Dick Howser, the only manager to guide the Royals to a World Series title

The Ghost of Dick Howser

Many baseball teams are haunted by a curse.  Probably the most famous is the Curse of the Bambino which was finally lifted in 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series.  Some fans will tell you the Chicago Cubs curse of the Billy Goat has prevented them from winning a series since the team was hexed in 1945.  The curse of the Black Sox scandal haunted the White Sox for 86 years until they won the World Series in 2005.

I don’t necessarily believe in curses, but I do believe in the power of suggestion and the influence of self-fulfilling prophecies.  I’m convinced that if something is repeated enough times, by enough people, it will eventually be accepted as fact.  No doubt you’ve heard about troubled kids, always told they were worthless by their loser parents, who grow up with a myriad of problems and challenges because they never received any positive reinforcement.  Curses can impact how an individual or team sees themselves and can become a powerful influence on the outcome of their efforts.

Today, I’d like to suggest a “reverse curse” that will complete an unfulfilled dream and cleanse the demons from Kauffman stadium.  A reverse curse that will have a positive influence on the behavior of the players and our outlook on the team.  The Royals must free the Ghost of Dick Howser, and there’s only one way to do it.

You may not be old enough to remember Dick Howser, but if you’re a Royals fan no doubt you’ve heard of him.  Howser’s number 10 was the first Royals number to be retired, and it’s proudly displayed on the Royals Hall of Fame between George Brett’s number 5 and Frank White’s number 20.  Howser’s statue stands silently and humbly along the outfield concourse inside Kauffman Stadium, poised as if on the dugout steps, watching his team play ball.

Prior to coming to Kansas City, Howser was an average major leaguer who played parts of 8 rather unremarkable seasons in the bigs.  In 1964 with the Indians he led the majors with 736 plate appearances and 16 sacrifices.  These stats, along with his All-Star selection and 2nd place vote as a Rookie of the Year candidate in 1961 serve as his brushes with greatness when he was in uniform.

Although he was known as a rather quiet person, Howser became a folk hero to many who loathed George Steinbrenner by famously hanging up on him during a press conference.  “I’m busy” he told The Boss as he slammed the phone down.

Moving from New York to manage Kansas City in 1981, he was quickly embraced by the town who had rooted against him just one season earlier.  During Howser’s four full years as a Royals Manager, the team never finished below 2nd place, twice playing in the American League championship, and winning all the marbles in 1985.  The Royals have never finished above 2nd place in the 27 years since Dick was forced to step down.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the 1986 All Star game when Dick was chosen to manage the American League players by virtue of his World Series victory the previous year.  Howser became confused about the players, sent strange signs to the bullpen, and seemed disoriented.  It was the last professional game he would ever manage as later that same week he was discovered to be suffering from brain cancer.

However, that’s not the end of Dick’s story, which is why we’re talking about him.  After enduring months of rigorous and body ravaging treatments, Dick Howser attempted an improbable comeback the following year.  He wasn’t in any condition to work, but his drive and determination and love of the game compelled him to return to the field during Spring Training of 1987.  But after just one day, even Howser knew he no longer had the stamina required to manage the team.  On June 17, 1987, only four months after his attempted comeback, Dick Howser passed away from complications of his brain tumor.

The memory of Dick Howser embodies the spirit of middle America and the fans of the Kansas City Royals.  No matter how imposing the odds that are stacked against us, we don’t give up.  We wake up when the sun rises, we fight our way through traffic, we put in 40+ hours of hard work for our employers, we live with integrity and honor because it’s the right thing to do and we believe we are making a better world for our children.  And every year, no matter how low the team’s payroll or how long the odds of success, we still hope and believe that this could be the year our Royals go all the way.  We have faith that if you pay your dues and persevere, good things will eventually happen.

Dick attempted to make a comeback, an improbably return that would have inspired books and movies had his story played out in New York rather than Kansas City.  He tried to show all of us that you can’t give up, not matter what the odds you must believe in yourself, your city, and your team and you must live life to the fullest, with all your might, so that all men will know you did your very best.

I’d like to suggest that Dick Howser’s ghost remains in Kauffman today, as a reflection of his statue, standing on the dugout steps, watching his team and hoping they will play the way he taught them.  Although he won a championship in 1985, the only championship in the history of the Royals, that wasn’t enough for him.  He believed he had more to give and he set an example for all of us in all aspects of our lives.

You may think the 2012 season is lost and there’s nothing worth fighting for in September, but that isn’t true.  The Royals need to play the way Dick Howser taught them, with all their might, down to the last pitch of the last inning of the last game, no matter how bleak this season’s outcome might be.  Follow his example and I’m confident it will only be another year or two, or maybe three, before the Royals return to the big stage in October and free Dick Howser’s ghost, chasing the demons from Kauffman stadium.

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