“Blackstone is more worthy of permanent emulation than Mathewson, et al.”1 — Chattanooga Daily Times discussing Howell’s decision to leave baseball for law, December 12, 1915
A Louisiana State University Hall of Famer (although not for baseball), transported directly from the college campus to the major leagues; a three-game pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1912; a free agent who cost Charlie Ebbets $1,500; and an individual who left the game early to become an attorney — Roland “Billiken” Howell was a Pelican State star from the 1910s.
Roland Boatner Howell was born on January 3, 1892, in Napoleonville, Louisiana, to William Elias (W.E.) Howell, a judge, and Florence Perkins Howell. The family, which included another son, William Elias Howell, lived in the Enola Plantation near Napoleonville. Roland attended the Dixon Academy, a military school, in Covington, Louisiana, graduating in June 1908,2 before heading off to Louisiana State University.
In the spring of 1909, Howell was “trying to make it with L.S.U. as a pitcher”3 before playing in the summer with the local Thibodaux Red Cross team, named Lafourche after the local parish.4 The next year, he was “the Tigers’ mainstay” for the baseball squad.5 He was also “one of the stars” on the LSU football team.6 In November, Howell, as the starting quarterback, suffered a 22-0 defeat to Vanderbilt in Nashville.7 The report stated that Howell “played a splendid game, but did not get sufficient interference to make his gains count for anything.”8 The Nashville Tennessean commented that Howell, “LSU’s extensive quarterback, was by far the most consistent performer of his bunch. He did most of the ground gaining for his team, and handled the majority of the punts. Three-fourths of the gains annexed by LSU were made by Howell on the new center play, in which the quarter goes straight through from his position.”9
In the winter of 1911, Howell was captain and high scorer as the center on the LSU basketball team.10 He returned home in April for the Easter holiday, with the understanding that he “has made quite a record this season as pitcher of the LSU baseball team.”11 In his senior year, Roland was class rep, and returned as an end for the football team in the fall of 1911.12 By the following spring, scouts started sniffing around Baton Rouge to size up the young right-hander. In May, he signed a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, with orders to report after his college graduation in June.13 Also signed to report in June was first baseman John “C.E.” Mercer.14 When Howell arrived in St. Louis, it was observed that he “has a pair of shoulders broader than those owned by Bob Harmon.”15
On Flag Day, with three local Brooklyn youth bands totaling 675 boys performing the Star Spangled Banner before the game and other ditties between innings, Howell made his major league debut.16 Roland, “a lanky chap who was also quickly in the air because of the noise,” was summoned in the bottom of the fifth inning with the Cardinals already down, 8-0.17 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote that manager Roger Bresnahan “made signs like a man in violent pain and rushed a youngster named Howell to the rescue.” He entered with the bases loaded and a 2-0 count on Dodgers shortstop Bert Tooley. Howell completed the walk with two final balls (with the walk being charged to Gene Woodburn), although the Brooklyn paper claimed Howell hit Tooley on the shoulder. When he walked Otto Miller, forcing Zack Wheat home, Bresnahan “explosively ordered Howell to the clubhouse.”18
Eleven days later, Howell entered his second and third (and final) contests. On June 25, in the first game of a doubleheader, Bresnahan “tried a new battery in the seventh, Burns catching and Howell pitching.”19 Howell pitched a scoreless inning, allowing one hit, in a 10-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He also participated in the second game, and it was a dreadful outing. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat wrote that “a young man named Howell had been pitching, or rather going through the motions commonly used by a good many slab artists just previously to the time when this wonderful swat was made. Howell was unable to get this side out.”20 The Pittsburgh Daily Post penned that Howell, “who worked an inning in the earlier game, was brought back and batted out of the box.” After yielding four hits and four walks in the seventh inning, while recording only one out, his day and major-league career ended. With the bases loaded, in what would become a 10-run frame, Bresnahan “derricked” Howell to the dugout.21 Bill Steele came in, and immediately surrendered a grand slam to Chief Wilson, “the longest drive ever recorded in St. Louis.”22 Howell’s career ERA rose to a whopping 27.00, although his ERA would read 43.20 if present-day ERA rules were in place. The Pirates blew out the Cardinals, 19-3. (This was Howell’s LSU teammate Mercer’s one and only major league game.). Howell was released after the season.
