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Mudville: June 18, 2024 12:45 am PDT

David Howard II

“I don’t know about this shortstop shit though!”

As fans, we somehow forget just how special you have to be to play Major League Baseball. It’s not just physical talent either. Sure, you have to have the God-given physical talent to play the game, but you also need a mind and an eye for the game as well if you want to stick around.

David Howard has all of that and he joins us for Part 2 of a special two-part Spitballin’ this week.

Last week, we talked about his path to the Majors and the role his dad, former Big League pitcher Bruce Howard played in his development. This week, we dive into his playing career and an extremely successful post-playing career as well.

That’s where the mind and eye for the game come into play. After his playing career ended, Howard immediately went into coaching and filled a number of important roles in the Red Sox system in the early 2000s. If you’re doing the math right, you can probably figure out that the fruit of that work bore out in World Series titles in 2007 and 2013 and continues to impact the game today.

You see, when the Red Sox were breaking the curse in 2004, guys like Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, David Murphy and 15 others future Big Leaguers were part of the Sarasota Red Sox. That’s a pretty incredible roster for an A-Ball club and Howard was a coach on that staff.  Later, when those stars were winning rings, Howard was working as an advanced scout, helping the Sox seal the deal.

He’s got a mind for the game and some great stories to go with it, so join us as we go Spitballin’ once again with David Howard.

Infielder David Howard of the St. Louis Cardinals in action during a spring training game against the Montreal Expos at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. The Cardinals won the game, 5-3. (Stephen Dunn /Allsport)

Thanks for joining us again this week, Mr. Howard! We enjoyed hearing about your path to the Majors last week, so let’s talk about what happened when you got there and after you retired.

Last week we left off with you talking about when you have a chance to talk to youth baseball players. You said you used yourself as an example of having the wrong mindset and not having your priorities right. I thought it was an interesting perspective of someone who spent nine years in the Big Leagues.  

I am trying to teach these kids, but I am being honest with them too. You have to be honest if you want to help somebody. I set that example by being honest with them. I’m an open book and will tell you anything. I truly believe that mindset set me on a path to being mediocre instead of being a better athlete than Bo Jackson, which is what George Brett said about me. Another thing I say to people is that if you can look in the mirror and know that you gave everything you have, that’s a great life to live. I tell people not to be like me. I didn’t do that. I know I fucked that up and it sucks. I always tell teams that if just one of them can learn from my experience, it was worth me telling this story.

That’s a surprising take to me, but I understand your message. What are some of the lessons you try to communicate with people when you talk to them about your career?

A lot of people tell me I always downgrade myself. But my response is that I was a fucking idiot. I’m not hiding behind it. I drank too much and partied with all the guys. I would party with the starting pitchers. They had four days to recover and I had to be out there the next day. Every big injury I had, I could look back and see that on that flight, we played poker and I drank. Then I’d get an unexpected start in a day game after a five-hour flight and go out there and blow a hamstring and miss three months. That’s three months of a nine-year career. That’s a big chunk to miss because of stupidity.

Getting into your playing career, I wanted to start off with probably the most famous play that you were involved with. I think everyone remembers the famous Jim Edmonds over-the-shoulder diving catch in Anaheim. You were the guy who hit that ball. Did you know right away that play would have the legacy that it does?

I did kind of think that because it was such a ridiculous play. I’m not denigrating Edmonds at all, but he would dive sometimes and if he missed the ball, he would be hurt because he laid his body out. I would do the same thing. I’d lay out for many balls and it would take me a while to get up. I had a great view of it and was thinking that if he missed it, I was gonna have an inside-the-parker. I was fast and already had one against the Angels. If you watch the replay, the ball kind of pops out of his glove. He put his bare hand over the pocket of his glove and holds it in. That’s what I remember most. I also say that for my career, I hit .229. If he didn’t catch that, I could have been a .230 hitter! We joke about it. I was standing there when he came in. He just looked at me and laughed. Our fans gave him a standing ovation. It was great.

Photo Day! David Howard #13 of the Kansas City Royals poses for a portrait circa 1992 at Baseball City Stadium in Davenport, Florida. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

That’s an awesome perspective on it. This is why I love doing these interviews. You get to hear insight about all these famous plays. Thanks for sharing that.

