“He came back. OK, maybe he didn’t do it. But he did try. He did try. Oh, how he tried”
For that there is no question. George Brett knew how important a return to the field was for his manager who had just days before put his uniform back on to lead the Royals into another spring training in Fort Myers, FL. “His goal was always to be manager of the Kansas City Royals on February 20 (1987)…and he reached it.”
Just a couple of days later Howser knew a full return wasn’t to be. The Star’s Bob Nightengale reported how the hardest decision was made very simple when Howser himself asked Burke “What should I do?”
Burke, who battled cancer himself and knew how painful his words would sound, paused, and finally said: ‘I think today is the day.”
Howser agreed and they called a press conference for noon. The time was 11:35.
He did have one last meeting with the players to explain his decision to them – a measure of respect that appropriately took place on the green spring grass of a freshly mowed baseball in Howser’s beloved home state of Florida. As fate would have it the first player to reach out to Howser was Dan Qusienberry, who with tears streaming down his face shook his manager’s hand and embraced him for several moments. Others did the same.
His message to the players was delivered in the same no-nonsense matter of fact manner that marked his mangerial style:
‘I’m going to have to give it up this year, which is really hard for me to do. I pushed and I pushed and I pushed, but it didn’t happen for me…It didn’t happen. But don’t quit. Don’t quit. Everything will be all right.”
Howser’s spirit was the same in trials both on the field and off. Always prodding to get the most out of himself and his players. He was partial to ending all his exortations as a manager with the brief and blunt motto – “We’ll get it done”
Just months later he was gone. But if you ever talk to his players you’ll find out the spirit he instilled in those ballclubs endured with each of them. The calm steady hand that keep his team’s composure down three games to one would do the same in this much larger personal battle. Though it might not have felt like it on February 23, 1987 – Dick Howser had proved he was a winner on the baseball field one last time.
He did try. Oh, how he tried – Thank You #10!
1978 – Ruben Mateo (Outfielder – 2004)
1970 – Alberto Castillo (Catcher – 2004-05)
1954 – Larry McWilliams (Pitcher – 1989-90)
Royals fans know that Alex Gordon was a two-time All-American at the University of Nebraska where he helped lead the Huskers to a Big 12 regular season and tournament championship and College World Series appearance. His junior season in Lincoln was one of the best in recent NCAA baseball history and won Alex the Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball’s most outstanding player.
Extra Credit: What former Husker pitcher gave up one of George Brett’s milestone hits?
The Dick Howser Trophy is viewed as the baseball equivalent to football’s Heisman Trophy and was established in 1987 to honor the memory of the Royals Hall of Fame Manager. It is a fitting tribute because Dick Howser had a deep appreciation and love for college baseball. He was a two-time All-American himself at Florida State and later coached the Seminoles as well.
Answer: Former Husker Stan Bahnsen served up George Brett’s first major league hit on August 2, 1973. Brett grounded a fourth-inning single off the White Sox hurler at Comiskey Park for hit #1 on the way to 3,154.
Did You Know: The first recepient of the Dick Howser Trophy was Mike Fiore of the University of Miami. So what connection does Mike Fiore have to the Royals?
Well the 1987 Dick Howser Trophy Winner Mike Fiore never played for the Royals – but his father Mike Fiore was a member of the original 1969 Kansas City Royals.
1920 – Buddy Blattner (Broadcaster – 1969-75)
There is little doubt that if you asked who the ‘Voice of the Royals’ was that the answer would come back – Denny Matthews, of course! And in many ways that answer is absolutlely correct as Denny has been with the Royals from the very first game in 1969. However he was the junior partner on that first radio team with veteran broadcaster Buddy Blattner.
In fact it was Buddy who actually hired Denny, giving the novice 25 year-old broadcaster his big break an launching his Hall of Fame broadcasting career. Without Buddy there may not have been a Denny. And without Denny Royals History would have at the very least sounded much differently over the last 40-plus years.
But Buddy, who passed away last September, was a true gentleman of the game long before his time here in Kansas City. Before taking up broadcasting, Blattner had already reached the big leagues as a player for his hometown St. Louis Cardinals in 1942. Then after serving in the US Navy during WWII he returned to play for the New York Giants (1946-48) and Philsdelphia Phillies (1949).
After hanging up his cleats, Buddy took to the airwaves as a broadcaster for the St. Louis Browns and later teamed up with Dizzy Dean for Major League Baseball’s nationally televised ‘Game of the Week’ broadcasts on ABC (1953-54) and CBS (1955-59).
He came to Kansas City after working from 1962-68 for the Los Angeles/California Angels wre he worked with Royals GM Cedric Tallis and for Gene Autry – a good friend of Ewing and Muriel Kauffman. His impressive resume and local ties made him an ideal lead broadcaster for the expansion Royals.
Did You Know: Buddy Blattner was a world-class table tennis player including winning the World Championship in men’s doubles in 1936. He was inducted into the United States Table Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 1979.