This article was written by Stew Thornley
Howie Schultz combined major-league careers in baseball and basketball during the 1940s. Nicknamed “Stretch,” the six-feet-six-and-a-half Schultz had already started his professional baseball career while still a student and one of the stars of the basketball team at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Howard Henry Schultz was born July 3, 1922, and grew up in St. Paul. His parents, Leo and Minnie, were also St. Paul natives. Leo Schultz worked for the Montgomery Ward company for thirty-five years, running the shipping-and-receiving dock through the Great Depression. “We had food on the table and clothes on our back,” Schultz said of the Depression years. “We never suffered.”
Schultz was the second of three children. His brother, Louis, was born two years before him, and his sister, Lorraine, two years after him. In 1926, the family moved to a house three blocks north of Lexington Park, home of the St. Paul Saints of the American Association.
Leo Schultz was an avid baseball fan. A member of the St. Paul Municipal Baseball Board and the board for amateur baseball in the state, he spent a great deal of time with friends at Lexington Park, watching the Saints. Howie caught the baseball bug from his dad and attended his first Saints game by the time he was six.
Schultz began playing basketball when he was in the eighth grade in a Saturday morning program at Concordia College in St. Paul. The man who oversaw the program, Dick Siebert, played professional baseball while coaching the Concordia Academy (high school) basketball team in the offseason. Schultz first played on organized baseball and basketball teams as a ninth grader. From there he went to Central High School, playing both sports in his junior and senior seasons.
After graduating from Central in 1940, Schultz enrolled in Hamline University, which was only about a mile from his home. Despite being a small college, Hamline was establishing a national reputation for its basketball team under Coach Joe Hutton. Schultz played basketball but not baseball for Hamline.
In the summer of 1940, Lou McKenna, who was the general manager of the Saints, asked Schultz if he would be interested in playing in the Class C Northern League following his first year at Hamline. Schultz said yes and played for the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Chiefs in 1941.
In Howie’s sophomore season at Hamline, the Pipers won the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (NAIB) title. The United States had entered World War II by that time. Schultz had a late draft number and did not get his call until the summer of 1942. However, he was deferred from military service because of his height. He played again for Grand Forks, but the St. Paul Saints purchased his contract in August, and he finished the 1942 season in the American Association.
Schultz played his junior season of basketball during the winter of 1942-43 and then left school to go to spring training with the Saints. “My dad said, ‘I hate to see you leave school, but if you’re going to have an opportunity, you might really have it now because of the elimination of so many guys going into the service.’ Obviously, he was right.”
Schultz did well with the Saints in 1943 and was seen by Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey during an August game in Louisville. A few days later, the Dodgers acquired Schultz from St. Paul for $40,000 and four players—pitchers Rube Melton and Ed Spaulding and infielders Joe Orengo and Jack Bolling. (The following season, the Dodgers developed a working agreement with St. Paul and eventually purchased the team, but the Schultz deal occurred when the Saints were still an independent team.)
Schultz made his major-league debut at Ebbets Field in an August 16 twilight game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Facing Mort Cooper, he lined out to third-baseman Whitey Kurowski his first time up. In the fifth, he singled. The next inning, he capped a two-run rally with a run-scoring double off the left-field fence.
“First Sacker Wins Fans” was one of the sub-headlines in the New York Times the next morning. Rickey was pleased at Schultz’s great start. He had recently traded fan-favorite Dolph Camilli to the Giants and thought it crucial for Schultz, Camilli’s replacement at first base, to win over the Brooklyn fans immediately.
In forty-five games with Brooklyn in 1943, Schultz had a .269 batting average with thirty-four runs batted in. His only home run during the season came on August 22, at Ebbets Field, off Xavier Rescigno of Pittsburgh.
Schultz returned to Hamline in the fall of 1943 to continue his studies. Originally a business and economics major, he switched to social studies when he decided to go into teaching. He did not play basketball for Hamline that winter.
After playing in 138 games for Brooklyn and hitting eleven home runs with eighty-three RBIs in 1944, Schultz was back at Hamline for his fifth year of college and his fourth and final season of basketball. His amateur eligibility became an issue as the Pipers prepared to play City College of New York (CCNY) at New York’s Madison Square Garden as part of a college doubleheader.
