SABR

Earl Howard

This article was written by Mark Zeigler.

The Great War (known today as World War I) in Europe affected many young men during the latter part of the second decade of the 20th century. Many able-bodied professional baseball players, both on the major and minor league levels, served their country, and some sacrificed all or part of their careers in the process. One young man in particular was Earl Nycum Howard.

Howard was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, in a little town called Everett, on June 25, 1893. The son of Calvin (1869-1950) and Stella Irene (nee Nycum) Howard (1871-1955), he was the oldest of three children. The Howards married on July 20, 1892, and within a year, their first child, Earl, was born. The Howards had two more children: Ralph, who was born three years later on July 22, 1896, and Margaret Katherine, born on March 14, 1900.

Growing up in Everett, Howard took a fondness to the game of baseball, and as a teenager, was known to "display an unusual ability in playing baseball. His easy demeanor and friendly disposition made him one of the more popular young men in town. His proficiency came to the attention of professional baseball scouts and he entered the professional baseball field."

In 1915, the Class D Blue Ridge League was organized in the Western Maryland and South Central Pennsylvania region. Three of the clubs were from Pennsylvania, and each started scouting players hailing from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts. One of the new managers was Ira Plank, brother of Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Eddie Plank, who eventually was enshrined in Baseball's Hall of Fame. Plank, who also served as head coach of the Gettysburg College baseball nine at the same time, was named to manage Gettysburg's new entry in the Blue Ridge League. The new club was originally called the Gettysburg Patriots.

According to reports, in the spring of 1914, Plank had heard of the promising young sandlot pitcher from Everett through several of his college players. Scouting for talent for his college team, Plank found out he was pitching for a semi-pro team, the Frederick (Maryland) Black Sox of the Tri-City League in June of 1914, and traveled to Frederick to watch Howard pitch. The Gettysburg Times reported that Howard pitched for Plank's Gettysburg College nine in the spring of 1915. When Plank was hired to manage the Patriots, he tried out several players from his college team, including Howard, pitcher "Toppy Hoar" (aka Clarence Heir), and outfielder James Mahaffie.

The Gettysburg club was filled with college-aged prospects, eager to show their stuff to their new manager, whose family name was revered by every baseball enthusiast in the region. However, the young pitcher from Everett stood out from the rest, and soon Howard became the ace of the Patriots pitching staff.

At 6-foot-1, the right-handed Howard was bigger than the rest of his teammates, and was evidently an imposing figure to opposing batters. Despite a playing for a young, inexperienced team that struggled for most of the season, Howard continued to impress everyone in the league, despite finishing 10-14, and striking out 160 batters in 28 games pitched.

His shining moment came on July 10 of that season, when he faced off against their rival, the Frederick Hustlers, and their ace pitcher, Bill King at Gettysburg College's Nixon Field. King, undefeated entering this game, was considered by many one of the best pitchers in the league. Howard and King squared off for a marathon 17 innings, with the score tied 1 to 1. "Big Earl," as he was called, pitched the 18th inning, shutting down the Hustlers, while fanning his league record 18th batter in the game. In the bottom of the 18th, the Patriots took advantage of a fielding error, and scored the winning run to win the game, 2 to 1. Frederick went on to win the first Blue Ridge League pennant, but Howard's feat against King and the Hustlers that day proved to be the most impressive individual performance in the league's young history.

After the 1915 season ended, the Denver Bears club of the Class A Western League drafted Howard off the Gettysburg roster for $300. Howard reported to the Denver club for spring training in 1916, and was soon farmed out to the Three-I League. Evidently homesick, he requested his release, and his contract was sold to the Hagerstown (Maryland) Terriers, of the Blue Ridge League.

Back in the Class D League he played for the season before, Howard immediately made an impact with the Hagerstown club, winning 18 games, and fanning a then-league record 188 batters during the 1916 season. He made his mark on the league again on August 25, when he tossed a no-hitter against his former club, now known as the Gettysburg Ponies, 3-0, at Nixon Field.

Howard returned to Hagerstown for the 1917 season, where he dominated almost every opponent in the league. Winning 25 games, a league record tied by Waynesboro's Alan Clarke in 1921, but never surpassed in the league's history, Howard helped Hagerstown, and Manager Jack Hurley, win their first Blue Ridge League pennant at Willow Lane Park. He shut out eight opponents, and set several records. How impressive was Howard's 1917 campaign? Though earned run averages were not an official statistic of the league, Howard would have had a 1.39 ERA, after pitching 266 innings in a league record 38 games.

After the 1917 season, Howard's efforts were rewarded, when he signed a contract with the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, following the footsteps of another former Blue Ridge League pitcher, Hanover's Willie Scherdel (aka Bill Sherdel), who signed with the Brewers at the end of the 1916 season.

With the war raging in Europe, many professional ball players joined the war effort, and many leagues in the minors folded or disbanded by the start of the 1918 season. Filling out rosters was a challenge throughout professional baseball, causing major league clubs to bring up players from the minor leagues. Manager Jack Hendrick's St. Louis Cardinals were no exception, signing some pitchers from the Milwaukee club to pitch for the major league club that season. Coming off his spectacular season in the Class D league in 1917, Howard, was one of Hendrick's call-ups, and he made the jump all the way to the majors the following season.

