Illinois native Del Howard wasn’t as well-known as Hall of Famers Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance, but he was a valuable backup first baseman, outfielder, and pinch-hitter on the Chicago Cubs’ world championship teams of 1907 and 1908. “Del [Howard] has been carried two years with the Cubs and is as full of pepper today as any man Chance has on the squad, and he plays almost as good a game of ball. He can fill in either in the outfield or on first base, and two years of association with champions has made a grand ballplayer of him,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said in 1909.1
George Elmer “Del” Howard was born on December 24, 1877, on a farm near Kenney, Illinois, the second youngest of nine children of Peter and Elizabeth Howard. The youngest child, Ivan, played for the St. Louis Browns and Cleveland Indians from 1914 to 1917.
Peter Howard was born on August 21, 1827, in Brown County, Ohio, the fourth child of the Rev. and Mrs. Joseph Howard. The family moved to DeWitt County, Illinois, nine years later and settled in what was known as the Howard homestead, a log house one mile east of Kenney. For several years, Del’s father taught school and helped with farm work.2 In 1897, Peter’s family established Peter Howard and Son Hardware and Implement in Kenney, a business that remained in the family for more than 50 years. “His [Peter’s] advice was often sought and he had been honored by being elected to all the different [Tunbridge] township offices,” the Kenney Gazette noted upon the elder Howard’s death on July 12, 1900.3
Del Howard played the outfield for an independent ball club in Mattoon, Illinois, in 1898. Two other members of that team also played in the major leagues: Luther “Dummy” Taylor with the New York Giants and Justin “Pug” Bennett with the St. Louis Cardinals.4
Del and Jessie Suttle of Kenney were married on March 5, 1901, at the residence of the Rev. S.C. Black in DeWitt County. The bride was the daughter of Henry and Susan Suttle of Kenney. Henry Suttle served in the Illinois Legislature and bought a 5,000-acre farm near Ada, Minnesota, in 1901 for $160,000.5 The elder Suttle planned to sell off much of the land for smaller farms and turn the rest of the land into the town of Lockhart, according to a Champaign, Illinois. newspaper.
Del signed with manager Frank Selee’s Chicago Cubs in the spring of 1904, but was released at the end of spring training. Picked up by the Class A Omaha Rangers in the Western League, the 26-year-old second baseman played in 144 games, collected 184 hits and batted .316. Omaha’s best pitcher, left-hander Jack Pfiester, was Del’s teammate on the world champion Cubs in 1907 and 1908.
The Philadelphia Phillies purchased Howard from Omaha in August 1904. The Phillies under manager Hugh Duffy finished last in the National League that year with a 52-100-3 record. On December 20, 1904, the Phillies traded Howard and a player to be named later to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Kitty Bransfield, Otto Kreuger, and Moose McCormick. The Phillies sent Otis Clymer to the Pirates on January 21, 1905, to complete the trade.
In a spring training dispatch from Hot Springs, Arkansas, the Pittsburgh Press reported in March 1905 that “Del Howard is a good one … He is in the game all the way and plays it clean, hits like a battering ram and don’t [sic] swing on wild pitches.”6 In his rookie season, Howard split his time between first base, right field and left field — and even pitched once when the Bucs ran out of pitchers.
On May 9, 1905, Howard went three-for-five and scored three runs in the Pirates’ 9-6 win in 10 innings over the Phillies. He homered in the fifth, doubled and scored in the ninth, and singled and scored again in the tenth. “Pity Howard’s home run wasn’t made at Exposition Park [in Pittsburgh],” the Pittsburgh Press observed. “He would have received enough merchandise to stock a house.”7
On August 11, 1905, Howard’s run-scoring base hit in the 12th inning gave the Pirates a 1-0 victory over the Phillies in Pittsburgh. Hall of Famer Honus Wagner set up the winning run by reaching base on an error, stealing second, and moving to third on a wild throw before Howard lined a pitch over the shortstop’s head. The Pittsburgh Press noted afterwards that umpire Hank O’Day had planned to call the game at the end of the inning due to darkness.8
The 27-year-old made his only major league pitching appearance in Cincinnati on May 28, 1905. After the Reds jumped out to a 5-1 lead off Pirate hurlers Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever (and Leever was ejected by umpire Bob Emslie), Pittsburgh manager Fred Clarke brought in the outfielder-first baseman. “Howard had a delivery that somewhat resembled a washerwoman laboring on the last shirt, but it sufficed for a few minutes,” the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune reported.9 The unlikely mounds-man faced 22 batters over five innings, allowed seven runs on four hits, struck out one, and walked one. Howard hit .292 in 435 at-bats that season, playing in 123 games for the second-place Pirates.