On Thursday, December 21, 1944, a week before the CCNY game, the Pipers had defeated the Harlem Globetrotters in a game in Rochester, Minnesota. The Amateur Athletic Union eventually sanctioned the CCNY-Hamline game, and Schultz scored eleven points as the Pipers beat CCNY 47-42. A few weeks later, Hamline twice played DePaul, which had George Mikan as its center. The first game was played before a crowd of 15,752 at Chicago Stadium on January 20. Schultz had thirteen points for Hamline, but DePaul won, 45—41. Mikan had twenty-six points. In a rematch, four days later at the St. Paul Auditorium, DePaul won again 49-40. Schultz was the game’s high scorer with twent-one points. Mikan had seventeen.
During his final year at Hamline, Schultz’s draft status changed. He recalls the mood of the country during the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944 and resentment toward professional athletes not being in the service. “Virtually all of us were reclassified 1-A,” he said. “I got my notice of reclassification right at the end of my first semester [late January of 1945]. I went to the draft board and asked when I would be called.”
Schultz was informed that he probably would not be called until at least April but that he was not to leave town. Schultz called Rickey and explained his situation. Rickey optioned him to St. Paul, and Schultz played home games with the Saints (as well as games the team played at Minneapolis). He graduated from Hamline, and following his commencement went back to the draft board to inquire about his status. He was told that his papers had been recalled and that he was free to do whatever he wanted.
Schultz was called back up by the Dodgers, but after two weeks with Brooklyn, he got a telegram to report to Fort Snelling in Minneapolis for a pre-induction physical. When he was measured at more than seventy-eight inches, he was classified as 4-F again. “I went back to Brooklyn, didn’t do very much, and around the middle of August, Rickey optioned me to Montreal.”
With the war over, Schultz was able to spend the entire 1946 season with Brooklyn. A right-handed hitter, he played primarily against left-handed pitching, with Ed Stevens playing against right-handers. The Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals finished the regular season in a first-place tie, necessitating the first tiebreaker playoff series in major league history. The first game was in St. Louis, and the Cardinals had lefthander Howie Pollet on the mound. Schultz came up in the third inning with the Dodgers trailing, 1—0, and hit a home run to tie the game. St. Louis retook the lead, but Schultz cut the gap to one run with a run-scoring single in the seventh. The Cardinals held on, however, for a 4—2 win.
The series shifted to Brooklyn, and Schultz was on the bench as right-hander Murry Dickson pitched for St. Louis. The Cardinals took an 8-1 lead into the last of the ninth. The Dodgers scored three runs, but left-hander Harry Brecheen, in relief of Dickson, fanned Schultz, pinch-hitting for Dick Whitman, to end the game and Brooklyn’s season.
The 1946 season also marked the end of the color barrier that had long been in effect in Organized Baseball. Schultz recalls playing in a couple of exhibition games against Jackie Robinson of the International League’s Montreal Royals in Daytona Beach that spring. He got to know Robinson better in 1947 as the Dodgers moved their training camp to Havana, Cuba. Robinson was still on the Montreal roster, but it was clear what the Dodgers had in mind for him. Schultz arrived late for spring training because he was playing professional basketball, for the Anderson (Indiana) Packers of the National Basketball League in the offseason. On the plane from Miami to Havana with Schultz was Brooklyn scout Clyde Sukeforth, who had scouted Robinson with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. Sukeforth told Schultz that Robinson would be brought up by the Dodgers, and because the team had Eddie Stanky at second base, Robinson would be playing first base.
In the Dodgers’ regular-season opener, Robinson was in the starting lineup as Brooklyn’s first baseman. Schultz entered the game as a defensive replacement and did not play again for nearly a month. He pinch hit in a May 9 game in Philadelphia and after the game was sold to the Phillies for a reported $50,000.
The team Schultz joined is remembered for its abusiveness toward Robinson. “It was embarrassing,” said Schultz. Of Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman, possibly the worst of the bunch, Schultz shook his head and said sadly, “He was still fighting the Civil War. He was just very unhappy with the situation. He just didn’t feel that blacks should be there. There were enough guys on that team from the south who jumped on the bandwagon.
“I was playing first [for the Phillies in a game against the Dodgers] and Jack got on. The abuse was almost continuous. And I said, ‘Jack, how can you handle this crap?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I’ll have my day.’ That’s all he said. And, of course, he did.”
