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Mudville: June 17, 2024 11:45 pm PDT

Bruce Howard

"When David got called up, we were about the 130th father-son duo to have played in the Majors.”

Did you realize that over the past few seasons, there have been nearly 50 second generation players who have played Major League Baseball?

It’s been happening more and more frequently in recent years and some of the biggest names in the sport had fathers who also played Major League Baseball.

Before current stars like Fernando Tatis, Bobby Witt Jr., Cody Bellinger and Bo Bichette were excelling in the Bigs, their dads, Fernando Sr., Bobby Sr., Clay Bellinger and Dante Bichette were in the Majors a generation earlier.

If you’re a fan of 1980’s baseball, you’ll associate the surnames Bedrosian, Liebrandt, Clemens and Wallach with Steve, Charlie, Roger and Tim. In today’s game, those last names belong to Cam, Brandon, Kody and Chad.

While there has been a recent boom of second generation players, it wasn’t always such a common occurrence. When Jack Leiter made his Major League debut on April 18, 2024, he, along with his father Al, became the 262nd father-son Major League duo. The first second-generation Major Leaguer was Jack Doscher, who played from 1903-1908. His father Herm was teammates with Cap Anson on the 1879 Chicago White Stockings.

To put things in perspective, between 1903-1991, there were 131 father-son duos to play in the Majors. It took 88 years to reach that number. It took just 33 years for the next 131 combinations to play.

All of this is relevant because our guest for episode 199 of Spitballin’ is Bruce Howard, a starting pitcher in those terrific White Sox rotations of the 1960s. Howard’s son David played for the Royals and Cardinals from 1991-1999. The Howards were the 127th father-son combination to play in the Majors.

Bruce Howard pitched from 1963-1968 before elbow problems curtailed his promising career. At 6’2” and 170 pounds, Howard was a tremendous athlete when he joined the White Sox as a 19-year-old future star out of Villanova.

How high were the White Sox on him? Due to the rules in place at the time, the White Sox had to choose between two young pitchers to keep in their system after the 1962 season. Those pitchers were Howard and Denny McClain. The White Sox chose to protect Howard over McClain.

Howard made the huge jump from Class D Ball in 1962 to the Major Leagues as a 20-year old in 1963. Playing for legendary manager Al Lopez, Howard pitched in 10 games over his first two seasons for White Sox teams that finished second to the Mickey Mantle Yankees dynasty teams both seasons.

In 1966, Howard was 11 innings short of qualifying for the Major League ERA title and his 2.30 mark across 149 innings would have been good for second in the American League behind teammate Gary Peters. He was also staff-mates with Tommy John, Hoyt Wilhelm and Wilbur Wood.

From day one at BallNine, we have talked about baseball being the sport that best links the generations. Usually that means it’s a love and knowledge of the sport being passed down from father to son.

This week, it’s all about linking generations of Major League players, so please join us as we go Spitballin’ with Bruce Howard.

Thank you for joining us, Mr. Howard! You are my guest for the 199th edition of Spitballin’ and it has taken us this long to feature our first father-son duo. I really enjoyed hearing you son David’s story last week and from his comments, I could see how much of a positive influence you had on him. But let’s talk about your own career first. What was baseball like for you as a kid growing up?

When I was young we didn’t have Little League. It was called Midget Baseball. We played 22 games and I pitched every single one of them. I went 20-2 in those games and the only games we lost were to a team from Norfolk who had a kid who threw really hard. Growing up, I was a Baltimore Orioles fan and one of my favorite players was Ron Hansen. I later got to be teammates with Ron Hansen on the White Sox.

That’s great that you got to play with someone who you looked up to as a kid. I love hearing when that happens. You were a fantastic player at Villanova. Can you talk about your experience playing for Villanova and how that led you to the Majors?

I played at Villanova for Art Mahan, who was a longtime coach at the school. They had seen me pitch in an America Legion game and recruited me for their team. At the time, they didn’t give scholarships and they didn’t allow freshmen to play on the varsity team. I went 6-1 as a sophomore and averaged about two strikeouts an inning. I was signed by the Mets at first, but that didn’t work out so I signed with the White Sox after that. They gave me an $8,000 signing bonus and another $7,500 to make the Major Leagues. It’s funny, I had a teammate at Villanova named Frank Kreutzer who was also a pitcher. A couple years later, my [1964] Topps Rookie Baseball card had both me and Frank Kreutzer pictured on it.