On December 15, 1905, the Pirates traded Howard, Dave Brain, and Vive Lindaman to the Boston Beaneaters for pitcher Vic Willis. Saying he “was perfectly satisfied with the deal,” Howard added “he did not like to leave Pittsburgh, but thought the deal was a good one for both the Pirates and the beanies.”10 Less than a month later, the Boston Herald’s Jake Morse called Howard “one of the best all around players in the country.”11 Morse added, “A player who can undertake to please Manager Fred Clark [sic] by fitting into a position entirely new to him seems to be very near the goods.”12 The Boston writer also noted that Howard “showed such rapid improvement that it was generally supposed that he would be retained in the position this year.”13
In January 1906, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Howard as “young, ambitious, and steady.”14 Noting Howard played second base before joining the Pirates, the newspaper said, “If he can bat a little better, or as well, this season as he did last [year], he surely will add much strength to the Bostons …”15
Howard got a hit, scored a run and handled 12 chances at first base “without the semblance of an error” during his Boston debut against the Brooklyn Superbas on April 15, 1906.16 Howard took his utility role to new heights in May when he played four positions — second base, right field, left field and first base — in one week. Playing left field against the Chicago Cubs, Howard made two spectacular catches in the ninth inning of the Cubs’ 9-1 victory on July 28. “He came in fast [from left field] and got under [Frank] Chance’s prospective single, and a few minutes later rushed over to the foul line and pulled down [Harry] Steinfeldt’s fungo,” a Massachusetts paper reported. “It made one hold his breath for fear he would dash into the third base fence.”17 On September 18, he got three hits off Cubs pitcher Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown. Three days later, he had two hits including a triple and stole a base in Boston’s 5-1 win over the Pirates. The jack-of-all trades played four positions in a career-high 147 games in 1906 and hit .261. However, the Beaneaters finished in the National League cellar at 49-102, a whopping 66½ games behind the first-place Cubs.
Howard played 50 games for Boston in 1907 before he was traded on June 20 to the Cubs for Newt Randall and Bill Sweeney.18 Howard didn’t know about the trade until just prior to the Cubs’4-0 victory over the Boston Doves on the day of the trade. “[Cubs owner Charles] Murphy and [Doves principal owner George] Dovey framed up the deal in the morning and the deep chest tones of Ump Jim] Johnstone announced it to the startled populace when play was called,” the Chicago Tribune’s Charles Dryden wrote the next day. “Howard learned he had changed from a Bean [sic] to a Cub coming out in the bus. He and Randall made lightning switch of duds, took the oath of allegiance, and played each other’s old jobs — Newt in left and Del in right. This is about one of the swiftest deals on record, and it had the boys winging. They knew nothing of the trade. Johnstone just said Randle would play for Boston and Howard for Chicago, and let the folks guess the reason why.”19
Howard went one-for-four in his first game as a Cub and made a favorable impression on at least one scribe. “While sliding to second in the sixth the new Cub scooped his sweaty face full of the pulverized scenery and washed it off at the water cooler,” Dryden noted. “Howard looks like the big end of the trade.”20
On June 28, 1907, NL President Pulliam suspended Howard for three days for arguing with umpire Hank O’Day. (Suspensions for arguing with umpires were not uncommon in the early 1900s.) On August 20, Howard played in place of Chance who was out of the lineup due to an ulcerated tooth. The Cubs’ handy man deluxe had four singles in his team’s 6-2 win over the Giants’ Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity at the Polo Grounds in New York. Two days later in Boston, he subbed for Chance again and displayed his defensive prowess. “He is at home on the bag apparently, and yesterday he did some fine work,” the Boston Globe reported. “He got three men at the bag on assists to [pitcher Chick] Fraser, who, like all the Cubs’ pitchers, is trained to get over to cover the base, and besides, ‘Del’ dug up low throws like a veteran.”21
