Howie Fox (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Howie Fox: Baltimore’s Unique Oriole

This article was written by Herm Krabbenhoft

This article was published in the The National Pastime: A Bird’s-Eye View of Baltimore (2020)


Howie Fox (THE TOPPS COMPANY)In a stunning development on September 29, 1953, the city of Baltimore went from being the home of the minor league Orioles of the International League to having the major league Orioles of the American League.1 On that historic day, Bill Veeck, president of the St. Louis Browns, announced “a Baltimore group headed by attorney Clarence W. Miles had purchased 79 per cent interest in the Browns.” What happened to the 30 men who played at least one game with the 1953 Orioles? Where did they play in 1954? The short answer is, “Many places.”

The online Appendix provides pertinent information for 29 of those players. The other player, Howie Fox, is the subject of this article — he has the unique distinction of being the only man to play for both Baltimore’s minor league Orioles and the major league Orioles which supplanted them.2, 3

RESEARCH PROCEDURE

The information presented in this article was obtained from game accounts and articles provided in numerous newspapers (especially The Baltimore Sun and The Sporting News). Also utilized were various editions of the Baseball Guide and Record Book and the Dope Book (published by The Sporting News), Howie Fox’s “Player Information Cards File” and “Player Clippings File” (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library), The 1955 Baltimore Orioles Sketch Book, and the Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference websites.

RESULTS and DISCUSSION

1943-1952: With the Barons, Reds, and Phillies

Howie Fox was born on March 1, 1921, and broke into organized baseball in 1943 with the Birmingham Barons, the single-A farm team of the Cincinnati Reds in the Southern Association. He turned in a 14–17 won-lost ledger with a 4.83 earned run average. In his next season, also with the Barons, Fox produced a 19–10 record and a league-leading 2.71 ERA, which earned him a late-season call-up with the Reds. He made his major league debut on September 17, 1944, in the first game of a twin bill against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Fox continued pitching for the Reds (interspersed with a couple stints with their AAA Syracuse farm team) through the 1951 season, compiling a big league W-L record of 40–63. On December 10, 1951, Fox was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. With the Phillies in 1952, Fox produced a 2–7 W-L ledger with a 5.08 ERA. (Additional information on Fox’s performance for the 1943–52 period is given in the Appendix.)

1953: Joining the IL Orioles

The Phillies opened the 1953 season in the City of Brotherly Love and split a pair of games against the New York Giants before traveling to Pittsburgh for a three-game series (April 16–18). After Philadelphia lost the first game, the next two games were rained out. Fox, whose mound performance during spring training had been deemed unimpressive, did not appear in any of the Phillies’ first three games. Before the Phillies left town, Fox was notified that his contract had been sold outright to Philadelphia’s AAA farm club: the Baltimore Orioles of the International League. Fox spoke out against the transaction. He stated he would not got to Baltimore and wanted to be declared a free agent or sold to a Pacific Coast League team (his home being in Coburg, Oregon). However, following a discussion of the situation with Phillies President Bob Carpenter, Fox agreed to join the Orioles at the end of the week.

Fox’s first game with the Orioles was on Sunday, April 26, the lid-lifter of a twin bill against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. Howie started, but was knocked out of the box with one out in the second stanza. During his brief outing he gave up five runs on two hits and three bases on balls. Fortunately, the Orioles were able to eventually overcome the deficit and emerge victorious, 12–11, thereby rendering Fox’s initial outing a no-decision. Perhaps contributing to Howie’s dismal beginning was a pulled muscle in his side, which also delayed his next start, the first game of a double dip on May 8 in Syracuse. In spite of surrendering eight hits and issuing six walks in his six-plus innings, Fox benefitted from the home-run hitting of Jack Graham and Roy Weatherly and the last-inning relief of Ken Heintzelman to earn his first triumph, 8–6.

Fox improved to 2–0 with a relief victory on May 12, against against the visiting Syracuse Chiefs, twirling six innings after replacing starter Clarence Marshall, with one man on and nobody out. Howie retired the next two batters and should have also retired the third batter, but a fielding error by shortstop Ted Kazanski prolonged the inning. A single by the Syracuse pitcher followed, driving in the run which knotted the score at 1–1.