In looking at your minor league stats, you didn’t even really play a full season in the minors before being called up to the White Sox when you were just 20 years old. Can you first talk about your experience in the minor leagues?

After the White Sox signed me, I went to Clinton, Iowa to play. Denny McClain was on the pitching staff with me there. I went 7-3 in Clinton and Denny went 4-9. After the season, they sent the better players to the Instructional League and I was one of them. Back then, there was no draft and no free agency, so there was a rule in place to prevent the big clubs like the Yankees from signing all the best young players. We had three first-year pitchers in 1962, me, Denny McClain and Dave DeBusschere, who was obviously a great athlete and Basketball Hall of Famer. The rule about keeping first-year players made the White Sox have to choose between keeping me or Denny McClain. We pitched against each other and I beat him 2-1 and supposedly, that made the White Sox choose to keep me.

I think that says a lot about your ability and performance because I know Denny climbed through the system really fast too and was in the Majors by 19 with the Tigers. We mentioned your call up earlier. What was it like to get that call that you were going up to the Major Leagues?

It was a shock! I had pitched in Lynchburg and in Eugene, Oregon in 1963. Les Moss was my manager in Lynchburg and he didn’t like me. He liked his pitchers to be 6’2”, 210 pounds and chewing the rawhide off the baseball. I wasn’t his type. I was 6’2”, but about 170 pounds at the time. The team in Eugene was the worst team in the league when I was there. They started the season about 2-33, but I was pitching well for them. I had a 2.93 ERA and lead the league in strikeouts. I struck out more than a batter an inning that year, but only had a 10-12 record because the team couldn’t score any runs. Al Lopez was the White Sox manager though, and he liked me.

I threw a heavy fastball and he would hear guys in Spring Training bitch that they didn’t want to hit against me and he remembered that. I was with Eugene and we were playing against Tri-Cities. The general manager told me I was being called up and I figured he meant I was being called up to AA. He said, “No! You’re being called up to the White Sox!” It was a real shocker because you just didn’t jump four levels like that. Back then, there was AAA, AA, A then B, C and D before that.

That really is impressive not only to make that jump, but I find it awesome you were able to impress an old school Hall of Famer like Al Lopez as a young pitcher. What was your immediate impression of becoming a Major Leaguer?

When I got called up, the White Sox were playing the Yankees in New York and I had to fly to New York to meet them. My first game as a Big Leaguer was at Yankee Stadium. When I got to the ballpark and tried to go to the clubhouse, they laughed at me when I told them I was a pitcher for the White Sox. I was only 20 and I looked like I was 16. I got to go out and see the monuments in the outfield and the pitching matchup was Gary Peters against Whitey Ford. I didn’t pitch in the Yankees series, but got called in for my first appearance a little later. I had spent my whole life on the mound, but that just felt different. All I could think was, “Wow!”

They would have a whirlpool heated as hot as I could take it and I would put my elbow in it after starts. That was the worst thing you could do for it.

You did really well in your first taste of the Big Leagues in 1963 and ’64, pitching to a 1.60 ERA in your appearances those years. What were your thoughts about that initial success in the Majors?

Our manager, Al Lopez, would put me in different situations and I did well. I came in to save a game sometimes or he would bring me in a little earlier other time. I went 2-1 as a 20-year-old in 1963, but my control wasn’t great. I got by with my fastball. In 1964 I got some starts and did well. I pitched a two-hit shutout against the Kansas City A’s. In 1962, I pitched 77 innings and gave up just one home run. In 1963, I pitched 169 innings in the minor leagues and gave up just one home run. Then I got called up to the Majors and didn’t allow a home run. That’s 260 innings pitched over two years and just two home runs allowed.

That supports what Al Lopez saying about you throwing a heavy fastball! That’s a really impressive stat.

I think I should have relied in my fastball a little more. I got away from it and started throwing more curve balls. I was a pretty good hitter and I remember batting against some great pitchers. I hit against Sandy Koufax in a Spring Training game and hit a real hard line drive off his fastball. I also hit Bob Gibson’s fastball really hard too. I figured that those two guys were the best, so if I could hit their fastballs, I should probably throw more curves myself. I started to develop elbow problems and back then, the treatment they gave you for elbow problems was heat. They would have a whirlpool heated as hot as I could take it and I would put my elbow in it after starts. That was the worst thing you could do for it. It got to the point where I couldn’t even throw between starts. Sandy Koufax was the first person I remember using ice on his elbow. The Dodgers were ahead of their time with that.