In June 1913, Howell was signed by Chattanooga President O.B. Andrews, upon the recommendation of Hugh Jennings of the Detroit Tigers.23 His record was 2-7, but his season highlight was not on the mound. As a pinch-hitter, his bases-loaded walk-off double in the bottom of the ninth on Labor Day against the Mobile Sea Gulls helped bequeath the Southern League pennant to the Atlanta Crackers. The ebullient Lookout fans collected a coin donation for him.
Early in 1914, “Billiken” Howell (a nickname earned for his short stay in St. Louis) helped coach the LSU baseball team in preseason preparations, while he was completing his law studies on campus. It was reported that he was going to jump to the Chicago team of the Federal League, managed by Joe Tinker.24 The account lambasted the potential move, claiming that there “is not one chance in a hundred of his being fast enough for a semi-major league.” Howell quickly denied that he had received a Fed offer, and re-upped with the Lookouts. However, he refused to report to Chattanooga until June due to law school studies, and was “out of condition and he never got into condition.”25 After posting a 9-10 record, the Lookouts did not think he was long for the professional baseball life. He was made available for the annual draft, based on some “inside dope” that Brooklyn would be putting in a claim for him. That is exactly what occurred, and Chattanooga pocketed “1000 simoleons” (with $500 more for Howell) for the adroit move.26 He then proceeded to complete his law degree at LSU.
Before the 1915 season, Brooklyn sent Howell to Newark of the International League under a Class AA waiver rule which allowed this transfer, with both teams being controlled by Charlie Ebbets.27 However, Howell never reported, so the parent Dodgers suspended him, blocking any financial claims on the club that Howell might make.28 The back story is much more interesting. Howell had doubts about continuing to play, wishing to focus on his burgeoning law career. He had signed a Brooklyn contract, but when spring training began, he had received “a splendid opportunity to go into a good law firm [in Thibodaux] immediately upon graduation.”29 Ebbets was out the $1,500 signing money, “just as if throwing it to the birds.”30 The owner then sought to change the rules, allowing a club to be reimbursed if a player retires from the game after being drafted. As the Chattanooga Daily Times declared, Howell eventually decided that “Blackstone is more worthy of permanent emulation than Mathewson, et al.”31
Late in 1915, the 23-year-old Roland married 18-year-old Dorothy Dunbar Mandeville. Dorothy “had not yet made her debut and was one of the youngest of the brides this season. She is a very lovely young woman and a favorite in the younger set, with many worldly connections in the social world here.”32 Howell, it was said, “has many prominent connections throughout the state as well as in his home section.”33
In 1917, his war draft registration said he was married and a student in the citizens’ U.S. Training Camp at Fort Logan H. Roots in North Little Rock, Arkansas. He was eventually promoted to the rank of major. Soon after the war, Roland and Dorothy divorced. By 1920, he was practicing law and renting out a room. In 1924, Howell was a New Orleans Assistant City Attorney. Later that year, he was arrested for illegal possession of liquor, a violation of the Volstead Act, having a whiskey bottle while dining at the local West End Roof Garden.34 Later in the decade, he became the state commander for the American Legion.
In June 1927, Roland married Williemel Durio, and they soon had two sons, Roland B (1928). and William (1929) In 1932, writing in a local op-ed and acting for the American Legion, he supported a proposal to offer payments to all unemployed ex-service men…in “necessitous circumstances.”35 The next year, he was appointed as an attorney for the Louisiana advisory board of the Public Works Administration.36 In 1934, he spoke at an anti-tax rally in Baton Rouge, assailing the attempts of Senator Huey Long and Governor O.K. Allen to increase the state tax rate. Howell referred to Allen as “our rubber stamp governor.”37 He also implored Allen to “restore in peace the state of Louisiana to the place it once enjoyed and let Huey P. Long go to hell!”38
Howell was named to the inaugural class of the LSU Hall of Fame in 1937 for his accomplishments in football, although he was distinguished in baseball and basketball as well. He was a member of the board of supervisors for Louisiana State University,39 and was the State Director of the Louisiana Committee of the Brewing Industry Foundation, headquartered in Baton Rouge, “representing a $25,000,000 industry…employing more than 15,000 people.40 He was still in both roles through 1948.