The game remained deadlocked until the bottom of the ninth when, with two down, Russell Kerns drew a walk and Joe Lonnett followed with a single. The Chiefs’ skipper then ordered Damon Phillips walked intentionally to fill the bases and bring up Fox … or a pinch hitter. The Baltimore Sun reported that the O’s manager, Don Heffner, “had a choice, and made it without hesitation. Fox took his place at the plate and dropped a clean single in center,” driving in Kerns with the game-winning run.4

Fox provided another fireman rescue in a game two days later, also against Syracuse, taking over for Bob Greenwood in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and two outs. Howie tossed out Ben Zientara to end the inning and then proceeded to shut out the Chiefs in the eighth and ninth frames, saving the 4–0 triumph for Baltimore.

Despite pitching fairly well in his next start, on May 16, Fox absorbed his first defeat as an Oriole. After yielding a first-inning solo homer to Charley Kress, Howie pitched scoreless ball until the sixth session when he walked a pair and gave up a hit, the combination resulting in two more runs for Rochester, which completed the game’s scoring. Cot Deal pitched a complete-game shutout for the Red Wings.

As the season progressed through July, Fox’s mound performance was so-so. At the close of May he had fashioned a 3–1 W-L ledger. By the end of June, his record stood at 6–5, July, 8–8. Then, during the final month and a half of the regular season, Howie became the ace of the Orioles mound corps. During the month of August Howie fashioned a 5–1 W-L record, bringing his season ledger to 13–9. He hurled three complete games, including a 2–0 whitewashing of the Maple Leafs in Toronto on August 9. Then, during the stretch drive for a playoff spot in the first two weeks of September, Howie produced two victories against one defeat. He also saved a game.

Thus, at the conclusion of the regular season, Fox had compiled a 15–10 W-L ledger. The Appendix provides a game-by-game summary of Fox’s slabwork. For comparison, Table 1 presents the final full-season statistics for each of Baltimore’s principal hurlers (i.e., those who pitched 45 or more innings). As can be seen, Howie topped the Baltimore mound staff in wins, innings pitched, and complete games.

 

Table 1. Final Regular-Season Statistics for 1953 Orioles Hurlers with 45 or More Innings Pitched5

Pitcher

G

GS-CG-SHO

W-L (PCT)

IP-H-HR

R-ER

BB-SO

HB-WP

ERA

Tom Herrin

40

3-1-0

8-4 (.667)

95-91-5

41-38

48-42

3-3

2.65

Ken Heintzelman *

37

9-1-1

5-4 (.556)

111-115-5

52-41

35-46

0-1

3.32

Kent Peterson *

22

7-1-0

2-5 (.286)

63-61-5

33-24

24-41

2-1

3.43

John Thompson

25

22-7-2

10-4 (.714)

154-142-16

77-65

50-68

1-2

3.80

Howie Fox

34

29-12-1

15-10 (.600)

204-193-14

95-87

76-90

3-2

3.84

Jack Sanford

32

30-11-0

14-13 (.519)

200-186-11

112-88

110-128

5-9

3.96

Ron Mrozinski *

30

7-3-0

2-5 (.286)

118-124-8

56-52

59-65

1-2

3.97

Bob Greenwood

37

20-4-3

11-12 (.478)

146-141-12

72-66

71-110

2-7

4.07

Dick Starr

37

19-7-2

11-11 (.500)

159-148-18

77-74

69-87

2

4.19

NOTES: (1) An asterisk indicates that the pitcher threw left-handed. (2) The following pitchers had less than 45 innings pitched (with their W-L record in parentheses) — Charles Bowers (1-0); Ben Flowers (3-2); Clarence Marshall (0-1); Lou Possehl (0-1); Vern Taylor (0-0).

 

The 1953 Baltimore Orioles team finished with an 82–72 (.532) record, which ranked fourth and earned them a playoff spot for the International League Championship (aka the Governor’s Cup). In the first round, the O’s squared off against the first-place Rochester Red Wings (97-57, .630). Fox was Baltimore’s starting pitcher in the opening game. He had allowed a solitary run through six frames before running into difficulty in the seventh when, after he had retired the first two batters, he gave up a single to Vern Benson and hit Charley Kress with a pitched ball. Fortunately, Kent Peterson came in to put out the fire by retiring the .346-batting Tom Burgess, thereby preserving the 2–1 Orioles lead. Unfortunately, Peterson was racked for three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and the Flock was shackled with a 2–4 defeat.