Schultz played in 114 games for the Phillies in 1947, hitting just .223, and decided not to play in 1948. However, the Phillies lured him back. Because he was playing basketball again, Schultz missed spring training. “I couldn’t hit a balloon.” Philadelphia put him on waivers, and the Cincinnati Reds claimed him. Ted Kluszewski, a left-handed-hitting first baseman, was in his first full year with the Reds, and initially Schultz and Kluszewski were platooned. After Schultz got hurt, having his wrist sliced open when he was spiked at first base, Kluszewski began playing regularly.
Schultz played his final major-league game on September 8, 1948, and then refused an assignment to the minor leagues, ending his professional baseball career. He continued to play pro basketball in the winter, and he earned more money in that sport than in baseball. However, the wear of two sports took its toll on him. “I was not built to sustain a long [baseball] season,” Schultz said. “I got weak. I always felt that if I hadn’t played basketball the year before and just stuck to baseball, I could have hit my .250, .260. I had too big a strike zone, and I didn’t have the quick wrists.
“I was probably at the top level a better basketball player than I was a baseball player. I could compete with anybody at that time, including Mikan, Arnie Risen [center for the Rochester Royals, now in the Basketball Hall of Fame], any of the top centers that were playing in the league at that time.”
The Anderson Packers, sponsored by the Duffey Packing Company, were members of the National Basketball League until the league merged with the Basketball Association of American to create the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949. The ’49-’50 season was Schultz’s fourth with the Packers, and his first as a coach. He found the dual roles of player and coach to be difficult, and at midseason was traded to Fort Wayne, where he went back to only playing. (His NBA coaching record was 21-14 for a winning percentage of .600.)
Schultz married Gloria Tellejohn, whom he met at Hamline University, on March 9, 1945 in Hamline United Methodist Church in St. Paul. They had two children, Howard Jr., known as Skip, born Jan 10, 1949, and Becky, born Jan 12, 1950. When Becky was born, the couple decided to settle in St Paul. Howie chose not to return to Fort Wayne in the fall of 1950. Instead, he got a chance to play and coach closer to home. A new league, the National Professional Basketball League, was formed and included four teams that had been dropped by the NBA. Another team in the league was the St. Paul Lights, and Schultz was chosen to coach and play for the team. However, the Lights folded on December 20, fewer than two months into the season.
The next year Schultz found another local team to play for, the NBA Minneapolis Lakers. Schultz spent the entire season with the Lakers in 1951-52 and played during the 1952-53 season before they released him in February 1953. This ended his career in professional sports, but he was still playing semiprofessional baseball in Minnesota. Schultz played for several town teams during the 1950s.
Schultz had begun teaching at Mechanic Arts High School in the fall of 1954, while also serving as the school’s baseball and basketball coach. In 1965 he succeeded Joe Hutton as Hamline’s basketball coach. He also coached baseball and taught physical education and coaching theory. In 1972 Schultz went back to the St. Paul school system, coaching basketball. He retired from the school system in 1986.
In 1988, he and Gloria moved to a townhome overlooking a golf course in Stillwater, Minnesota, a river town about twenty miles from St. Paul and for many years spent their winters on a golf course in Naples, Florida.
Howie Schultz was eighty-seven when he died in Stillwater on October 30, 2009, following a four-month battle with cancer. He was survived by Gloria and their two children.
Basketball’s Original Dynasty: The History of the Lakers by Stew Thornley, Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 1989.
Arthur Daley, “Dodgers Buy Schultz for $40,000, 4 Players: Saints Get Rube Melton, Orengo and First Baseman,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 16, 1943.
“Baseball Man in a Basketball Suit,”New York Times,December 28, 1944.
“City College Five Gets A. A. U. Permission to Play Against ‘Ineligible’ Howie Schultz,’ New York Times, December 29, 1944.
Louis Effrat, “Dodgers Purchase Robinson, First Negro in Modern Major League Baseball,” New York Times, April 11, 1947.
“Schultz Rejected Again: Dodger First Baseman Exceeds Maximum Service Height,” New York Times, March 1, 1944.
Roscoe McGowen, “Schultz in Debut Helps Dodgers,” New York Times, August 17, 1943.
Year-by-year Hamline University basketball results, provided by Hamline media relations department
Old-Time Data, Inc. Professional Baseball Player Database playing record for Howie Schultz
Interview by with Howie Schultz, Monday, May 25, 2004
Telephone Interview with Howard Schultz, Jr. by Thomas Bourke on January 31, 2010.