s knock Howsam down to 5 Octobers, 4 league championships, and 2 World Series wins. Bavasi, Dalton, and Schuerholz are better candidates by longevity, postseason appearances, and league championships. However, only Schuerholz can match the winning percentage that Howsam’s teams racked up. Finley’s GMing alone may or may not be on par with Howsam, though Finley brings other specials of both innovative and potentially damaging value.
How about specials? Howsam has some, though they aren’t as impressive as others’:
- Reds’ team president for six years after turning over the Reds’ GM seat, team remained an annual contender.
- A founder of the Continental League, which forced MLB into its first round of expansion.
- Served on the Colorado Baseball Commission that led to the Rockies joining the NL.
- Built the Denver Bears into a leading 1950s minor league organization, twice winning The Sporting News’ Minor League Executive of the Year.
You might say he’s a peak candidate at GM.
So, should Bob Howsam be in the Hall of Fame?
Howsam would not materially lower or raise the Hall of Fame standard for GMs. Kind of like Andre Dawson or Billy Herman among the players. The bigger issue is that he’s behind Bavasi, Dalton, and Schuerholz, all of whom would improve the Hall’s GM standards. Those guys aren’t on the ballot this year, and who knows if they ever will be again. Howsam is. He should probably wait for them.
As to Howsam’s chances with the Golden Era committee, well, you’ll have to check back on November 28th for our election predictions.