Baltimore managed to win three of the next four games to take a 3–1 lead into game five. Fox started that game at home in Memorial Stadium. An O’s victory would clinch the first round and promote them into the second round against the winner of the Montreal-vs.-Buffalo series. Howie pitched scoreless ball through the first three frames. The O’s took a 1–0 lead in the bottom of the third when Fox singled, advanced to second on a walk to John Mayo, and scored on a single to left by Ralph (Putsy) Caballero. But, in the top of the fourth inning Rochester came right back with a pair of runs to gain the advantage. Then, in the fifth, Fox gave up a two-out solo homer to player-manager Harry Walker.

Howie then pitched scoreless ball in the sixth and seventh sessions, keeping the O’s in close striking distance. However, in the eighth Fox and two relievers were mauled. Wally Moon led off with a walk. Benson then scratched a bunt hit trying to sacrifice. The ball could have been handled by either Fox or first baseman Mayo, both hesitating for the other. Howie was derricked at this point and replaced by Heintzelman, who was subsequently replaced by Jack Sanford.

The end result was the Red Wings tallied six runs and wound up winning the game, 9–2. Rochester would win the next two games and the series, four games to three. Baltimore’s 1953 minor league season was finished. Baltimore’s 1954 major league season commenced just a week later.

1954: The “New” Orioles

Howie Fox (TRADING CARD DB)Following the September 29, 1953, announcement that the St. Louis Browns were moving to Baltimore for the 1954 season, Arthur Ehlers, the general manager of the “new” Orioles, began to assemble the spring training roster. On January 16 it was reported that Ehlers “probably will take Howie Fox and Damon Phillips to the major-league Orioles spring base at Yuma, Ariz., next month.”6 And, when the “First Baltimore A.L. Roster in 50 Years” was published in the February 17, 1954, issue of The Sporting News, both Fox and Phillips were on it.7 However, before the completion of the 1954 Cactus League, the Orioles sold Phillips’ contract to the Richmond Virginians.8 When the 1954 Opening Day arrived on April 13, Howie Fox was one of 13 pitchers on the regular-season roster.9 (The complete Opening Day roster is provided in the Appendix.)

Howie’s first mound appearance came on April 17 against the Tigers at Memorial Stadium, in relief of starter Joe Coleman. When he came in to pitch the ninth, “Howie [got] a rousing welcome as he made his first appearance here as a major leaguer.”10 He retired Jim Delsing on a groundout (third baseman Vern Stephens to first baseman Eddie Waitkus), walked Harvey Kuenn, and finished up by getting Ray Boone to ground into a 6-4-3 double play (Billy Hunter to Bobby Young to Waitkus).

For the remainder of the season Howie was used exclusively in relief. Overall he appeared in 38 games with a total of 73.2 innings pitched; he compiled a 1–2 record and a 2–2 SV-BSV ledger. Howie’s two best stretches of relief work were as follows:

  1. The seven games from June 4 through June 19 in which he gave up one run in 11 innings
  2. The six games between June 23 and July 18 in which he pitched shutout ball for 16.1 innings

From June 4 through July 18 he was pretty much lights-out as he gave up only three earned runs in 27.1 innings, affording an ERA of 0.99 for that stretch. However, for the entire 1954 season, Fox’s ERA was 3.67. For comparison, Table 2 lists the pertinent statistics for the four pitchers who were the principal relief hurlers for the 1954 Orioles. (The Appendix provides game-by-game details for Fox’s 38 games.)

Howie achieved his only victory in the May 10 game against the visiting Philadelphia Athletics. The O’s starting pitcher, Don Larsen, was rocked for four runs in the top of the seventh, giving the A’s a 5–3 lead. Larsen was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the seventh and Fox took over the mound duties in the top of the eighth. Howie set down the three men he faced (Lou Limmer, Gus Zernial, and Bill Renna) in 1-2-3 fashion. In the top of the ninth, Howie was nicked for a run which put Philadelphia on top, 6–3. But, the Flock rallied in the bottom of the ninth, tallying four runs to win the game: walks to Clint Courtney and Jim Fridley (batting for Fox) and a single by Bobby Young loaded the bases. Gil Coan’s single batted in Courtney, and Dick Kryhoski’s double plated Fridley and Young. Sam Mele then hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Coan with the game-winning marker.

Although saves were not tracked at the time, Fox picked up his first one in the game on June 12 at Griffith Stadium against the Washington Nationals. He took over for starter Lou Kretlow in the bottom of the ninth with the O’s leading, 7–3. Howie proceeded to retire the first two batters (Tom Umphlett and Ed Fitz Gerald) before walking Wayne Terwilliger. He then struck out Clyde Vollmer to end the game.