It’s funny, years later I was working for the Cubs and Joe Maddon was the manager. We hadn’t seen each other in a while. I was sitting right behind him one day and he turned around and said to me, and I had heard this before, “You know, I made you famous?” I said, “I’m tired of hearing that shit! I’ve heard you say that you were the one who told Edmonds to play shallow on that play because I didn’t have power. Everyone played me shallow!” Theo Epstein was sitting next to Joe Maddon and he was looking at me like, “Damn, you’re talking to the Major League manager like this?!” I was like, “Yea, this is how we baseball people talk to each other!” It was a funny story and we all laughed about it. The funny thing is that they let me hit; they always pinch hit for me. They finally let me hit and the fucking guy makes that catch? I was as shocked as anybody—not that he made the catch, but that they let me hit!

That’s an incredible story and a great point! I’d say it was bad luck to be on the other end of that catch, but from a fan’s perspective, I think it’s pretty cool to have hit that ball.

It was like when I moved to the National League, Tony LaRussa was my manager and that was the year he decided to have the pitcher hit eighth. The second game of the season I started at second base and hit behind the pitcher. Running out to the field, I looked at Mark McGwire and said, “The first time I have a chance to not hit ninth in my career and that motherfucker is hitting the pitcher eighth! That’s how bad of a hitter I am!” He didn’t even realize it. He laughed for an inning and a half. I was like, “Man, I hit ninth my whole freaking career.”

I’d know if they were hurt or if they were dicks.

After your playing days, you had a really successful career in the Red Sox system in a number of roles in the front office, scouting and coaching departments during their great run in the early 2000s. How did you get started on that path after your playing days?

I had retired with the Mets in 2001 and had already talked to Jim Duquette about getting involved. My body was breaking down and I was working hard to get back, but if I didn’t make it, I had talked about getting involved as a coach. I retired with the Mets and went from being a player in AAA to being a coach in AAA. The next year I coached in AA and then took a year off. I lived with Craig Shipley when I was with the Cardinals in Spring Training. He was with the Red Sox and had told me not to sign with anybody and tell him when I wanted to get back in the game. In 2004, I told him I wanted to get back. It just so happened that the Red Sox High A team was in Sarasota, which was where I was from. He had me go to New Orleans for the winter meetings and met with Ben Cherington. He signed me right away and I coached in Sarasota the whole year. It was the best year. I lived with my parents and went to the beach every day. I said I’d manage there, be a hitting coach, whatever. I said I’d do that for the rest of my career and you wouldn’t hear a word from me.

That sounds like a great deal. And considering how many Red Sox players from the mid-2000s were home grown, you probably had some great players to work with.

Dude, 20 guys from that one A Ball team play in the Big Leagues. I would end up moving up and doing some work with the Big League team and when I’d run into Dustin Pedroia, we would talk about that team. Dustin was one of the guys on that team and when I’d see him or Jonathan Papelbon or Jon Lester we’d start counting. There were so many guys who made it, we’d forget some of them. Then someone would be like, “Oh yea, Cla Meredith was on that team too!” Todd Claus was the manager and Al Nipper was our pitching coach. There were so many good players on that team. Hanley Ramirez, David Murphy, Matt Murton, Dusty Brown. Then the pitchers. Papelbon, Lester, Manny Delcarmen, just one after another.

How did you make the move from coaching to scouting?

My kids got a little older and I didn’t want to leave for six months, so I got into scouting. It was in the Midwest League, which was around Kansas City and I was able to make my own schedule. That was 2005 and when the Red Sox made the playoffs, they had me do some advanced scouting of the White Sox, who they played in the Division Series. In 2006, I was a Major League scout and in 2007 and ’08, I was a special assistant to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. From 2006-2008 were probably my three favorite years. Those guys respected what I brought to the table. I was honest and gave them my honest opinion about things. I still knew a lot of people in clubhouses and could still get inside dirt on players. I’d know if they were hurt or if they were dicks.

Infielder David Howard of the St. Louis Cardinals looking happy during a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles at the Fort Lauderdale Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Jamie Squire /Allsport)

Both of those would be important to know for sure! Those are great memories to have and it’s awesome you got to share it with guys who basically started their pro careers on that Sarasota team as kids. What role did you move to after that?

In 2009 Ben Cherington asked me to be the minor league field coordinator. When you’re a field coordinator, you’re away. I wanted to be a Big League coach and I asked Ben if I stayed on being a special assignment scout and advanced scout, would that be the best path to be a Major League coach. The way I looked at it was that I had lost a lot of money in the market. I was thinking that these guys were in the World Series all the time. If I was a coach on the team, the World Series share was over $300,000. In 2007 I got a $15,000 bonus for the World Series. That’s a big fucking difference. My ex-wife would ask me why I was a field coordinator and asked if being a special assistant was a better lifestyle. It was, but there was no chance of me making the money I could have as a coach. If I’m the first base coach and the team wins the World Series that pays for my kid’s college. I loved every bit of being a field coordinator. I got interviewed in 2013 for the first base coach job by John Farrell. Arnie Beyler got it instead and what happened? They won the World Series and I missed out on that payoff.

