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Ringolsby: Howe Sweet It Is

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A friend of Art Howe’s jokes that he was the key to the University of Wyoming football team that was ranked No. 7 in the nation in 1967 and went to the Sugar Bowl.

“If you hadn’t hurt your back as a freshman and been unable to play college football, (head coach Lloyd) Eaton would never have converted Paul Toscano from defensive back to quarterback, the Cowboys wouldn’t have been undefeated, and they never would have gone to the Sugar Bowl,” the friend says. “We’d have probably gone 9-1 and been in the Sun Bowl again.”

The last laugh, however, is one for Howe to enjoy.

He played baseball at Wyoming, earning all-conference honors as a third baseman.

However, Howe’s athletic career in Laramie didn’t stir any interest from major league clubs, so after he graduated from Wyoming in 1969 he went home to Pittsburgh, took a job with Westinghouse’s computer center as a systems analyst and played semi-pro baseball on weekends.

The next thing Howe knew, he was signing a contract with his hometown Pirates after attending a tryout camp. At the age of 24, he reported to the Pirates’ minor league camp in Bradenton, Fla., in what turned into a 38-year career in baseball in which he spent 37 years in uniform as a player, coach or manager. He spent another year scouting.

And to think, it all started when a co-worker at Westinghouse watched a couple of Howe’s semi-pro games and asked Howe if he would attend a tryout camp if an invite could be arranged.

“I told him I was 23 and had back surgery,” Howe said. “But he said he was going to get me an invitation. I said OK. I didn’t have anything to lose.”

Turned out, he had plenty to gain. The Pirates were the only one of the 24 major league teams that still had a tryout camp on its schedule in the summer of 1970, and Howe received an invitation.

“It was the first year of Three Rivers Stadium and the artificial turf,” Howe said. “It was 90-some degrees and I was on the field for six hours. At the end of the workout, they kept me, Ken Macha and another guy out of more than 200. They told us they wanted us to work out some more.”

Howe found himself fielding fly balls in left field. He took ground balls at first base, second base, third base and shortstop.

“I was shot,” Howe said. “My uniform was soaked. I’m walking off the field and one of the scouts said, ‘Didn’t you pitch in high school?’ I said I did. He told me to get on the mound, and I threw for 10 more minutes. After that I just went in the clubhouse and sat there. Everybody else was gone.

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“I went home and hit the sack. My wife got home from work and asked me how things went. I told her. Then, the next morning I got a call and was offered a free agent contract for zero dollars. They told me to show up for spring training (in 1971) and see if I could make a team. The rest is history.”

After four years in the minors, Howe reached the majors as a utility infielder in 1974. His career took him from the Pirates (1974-75) to the Astros (1976-82) to the Cardinals (1984-85)—but only after being sidelined for a year while recovering from a fractured jaw he suffered when hit in the face by a pitch.

Then Howe took a coaching job with the Rangers (1986-88). He went on to manage the Astros (1989-93), Athletics (1996-2002) and Mets (2003-04). He took Oakland to the playoffs for three straight years, from 2000-02, averaging 99 wins per season.

Howe spent a year scouting for the Dodgers after being fired by the Astros and was the hitting coach for the expansion Rockies in 1995 before being hired by the A’s. And after his time with the Mets, he coached for the Phillies (2006) and Rangers (2007-08) before getting off the field.

“It’s been an unbelievable ride,” Howe said.

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