On April 18, 1918, the Chicago Cubs played the St. Louis Cardinals at Robison Field, with Bill Doak starting on the mound for St. Louis against Cubs lefty Hippo Vaughn. After the Cubs jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the fifth, Doak was taken off the mound in favor of left-hander Jakie May, who pitched three-plus innings, allowing one run. With St. Louis trailing 6-2 going into the eighth inning, Hendricks called in rookie Earl Howard, who made his major league debut. Howard pitched two scoreless and hitless innings, allowing two men to reach first base on walks. After retiring the first batter he faced, catcher Bill Killefer, Howard walked Vaughn and shortstop Charlie Hollocher. Turner Barber hit a line drive into Howard's mitt, and the rookie from Everett threw to shortstop, and future Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby to double up Vaughn at second to end the inning. Howard retired the three batters he faced in the ninth, including Fred Merkle for the final out of the ninth inning. Down by four runs, St. Louis tried to rally in the ninth, and got a two-run home run by Doug Baird, but came up short, losing 6-4. During the ninth, John Brock pinch-hit for Howard, who never got an official time at bat.

Unfortunately, Howard's stay in the major leagues was very short. Not long after he made his major league debut, Howard was returned to the Milwaukee club. He pitched eight games for the Brewers before leaving baseball to join the Army Aviation Corps, and was assigned to Camp Meade in Maryland.

After spending almost two seasons in active military service, Howard returned to baseball in time for the 1920 season to play with the Milwaukee club in the Class AA American Association. Howard was heralded as one of the three main starting pitchers, but he was never able to reclaim the form that he had during his Class D days in the Blue Ridge League. He finished a dismal 2-7 in 11 games during the 1920 season.

While still living in Wisconsin, Howard tried to remain active in baseball, including pitching for a semi-pro baseball team in Appleton (Wisconsin) in 1922. He also pitched 12 games for the Pawhuska club in the Class C Western League, going 3-8. He moved on to Bloomington (Illinois) in the Class B Three-I League. Howard pitched again for Bloomington in 1923, attaining a 0-1 slate in 8 games.

From Bloomington, Howard was off to Oklahoma City, back in the Western League, for the 1924 season; he pitched in 13 games, winning none and losing 2. In 1925, Howard returned to Milwaukee in the American Association, going 4-1.

There's no record of Howard's pitching in 1926, but he tried to stay in the game. Howard pitched in the International League for the Newark Bears in 1927, going 5-2 in 28 games with a 4.50 ERA in 78 innings. He made one more attempt to revive his baseball career during the 1928 season with Newark, now managed by the legendary Walter Johnson, pitching in eleven games, all in relief, winning two and losing three, in 19 innings of work. He recorded one single, fanning three times, in five official at bats with the Bears. Released midway through the season, he retired from playing baseball.

While in Milwaukee, Howard had married the former Edna Skode of that city. The Howards had two children, Charlotte Edna, and Calvin Franklin. After spending 12 years in the Milwaukee area, the Howards moved to Pennsylvania in 1930, to be close to Earl's family. Back home, Howard engaged in an insurance business, and owned a gasoline service station in Everett.

Five years after moving back to his hometown, Howard's younger sister, Margaret K. (Howard) Terpening, died at the age of 35, on May 30, 1935, leaving a husband, Edward E., and a young son, Edward Howard. Margaret's death was the onset of a triple tragedy for the Howard family within a 25-month period. Earl died unexpectedly of pneumonia at age 43 on April 5, 1937; he is buried in Everett Cemetery. Finally, his sister-in-law, Eliza Sweet Howard (his brother Ralph's wife) died less than three months later, on June 24, 1937.

Sources

Thank You's to SABR-L and Andrew North and Steve Boren for researching Howard's missing statistics.

Hostetler, James, and Barry Logsdon. "100 Years of Bedford County Baseball." Bedford, Pennsylvania: Pioneer Historical Society, 2001.

The Everett Press, Everett, Pennsylvania, April 9, 1937, obituary.

Descendants of Dewalt Willard, http://www.geocities.com/crwillard/paf/pafg30.htm#655.

Reach Official American League Guide, Philadelphia, 1919, 1921.

Spalding Official Baseball Guide, St. Louis, 1929.

www.baseball-almanac.com.

Mike McCann's Minor League Teams - http://www.geocities.com/big_bunko/total.htm.

Frederick News-Post, June 1914; various dates, 1915.

Gettysburg Times, April-August 1915; August 1916.

Hagerstown Daily Mail, May 19, 1916; various dates, 1917.

Gettysburg College, Musselman Library, special thanks to student Matt Hosterman.

www.newspaperarchive.com - Earl Howard query

Special thanks to Susan Myers of the Everett (Pennsylvania) Free Library, who helped me gain invaluable information from the Pioneer Historical Society.

Zeigler, Mark C., compiler. Blue Ridge League statistics; verified in Reach American League Guide: 1916, 1917, 1918.

_____. Blue Ridge League information at www.blueridgeleague.org.

_____. "Boys of the Blue Ridge - The Early Years, History of the Class D, Blue Ridge League 1915-18." (The manuscript for this book is being completed, and is scheduled for publication in 2005. Earl Howard's accomplishments are mentioned throughout the book.)

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