I always really enjoy talking to guys from your era because I get to hear those stories about Koufax, Gibson, Mickey Mantle and all the guys who I just missed out on seeing play. What did you think about the era in which you played?

There were only ten teams in the league, so we pitched against the same teams and players all the time. There were no divisions, so if you won the regular season, you went right to the World Series. When I was with the White Sox, we finished in second place three times and third place once, but never made the playoffs. I really enjoyed pitching against guys like Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle and Rocky Colavito.

Mickey Mantle went 3-7 against me. The first time I faced him in Yankee Stadium, I was a rookie. I had him in a 2-2 count and fooled him with a slip-pitch. Larry Napp was the home plate umpire and he was known as a homer for the Yankees and Mickey Mantle. I didn’t get the call. The next pitch was not what I would call a Hall of Fame pitch, and I walked him. He hit one home run off of me. We were playing in Comiskey Park and the wind was blowing in. He hit a shot that was headed over the roof, but the wind blew it back into the upper deck. It was one of the hardest hit balls I ever saw and would have been over the roof if it wasn’t for the wind.

That’s exactly why I love talking to players from the ‘60s. Those stories are absolutely great. The White Sox were so good in that era too, especially the pitching staff. Sometimes I feel like they get overlooked because the Yankees won five straight American League pennants to start the decade.

We had a great pitching staff, but didn’t score a lot of runs. We figured if we shut them out, we’d win the game and if we allowed one run, we stood a good chance too. But if we gave up three runs, forget about it. Gary Peters was a heck of a teammate and so was Tommy John. In 1966, Gary Peters led the American League in ERA. I missed qualifying by 11 innings, but I would have been second at 2.30. Steve Hargan from the Indians was after that and then [White Sox pitchers] Joe Horlan and Tommy John came next. If I qualified, the White Sox would have had four of the top five ERA leaders in the American League that season.

That’s pretty incredible and I can’t imagine that has happened many times in baseball history, if at all. You mentioned Al Lopez earlier as somebody who believed in you from the start. What are your thoughts about the managers you played for?

I thought Al Lopez was an incredible manager. I was lucky to play for him. I played for Eddie Stanky too and he was the biggest asshole. I could write a book about the stuff I saw with him. He would do things like stand over you and ask you what the count was. If you didn’t know it, he’d fine you $10. I will say that Eddie Stanky had as much baseball knowledge as anyone I ever played for. I learned more about baseball in one season playing for Eddie Stanky than I did in my other years combined.

When I interviewed your son David a couple weeks ago, he told me that you were also a very good hitter. Looking up your stats, you had one career home run in 1968. What do you remember about that?

I remember that it was off a fastball from Steve Hargan. I was on the Orioles at the time and we were playing in Cleveland. I was a line drive hitter, not a home run hitter. When I hit that, it was a line drive and I thought it was going to be a double. We were playing in Municipal Stadium and the wall was about 400 feet away, so you really had to hit it for it to go out. It was a long poke. I was shocked when it went over the wall. I wasn’t expecting that.

Speaking of your son, when I interviewed him we talked a lot about the positive influence you had on him growing up and the fact that he was pretty much an athletic freak from the time he was really young. One thing we talked about was when he got called up to the Majors for the first time, the first phone call he made was to you. He told us the story from his perspective, what was it like on your end getting a phone call from your son that you’re going to be a Major Leaguer?

I called it! During Spring Training we would watch him and he’d be head and shoulders above the other guys he was competing against. There was one game when he homered off Curt Schilling to center and then made a diving catch out in the field. Every game that spring he was doing something like that and I said he had to make the team. There was nothing more he could do; he was doing everything they asked and more. There was no doubt about it for me. I was really happy for him. He really stood out and he deserved it.

What was it like to be a Major Leaguer yourself and then watching your son compete in the Majors as well?

When David got called up, we were about the 130th father-son duo to have played in the Majors. There have since been a lot more. It started happening more frequently after that, especially with players from the Dominican Republic, like the Alous. I was real happy for him in his career. I thought it was a shame that he was so injury-riddled. He was such a great athlete, I would have liked to see what he could have done if he stayed healthy. He was the starting shortstop all year [in 1996] and should have won a Gold Glove. They’d put him in centerfield sometimes too and he’d be the best defensive centerfielder out there.    

Thanks for joining us this week, Mr. Howard! I really enjoyed hearing your stories and it’s great to be able to feature our first father-son duo on Spitballin’!

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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