The last game that Fox pitched for the 1954 Flock was on September 25 against the White Sox; it was also the final game of the season. Chicago had a 9–0 lead when Howie took the mound to start the top of the eighth. He set the Pale Hose down in order, getting Chico Carrasquel on a popout, Nellie Fox on a flyout, and Minnie Minoso on a groundout. However, in the ninth, Fox was rocked for a pair of tallies — after he had retired the first two batters (Phil Cavarretta and Jim Rivera), Willard Marshall singled and Sherman Lollar doubled, putting runners at third and second. Joe Kirrene then hit a two-run single before Howie got Billy Pierce to ground out to end the inning.

 

Table 2. Final Regular-Season Statistics for 1954 Orioles Hurlers Who Were Principal Relievers

Pitcher

G-GR-GF

W-L (AVE)

SV-BS (AVE)

IP-H-HR

R-ER

BB-SO

HB-WP

ERA

Bob Chakales

38-32-28

3-4 (.429)

4-0 (1.000)

57.1-45-3

18-17

25-30

0-0

2.84

Howie Fox

38-38-23

1-2 (.333)

2-2 (.500)

73.2-80-2

33-30

34-27

2-3

3.67

Marlin Stuart

22-22-19

1-2 (.333)

2-1 (.667)

38.1-46-2

23-19

15-13

2-1

4.46

Mike Blyzka

37-37-17

1-5 (.167)

1-1 (.500)

86.1-83-2

48-45

51-35

0-1

4.69

NOTES: (1) Statistics given in the “SV-BSV (AVE)” column are from the Baseball-Reference website; all other statistics are from the Retrosheet website, and were obtained by summing the numbers given in the Retrosheet Player Daily File (i.e., not from the Player Profile Page). (2) The statistics for Bob Chakales are for his relief appearances only — i.e., the numbers for his games started appearances were not included in summing the numbers given in his Retrosheet Player Daily File. For example, while with Baltimore, his overall W-L record was 3–7; in the games he started his W-L record was 0–3; therefore his W-L as a relief pitcher was 3-4. The same procedure was employed for the statistics in the other columns. (3) The following pitchers also had relief appearances (G-GR-GF): Ryne Duren (1-1-0); Jay Heard (2-2-0); Dave Koslo (3-2-1); Lou Kretlow (32-12-2); Don Larsen (29-1-1); Dick Littlefield (3-3-1); Billy O’Dell (7-5-4).

 

1955: Move to the Missions

The 1954 major league Orioles (54–100) did not fare as well the 1953 minor league Orioles (82–72). The 1954 Flock ended up in seventh place, 57 games behind the AL pennant-winning Cleveland Indians. To deal with this poor-performance issue, one major change was announced prior to the conclusion of the 1954 season — General Manager Ehlers and Field Manager Jimmy Dykes would be replaced by Paul Richards (who relinquished his managership of the White Sox with nine games left).11 There were also many changes in the player roster. Howie Fox, who had played some winter ball with the Caracas Lions in the Venezuelan League after the 1954 campaign ended, signed his 1955 Orioles contract on February 8.12 He was included in the Spring Training Roster published in the 1955 Baltimore Orioles Sketch Book.

But in early March he was assigned to the San Antonio Missions (the O’s AA farm club in the Texas League) as a pitcher-coach to help with the team’s training and then later to go on San Antonio’s roster as a regular hurler.13 Even though Fox had joined the Missions, he was retained on the Baltimore roster until May 3, when he was released by the Orioles. This allowed Fox to accrue the time needed to reach ten-year status as a big leaguer.14 In his San Antonio debut, on May 7 against Shreveport, Howie tossed a four-hitter to defeat the Sports, 6–2.

For his full season with San Antonio Howie appeared in 29 games, ten of which were starting assignments. His W-L record was 3–8 (.273) and his ERA was 3.89 in 104 innings pitched. With their second-place finish, the Missions earned a spot in the playoffs. However, they were eliminated (four games to two) in the first round by Shreveport. Howie pitched in relief in three of the six games without having a decision. He gave up 2 runs (both earned) on six hits in four innings; he walked two batters and struck out one.