Ah man, that sucks it worked out that way. But I am sure you were still happy to see those guys succeed on that level.

It’s not all about the money, it really isn’t. The players that we had, and I say this to anyone who asks me, but if there is any farm director or any field coordinator who doesn’t give credit to the amateur scouting department, they’re pieces of shit. We were handed gold and all we had to do was polish it. Guys like Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, John Papelbon, Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia. The most rewarding thing was when Dave Dombrowski let me go in 2018, when we won the World Series, every single position player was home grown. I was always asked for interviews, but never did any. I put out a $1,000 bet for anyone who could find an interview from 2009-2018 of me being quoted about any of our players. It wasn’t about me, it was about amateur scouting. They gave us the players. We can tweak some things, but at the end of the day, you need talent. Throughout the time I was field coordinator, our amateur scouting was just phenomenal.

That’s a great point. I didn’t realize that about the 2018 Red Sox. They had some insane talent on that team. It’s amazing they call came up through the system and how big of a role amateur scouting played in that season.

They gave us Mookie Betts! We had to smooth some things out and figure out where he was gonna play, but you saw the talent. I was in a meeting once and someone asked me what I thought Mookie was going to be. I said, “Mookie will be whatever he wants to be.” John Farrell asked me if he could play the outfield. I said, “Tomorrow. Without a doubt. Why even ask that question?” He asked me to put a grade on him, and I told him I already did. But if he didn’t want to bring it up on his computer, I’ll say that he’s going to make $200 million dollars in this game and win Gold Gloves at whatever position you play him.

I said he’s gonna hit .285-.300 with 25 to 30 home runs. They were like, “What?” I said, “As long as he doesn’t get hurt, Mookie Betts is going to do whatever he wants in this game.” And there are plenty of people who were in that room who will back that up. He was like, 5’10”, 170 pounds. Everyone wants to see Cody Bellinger; 6’4”, 210 pounds and built like a brick shit house. I still text Mookie all the time. Last year he texted me to talk about playing second base. He asked me if I thought he could do it. I was like, “Shut up. You were on your way to being a Gold Glove second baseman when you were 20.” Then I saw he was playing short, so I texted him and said, “I don’t know about this shortstop shit though!”

That’s amazing. It’s really awesome that you maintained relationships with those guys you had as young kids when they were first starting out.

Mookie is great. Terry Shumpert was an old teammate of mine and he knew Mookie’s family really well. Terry called me when Mookie signed with the Red Sox and asked me to watch over him and help him out. I always tell people that the person you’d want your son to be is Mookie Betts. He would even be out there chasing foul balls. He’d play the first five innings and go 3-3 with a couple stolen bases. Then he’d take his spikes off and put his tennis shoes on and chase foul balls down the right field line. He was the best player on the field and everyone knew it. And he was out there running down foul balls. That’s it right there; that’s the gold stamp.

That’s not surprising at all to hear about him. Just a classy guy and incredible player. As we wrap things up here, I wanted to ask what you’re up to now and if you are looking to get back in the game.

Nope! I’ve been giving some lessons to kids and I love doing that. I had been in Boston for ten years, but I was trying to stand up for our coaches when our minor league teams weren’t playing well. I’m not sure how good our system should be after they traded away 42 guys in a year and a half! And we weren’t trading away shit either; these were prospects. We were gonna work our asses off the get the most out of every player, but you gotta expect a dip in performance.

We traded Michael Kopech for Chris Sale. We drafted and developed Kopech. Yoan Moncada was part of that trade too from our system. If you trade minor league studs to get somebody, I view that as him being a product of our system. Same goes for the Craig Kimbrel trade too. I told Dave Dombrowski that was why I got fired. I was told the teams in our system were playing like shit and I’m like, “Dave, this player, and I don’t want to say his name, but he was our 12th rated prospect the year before. He’s now 5th in our organization and as 12th, he still wasn’t that great. He’s not going to make the Big Leagues.” And he didn’t.

I’m not saying the trades were wrong. I would have made the Sale trade and Kimbrel too, but there had to be a dip in performance, no matter how good your coaches are. A month and a half later, Dombrowski fired me. He said we were playing like shit. I know four months earlier in Spring Training at our team party he said that David Howard and his staff did an incredible job. Then all of a sudden it’s our fault.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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