The Cubs clinched their eighth NL pennant on September 23 and finished 17 games ahead of the second-place Pirates. Howard just missed making a rare unassisted triple play on that historic rainy day in September against the Phillies. With rain coming down and with runners on first and second with no outs in the fifth inning, Howard dove and grabbed Red Dooin’s line drive, fell to the ground, got back up, and touched first to retire Mickey Doolin. In the meantime, the runner on second was well past third and Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker was standing on second, yelling for the ball. The Chicago Inter Ocean described what happened next: “He [Howard] had loads of time to run to second and retire Grant, but the fall had evidently dazed him a bit, and he threw the ball to Tinker. The spectators did not realize what had happened until they saw the Phillies start out in the field, and then a great yell of jubilation went up. Some of the kids do not know what happened yet.”22
Howard hit .230 for the Cubs compared to .273 for Boston earlier in the season. Nevertheless, he played three positions for his new team: first base, right field, and center field. Although he appeared in only two of five World Series games in 1907, he played a pivotal role in the first game that ended in a 3-3 tie after 12 innings. Called on to pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth, he struck out but reached first base on an error as Steinfeldt scored the tying run. Five years later, Howard told sports writer Hugh Fullerton “how I won the world’s championship by making the worst blunder of my life.”23 Further, Howard claimed that the “extra inning game that ended in a tie practically ruined Detroit’s chances for the championship.”24 He recounted the fateful at-bat this way: “I started to walk in a bit to crack the ball, when I saw it coming low and fast and aimed about at my knees. It looked for an instant as if that ball was going to get tangled among my legs. I took a fine swing — and don’t think I missed the ball more than a foot. Then I heard a howl, while the ball was going back to the stands.”25
Howard started Game Five of the World Series, which the Cubs won, 2-0, behind Brown’s seven-hitter. “It was as great a pleasure for me to have Del Howard play on Saturday in the final game of the world’s series [sic] as it would have been for me to play, for he showed that he was capable of playing that first bag in championship style,” player-manager Chance said.26
Howard played nearly twice as many games for the Cubs the next season, hit .279, and had more walks (23) than strikeouts (21). In fact, he was hitting a league-leading .352 when he injured a small bone in his right hand while sliding into a base on June 5. On June 12, doctors examined his hand and found that two nerves were crossed, which caused pain and swelling, but no bones were broken.27 A doctor “burned” Howard’s wrist and arm and said it would be healed after a week.28
On June 4, 1908, the day before he was injured, Howard’s seventh-inning homer accounted for the Cubs’ only run against Boston in a 17-inning, 1-1 tie. “With such perfect fielding and scrappy work upon the part of each and every player, there was not a fan in the park who would not have wagered his all that the drive over the fence onto the railroad track by Del in the seventh, with two men out, was enough to win,” according to a Chicago Inter Ocean account.29 On July 24, right-fielder Howard tied the score at 1-1 with a ninth-inning single at Brooklyn. The Cubs eventually beat the Superbas, 2-1, in 11 innings. With three games left in the regular season, Howard collected three singles and a double in the Cubs’ 16-2 victory at Cincinnati. In his only World Series appearance that year, Howard pinch-hit for Pfiester and grounded out in the eighth inning of the Cubs’ 8-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Despite sitting on the bench for most of the World Series, Howard expressed gratitude six years later. “Our world series [sic] were big affairs and the players were in the limelight a good deal. After the first one we took the ceremonies as a matter of course, and, as I look back, I do not think that all the boys realized they were making baseball history,” he said. “I wouldn’t have missed them for anything, for they were experiences that cannot be bought with money.”