Fox’s final game was on September 11; he hurled a scoreless 8th inning in San Antonio’s 11–7 setback to Shreveport in game- five. As it turned out, the 1955 campaign was the final season in Howie Fox’s professional baseball career. Tragically, shortly after the season ended, Howie Fox was murdered on October 9.15

Concluding Remarks

Altogether, in his two seasons with Baltimore, Howie Fox won 16 games and lost 12. He was the ace of the O’s pitching staff in 1953, the team’s last year. He was probably the second-best fireman on the Flock’s relief corps in 1954 and the only man to play for both of those minor league and major league Orioles teams.

HERM KRABBENHOFT, a SABR member since 1981, is a retired research chemist (organic synthesis and polymer chemistry). Over the years his baseball research has been published in Baseball Digest, The Sporting News, Baseball America, Baseball Weekly, and several SABR publications, including The Baseball Research Journal, The National Pastime, By The Numbers, The Inside Game, and Nineteenth Century Notes. He has also described his research in 26 oral presentations at SABR National Conventions. His 2012 BRJ article, “Lou Gehrig’s RBI Record:1923-39,” was selected for inclusion in “SABR 50 at 50: The Society of American Baseball Research’s Fifty Most-Essential Contributions to the Game.” Herm’s recent baseball research endeavors have encompassed five-tool players, quasi-cycles, and day-in/day-out double-duty diamondeers.

 

Acknowledgments

It is a pleasure to express my tremendous gratitude to Cassidy Lent, Research Librarian at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, for graciously providing scans of the “Player Information Cards File” and “Player Clippings File” for Howie Fox, and selected pages from The 1955 Baltimore Orioles Sketch Book and The 1955 Sporting News Dope Book. I also express my grateful thanks to Cliff Blau for his outstanding fact-checking of the information presented in this article.

 

Dedication

I gratefully dedicate this article to my good friend David Newman, a superb baseball researcher who has enthusiastically helped me out numerous times with special trips to the Library of Congress. THANKS so very much, Dave, for your expert collaboration. All the best to you and Carol!

 

Notes

1 J.G. Taylor Spink in collaboration with Paul A. Rickart, Ernest J. Lanigan, and Clifford Kachline, “The Year 1953 in Review,” Baseball Guide and Record Book 1954 (St. Louis, MO: The Sporting News, 1954), 95.

2 Hugh Trader, Jr., “Orioles Retain Pair of Vets, Sell 14 From Team’s International Roster,” The Sporting News, January 27, 1954, 16.

3 While Howie Fox is unique in being the only player from the 1953 minor league Baltimore Orioles to play with the major league Orioles in 1954, there were five other players who had played with the minor league Orioles prior to 1953 and subsequently played with the major league Orioles in 1954 or later: Bob Kuzava, Joe Frazier, Bobby Avila, Bobby Young, and Jim Dyck. The Appendix provides the pertinent information for each of these players.

4 C.M. Gibbs, “Pitcher Wins Contest With Two Men Out — Singles To Score Kearns; Gains Victory in Relief Role,” The Baltimore Sun, May 13, 1953, 21.

5 Statistics compiled by Al Munro, Elias Baseball Bureau, from Baseball Guide and Record Book 1954, 214.

6 Louis M. Hatter, “Richmond Nine Eyes Ex-Birds,” The Baltimore Sun, January 16, 1954, 11.

7 Herb Heft, “Orioles Weak in Pitching? Not in Numbers at Least,” The Sporting News, February 17, 1954, 16.

8 “Deals of the Week,” The Sporting News, April 7, 1954, 28.

9 “Orioles Roster and Playing Records,” The (Baltimore) Evening Sun, April 15, 1954, 58.

10 Ned Burks, “Orioles Bow to Tigers, 1-0,” The Baltimore Sun, April 18, 1954, 29.

11 Ned Burks, “Richards Accepts 3-Year Contract With Orioles,” The Baltimore Sun, September 15, 1954, 17.

12 Bob Maisel, “11 Players Remain Out of Bird Fold … Howie Fox Signs Oriole Contract,” The Baltimore Sun, February 8, 1955, 19.

13 “Fox Sent to San Antonio,” The Evening Sun, March 2, 1955,50. See also related items in The Baltimore Sun, March 3, 1955,21 and The Evening Sun, March 29, 1955, 29.

14 Jesse A. Linthicum, “Bird Seed,” The Sporting News, March 9, 1955,24. See also related items in The Sporting News, May 18, 1955, 32, 34.

15 “Howie Fox, Former Oriole, Stabbed to Death in Texas,” The Baltimore Sun, October 10, 1955, 1.

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