Twenty-five years ago today was a sad day for baseball, especially Kansas City baseball. On Feb. 23, 1987, Royals manager Dick Howser resigned due to his losing battle with brain cancer.
It was already known that he had brain cancer. In fact, Howser had to miss the entire second half of the 1986 season in order to seek treatment. But the hope was that he’d recovered enough to resume his duties in time for 1987.
That didn’t happen. As the team began to gather for spring training, Howser knew he couldn’t do the job. This time, instead of just taking a medical leave of absence, he resigned outright.
In fact, he wouldn’t last much longer. Not only would he not manage the 1987 season, he didn’t even survive it, dying on June 17, 1987, at the too-young age of 51. To put that in perspective, current Dodgers manager Don Mattingly will turn 51 this year.
Howser managed fewer than 1,000 games, but in that time experienced two things that many longer-lasting managers rarely get the chance to experience. First, in 1980, he presided over a 100-win season as his Yankees went 103-59 on the season. (Then, because this was an early Steinbrenner team, he lost his job in the offseason because the Yankees lost in the ALCS to the Royals).
Howser’s second notable accomplishment came in his last full season, 1985, when he led the Royals to the world championship.
The 1985 success must have been especially sweet for Howser because it erased a previously historically dismal track record in the postseason. When he managed the 1980 Yankees, they were swept (by the Royals, it turns out) in the ALCS. For that, the Yankees fired Howser in the offseason.
As it happens, the Royals also let their manager go during 1981 and hired Howser in midseason. He took them to the postseason, only to be swept again in the first round of the playoffs.
Three years later, Howser again took the Royals to the postseason, but the third verse was the same as the first, as his team got swept. Prior to 1985, he was 0-9 as a postseason skipper.
So, yes, Howser must’ve really enjoyed finally tasting victory. The route the Royals took to glory in the 1985 postseason must have amplified Howser’s pride. The 1985 Royals fell down three-games-to-one in both the ALCS against the Blue Jays and the World Series versus St. Louis. They are the only team to recover from that deficit twice in one postseason. Prior to winning his first game against Toronto, Howser was 0-11 in October.
Actually, Howser’s postseason success in 1985 made his sudden departure from the dugout in 1986 even odder. As noted above, he left at midseason. To be more precise, he left at the All-Star break. During the All-Star break, Howser—as skipper of the defending AL champions—managed the contest.
Regardless, Howser was forced to resign exactly a quarter-century ago today. If he were still alive, he’d only be 75 years old—still several years younger than Jack McKeon.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to skim the list.
1,000 days since Matt Wieters makes his big-league debut.
2,000 days since Javy Lopez plays in his final game.
5,000 days since Alex Rodriguez lays down his 16th career sacrifice hit. He hasn’t had one since then.
6,000 days since former A’s owner Walter A. Haas dies. He purchased the team from Charles O. Finley for $12.7 million and then sold the club for $85 million. The sale came six days before his death (so 6,006 days ago).
7,000 days since the Expos trade longtime third baseman Tim Wallach to the Dodgers.
10,000 days since baseball umpires end their one-week strike and work the last game of the NLCS.
10,000 days since the Padres finish their comeback from the dead, triumphing over the Cubs in the fifth and final game of the NLCS. The Cubs won the first two games, but then San Diego won the final three. The most famous moment in this game occurs when a ball rolls through the legs of first baseman Leon Durham.
25,000 days since pitcher Danny MacFayden plays in his final game.
30,000 days since pitcher Don McMahon is born. He’ll end up being the last ballplayer born during Herbert Hoover’s presidency to still play in the big leagues. (He retires in 1974.)
40,000 days since Baltimore outfielder Kip Selbach commits four errors in one game.
50,000 days since pitcher Ed Siever is born.
1929 Elston Howard, the first black player in Yankees history, is born.
1934 Casey Stengel signs a contract to manage the Brooklyn Dodgers. This will be his first big-league managerial job.
1941 Ron Hunt, infielder, is born.
1954 The St. Louis Cardinals purchases Vic Raschi from the Yankees for $85,000.
1960 The destruction of Ebbetts Field begins. The same wrecking ball that will be used for the Polo Grounds is used. The ball itself is dressed up like a baseball.
1962 The Mets return Johnny Antonelli to the Braves following a previous purchase.
1963 Bobby Bonilla, slugger, is born.
1967 The Yankees sign amateur free agent Cesar Geronimo.
1969 Bubbles Hargrave, 1926 batting title winner, dies.
1976 Baseball owners announce they won’t open spring training until a new labor contract is agreed upon.
1981 The Pirates sign free agent veteran pitcher Luis Tiant.
1983 The Padres sign free agent Bruce Bochy.
1988 Chicago’s city council approves installing lights at Wrigley Field.
1988 Pete Donohue, pitcher, dies.
1995 Former Mets player Kevin Mitchell is signed by the Daiei Hawks in Japan.
1996 Baseball makes a change to the strike zone. The bottom was the hollow beneath the kneecap, but now it’ll be the top of the knee.
2005 The Rangers sign free agent pitcher Pedro Astacio.
2006 The Angels sign free agent pitcher Jeff Weaver.
2007 Texas signs free agent outfielder Sammy Sosa.
2011 St. Louis learns that ace pitcher Adam Wainwright has a significant injury to his pitching elbow and will miss the entire season.