Howard got his first taste of managerial duties during spring training in 1909. On St. Patrick’s Day, he guided the Cubs’ backups to a 3-2 win in 4½ innings over the regulars in Shreveport, Louisiana. The next day, Howard’s backups beat the regulars 6-1 in six innings with the help of the first baseman’s three hits. “Del Howard, who has twice led the youngsters to victory, is voicing the virtues of his teddies in all kinds of high flowing praise tonight, and asserts they are today the real champions …” the Chicago Inter Ocean reported.30
On June 20, Howard ignited a three-run rally with a leadoff triple in the eighth inning against Brooklyn. The Cubs eventually won, 6-1. “The first ball that [pitcher George] Bell sent to Del went back quicker than it came,” the Chicago Inter Ocean reported the next day. “The big first sacker leaned against the sphere with a terrific swat it cometing down the right field line to the boundary, and when the bruised pellet limped back to the infield Del was dragging anchor at the third buoy.”31
On August 27, 1909, Howard homered in the Cubs’ 8-6 victory over the Giants, which produced a graphic description in the Chicago Tribune the following day. “ Del’s [homer] was something of a record breaker in itself for it traveled almost through the pitcher’s position and at no time bounded two feet from the ground,” according to the paper. “But it went at a sizzling pace past [shortstop Al] Bridwell, who hardly moved from his tracks, and then past [center fielder Cy] Seymour who made frantic efforts to step on the ball and spike it to the ground as it trundled merrily past him.”32 The 32-year-old Howard played in 69 games and hit .197 for the Cubs in 1909, his last season in the major leagues. The 1910 DeWitt County census shows Del and Jessie living in Tunbridge Township, DeWitt County, with no children.
Howard spent 11 of the next 12 years of his life playing for and managing minor league teams in Louisville, Kentucky, St. Paul, Minnesota, San Francisco and Oakland, California. On June 21, 1910, he succeeded Henry “Heinie” Peitz as Louisville’s manager. The Colonels slipped from first place in the American Association in 1909 to last place a year later and their new skipper hit only .239. The 33-year-old Howard played in 150 games and hit .302 for the Colonels in 1911, but the club finished in last place again.
In April 1912, Howard was sold to the St. Paul Saints in the American Association. However, by June a Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, newspaper reported that he had quit baseball and bought a farm in Oregon.33 Howard returned to the Saints by June 25 and hit .300 before he was sold to the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League. He replaced Kid Mohler as manager in early August 1912. Del batted .358 in 98 games as a player-manager for the Seals while his brother Ivan hit .282 and stole 62 bases for the Los Angeles Angels in the same league.
Finishing fifth in the PCL in 1912, the Seals advanced to fourth place a year later and third place in 1914 under Del’s leadership. After batting .274 in 1913, he finished second in the PCL in hitting (.352) the next year while playing first base and pinch hitting.34 On December 31, 1914, a Stockton, California, paper reported that former Sacramento, California, manager Harry Wolverton would replace Del as the Seals’ manager.35
On January 5, 1915, Howard said he was “through with baseball” and would start ranching in San Luis Obispo, California.36 “My 17 years of professional baseball has been enough for me,” he explained. “I am tired of it and want to get out.”37 By April, however, he had rented out most of his land and was playing in a semi-pro baseball league, leaving him to wonder “why I was foolish enough to stick in baseball as long.”38 By late January 1916, he was again back in baseball as manager of the Hayden, Arizona, team in the independent Copper Belt League. The league was organized by a copper company to entertain the miners twice a week.39
On July 20, 1916, Oakland Oaks president Frank Leavitt announced he had sold his interest in the club to Howard and that Howard would become manager on August 1. Nine days later, Howard, Cal Ewing and Jack Cook gained complete control of the Oaks when Leavitt’s interest in the club expired. At the time, the Oaks were in last place in the PCL. Still pinch-hitting at times, Del pitched for the Oaks on October 5, 1916, against Portland. He surrendered five runs, four hits and five walks in three innings in Oakland’s 18-13 defeat.
Over the next five seasons, Howard compiled a 425-455 managerial record and finished no higher than fifth place in the PCL. Brother Ivan did better after taking over in 1922. Ivan’s Oakland clubs finished 803-792 from 1922 to 1929 and captured the PCL crown in 1927 with a 120-75 record.
In the fall of 1929, Del and his wife, along with his brother Ivan and Ivan’s wife, moved from Oakland to Camp Lowe on the Klamath River in Oregon. The 1930 census shows Del and his wife living in Mountain, California, with a 16-year-old daughter, Ruth. Howard’s wife, Jessie, 53 or 54, passed away on January 8, 1933, at Camp Lowe after a months-long illness.40 She was survived by her parents, a sister, and a brother, all of California, as well as her husband. Del died at his brother Ivan’s home in Seattle, Washington, on his 78th birthday on December 24, 1956, following an illness of several months. He was also survived by three other brothers. He was buried in Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park in Seattle. At the time of his death, Del was still part owner of the Oakland Oaks.