Roland Howell passed away on March 31, 1973, at home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at the age of 81, and is buried at the Roselawn Memorial Park in Baton Rouge. He was survived by his wife, both sons, and seven grandchildren.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
The Baseball Necrology: The Post-Baseball Lives and Deaths of More than 7,600 major league players and others, 2003 Bill Lee, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina p. 190
MyHeritage.com Birth, Marriage, Census, and Death Records
1 “Roland Howell Quits Diamond; Embarks in Legal Profession” Chattanooga Daily Times, December 12, 1915: 14.
2 “Commencement at Dixon Academy” St. Tammany Farmer (Covington, Louisiana), June 20, 1908: 4.
3 “Base Ball” Lafourche Comet (Thibodaux, Louisiana), March 25, 1909: 4.
4 LaFourche Comet (Thibodaux, Louisiana), May 20, 1909: 1.
5 “News of Week at the L.S.U.” Shreveport Times, March 13, 1911: 8.
6 Thibodaux (Louisiana) Commercial Journal, October 19, 1910: 1.
7 “Smothered L.S.U.” Houston Post, November 6, 1910: 17.
8 Houston Post, November 6, 1910: 17.
9 “Commodores Trounce L.S.U.” (Nashville) Tennessean, November 6, 1910: 6.
10 “News of Week at the L.S.U.” (Shreveport, Louisiana) Times, January 30, 1911: 5.
11 “Notes” Lafourche Comet, April 20, 1911: 5.
12 “News of Week at the L.S.U.” Shreveport Times, October 2, 1911: 3.
13 “Howell, Star Flinger of L.S.U., Goes to Cards” Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana), May 21, 1912: 4.
14 “Cards Sign a Son of Dixie Land of Help Out Konetchy” St. Louis Star and Times, June 15, 1912: 6.
15 “Notes” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 3, 1912: 12.
16 “Youth Baseball Fans Help Dodgers to Win” Sun (New York, New York), June 15, 1912: 12.
17 “Youth Baseball Fans Help Dodgers to Win” Sun (New York, New York), June 15, 1912: 12.
18 “Rajah Pitchers Wild and Superbas Breeze” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 15, 1912: 24.
19 “Cards Receive Awful Jolt in Second Frame” Pittsburgh Daily Post, June 26, 1912: 17.
20 “Cardinals Get Two Beatings” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 26, 1912: 13.
21 Ed F. Balinger “Cardinals Receive Awful Jolt in Second Frame” Pittsburgh Daily Post, June 25, 1912: 17.
22 Ed F. Balinger, Pittsburgh Daily Post, June 25, 1912: 17.
23 “New Battery for Chattanooga” South Bend (Indiana) Tribune, June 12, 1913: 10.
24 “Howell May Be Victim” Chattanooga Daily Times, January 11, 1914: 15.
25 “Howell Case Stirs Memory” Chattanooga Daily Times, January 7, 1917: 14.
26 Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), September 29, 1914: 11.
27 “Newark Club Gets Howell” Chattanooga Daily Times, February 6, 1915: 8.
28 “Pitcher Howell Will Have No Chance to Collect” Times Union (Brooklyn, New York), April 5, 1915: 10.
29 “Record Howell Asks Record be Cleared for Him in Case” Chattanooga Daily Times, January 14, 1917: 16.
30 “Howell Case Stirs Memory” Chattanooga Daily Times, January 7, 1917: 14.
31 “Roland Howell Quits Diamond; Embarks in Legal Profession” Chattanooga Daily Times, December 12, 1915: 14.
32 “Howell-Mandeville” New Orleans Time-Picayune, December 1, 1915: 8.
33 New Orleans Time-Picayune, December 1, 1915: 8.
34 “Assistant City Attorney Taken by N.O. Raiders” Monroe (Louisiana) News-Star, July 19, 1924: 1.
35 “Statement by Roland B. Howell” Weekly Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana), September 10, 1932: 3.
36 “Roland B. Howell Appointed Attorney for P.W.A. Board” Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana), November 14, 1933: 1.
37 “Monster Mass Meet Held at Baton Rouge” (Shreveport, Louisiana) Times, June 13, 1934: 2.
38 Times, June 13, 1934: 2.
39 “Beer Industry Regulates Sale” Bunkie (Louisiana) Record, February 6, 1942: 3.
40 “Clean Up or Close Up” Church Point (Louisiana) News, February 27, 1942: 5.