Dick Howser, considered by those who knew him as a man of patience, principle and intelligence, died yesterday at age 51. He was stricken with brain cancer less than a year after managing the Kansas City Royals to a World Series championship in 1985.
Howser died at 2:45 p.m. CDT at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., according to a hospital spokesman. He had been at St. Luke's since June 3, when he was taken there by ambulance from his home in Lakewood, Mo. His condition then was listed as serious and did not improve over the two weeks.
"This is a sad day for baseball," Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said in a statement released by his office. "Dick Howser was one of the great men of our game."
Howser spent 29 years in baseball, first as a scrappy infielder with four teams, then as a successful manager with the New York Yankees and the Royals.
He managed the Yankees to 103 victories in 1980, then resigned when owner George Steinbrenner ordered him to fire third base coach Mike Ferraro. Howser remained with the Yankees as a scout for two-thirds of a season, then quit when the Royals asked him to replace Jim Frey as manager.
In four full seasons with the Royals, they finished first twice and second twice and, in 1985, they rallied from 3-1 deficits to win the American League Championship Series and World Series.
A year ago, a Washington Post reporter informally surveyed a couple of dozen baseball men, asking the question: Who is the best manager in the game?
Remarkably, only two managers received votes -- Howser and his friend Whitey Herzog of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 1986 All-Star Game was the last game Howser managed. He had been bothered by fierce headaches for a couple of months and, when people would ask about them, he would blame the stress of trying to keep a slumping team in the race.
But two days after the all-star game, he passed out and was taken to a hospital, where it was discovered that he a golf ball-sized brain tumor. He underwent surgery and various forms of treatment, and, at the end last season, announced he would resume managing the Royals this spring.
He tried, but, after presiding over two days of workouts in the Florida heat, he resigned. He attended a few games early in the season, but recently had been confined to his house before being hospitalized two weeks ago.
Born Richard Dalton Howser on May 14, 1936, in Miami, he was a classmate of future actor Burt Reynolds and a two-time all-America shortstop at Florida State, from which he received a bachelor of science degree in education in 1958.
He received a $21,000 bonus to sign with the Kansas City Athletics in 1958 and made his big league debut in 1961. As a shortstop that season, he was named to the American League all-star team and won rookie of the year honors after playing 158 games, hitting .280, stealing 37 bases and leading the league in putouts (299) and errors (38).
He was traded to Cleveland in 1963 and played 3 1/2 seasons there before being traded to the Yankees just before the 1967 season.
That trade began a 13-year association with the Yankees, including 10 as third base coach. He managed the club for one game in 1978, after Billy Martin was fired, then coached the 1979 Florida State team. The next year, he returned to the Yankees as manager and became the fourth manager in history to win 100 games his rookie season.
After joining the Royals in late 1981, his teams finished second in 1982 and 1983, then in 1984 won the American League West Division. The '84 team won despite having its regular lineup together only 50 times.
That year, the Royals also gave jobs to young pitchers Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson and Mark Gubicza, and they became key figures for the 1985 World Series championship team.
The Royals were huge underdogs against the Cardinals in that Series, but shocked the baseball world.
Howser won the respect of hundreds of baseball people the morning after Game 2, in which he had made a couple of questionable moves resulting in the loss that put the Royals down, two games to none.
He admitted he hadn't been able to sleep that night, then had to get up early to travel to St. Louis, where he held a long impromptu news conference at Busch Stadium. He accepted this demand on his time and patience as he did almost everything else, answering every question, not once losing his temper as he again and again explained his thinking.
"We may lose this thing," he said at one point, "but we're not going to be ashamed. This club has done more than anyone thought possible."
He said he was proud of his players for all they'd accomplished, and that winning or losing the World Series wouldn't affect his feelings about the team after all it had gone through for eight months.
Royals officials said a memorial service will be held in Kansas City and the funeral in Tallahassee, Fla., Howser's hometown. He is survived by his wife Nancy and twin daughters Jan and Jill.