The author is indebted to the DeWitt County (Illinois) Genealogical Society for its assistance with the research for this bio.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Joe DeSantis and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources listed below, the author also used baseball-reference.com, baseball-america.com, newspapers.com, paperofrecord.com, retrosheet.org, and statscrew.com.
1 James Cruisenberry, “Bresnahan Working Hard to Build Up Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 1909, 34.
2 “Passed to His Reward,” Kenney (Illinois) Gazette, July 20, 1900.
3 “Passed to His Reward.”
4 “Three Players On Mattoon Club Of ’98 Went On To Play In Major Leagues,” Mattoon (Illinois) Journal Gazette, May 5, 1956, 5.
5 “Henry Suttle’s New Farm,” Champaign (Illinois Daily Gazette, September 1901, 2.
6 “Otis Clymer Is a Genuine Find,” Pittsburgh Press, March 27, 1905, 14.
7 “Pirates Won In The Tenth,” Pittsburgh Press, May 10, 1905, 14.
8 “Pirates Won Long Contest,” Pittsburgh Press, August 12, 1905, 10.
9 “At Last the Reds Win Sunday Game at Home,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, May 29, 1905, 7.
10 “Home Run Drives,” Pittsburgh Press, December 21, 1905, 14.
11 “ Like Howard,” Pittsburgh Press, January 10, 1906, 10.
12 “Like Howard,” Pittsburgh Press.
13 “Like Howard,” Pittsburgh Press.
14 “Bingles From the Bat,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 27, 1906, 6.
15 “Bingles From the Bat,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
16 Washington Times, April 19, 1906, 10.
18 Baseball-reference.com lists the date of the trade as June 24, 1907. However, a Chicago Tribune story on June 21 about a Cubs-Boston game the previous day indicates the trade occurred on June 20. An article in the Indianapolis News on June 21, 1907, said the trade occurred “yesterday,” or June 20.
19 Charles Dryden, “Overall Blanks Beany Boys 4 To 0,” Chicago Tribune, June 21, 1907, 10.
20 Dryden, “Overall Blanks Beany Boys 4 To 0.”
21 “First Blood for Chicago,” Boston Globe, August 23, 1907, 9.
22 Frank Hutchison Jr., “Fast Triple Play Helps Cubs Cinch Their Second Flag,” Chicago Inter Ocean, September 24, 1907, 4.
23 Hugh Fullerton, “My Worst Blunder,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 30, 1912, 32.
24 Hugh Fullerton, “My Worst Blunder.”
25 Hugh Fullerton, “My Worst Blunder.”
26 “Chance Praises Chicago Players,” Helena (Montana) Independent-Record, October 23, 1907, 7.
27 “Notes Of The Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, June 12, 1908, 8.
28 “Notes Of The Cubs,” Chicago Tribune.
29 “Cubs And Boston Play A Seventeen Inning Tie, 1 To 1,” Chicago Inter Ocean, June 5, 1908, 4.
30 “Champs Again Are Downed By Bears; Game Is One-Sided,” Chicago Inter Ocean, March 19, 1909, 4.
31 “Cubs Rake Dodgers,” Chicago Inter Ocean, June 21, 1909, 9.
32 “Cubs Beat Giants, 8-6,” Chicago Tribune, August 28, 1909, 6.
33 “Del Howard Quits Game,” Adams County (Pennsylvania) News, June 1, 1912, 5.
34 “Del Howard Has Played His Last Game,” Bakersfield (California) Morning Echo, November 3, 1914, 8.
35 “Harry Wolverton To Manage Seals,” Stockton (California) Daily Evening Record, December 31, 1914, 8.
36 “Salt Lake In Our Midst For Weal Or Woe,” San Francisco Examiner, January 5, 1915, 11.
37 “Salt Lake In Our Midst For Weal Or Woe,” San Francisco Examiner.
38 W.A. Reeve, “It Strikes Me,” Los Angeles (California) Evening Express, April 5, 1915, 12.
39 “Del Howard Back in Baseball as a Manager,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 1916, 47.
40 Find-a-grave.com does not provide an exact date for Jessie Howard’s birth.