Most people would love to be portrayed by an Oscar winning actor in a critically acclaimed high profile movie. But Art Howe was not exactly thrilled how Hollywood immortalized him. And to be fair, I don’t blame him.
I am not saying that Art Howe was the greatest manager since Earl Weaver. But he was portrayed by the brilliant Phillip Seymour Hoffman as an emasculated, chubby, stubborn and not too bright company man in Moneyball.
He probably had a right to gripe.
First of, Art is not a chubby guy. He is a tall man’s man. Physically, Bruce Willis probably would have been a more apt choice. In fact it would have been a nice 12 Monkeys reunion for Willis and Pitt.
The Pittsburgh native was signed by the Pirates out of the University of Wyoming. He played parts of the 1974 and 1975 seasons with the Pirates, even getting an at bat in the 1974 NLCS.
But it was his trade to Houston that kick started his career. He played all over the field n Houston, bouncing from second to third and sometimes even shortstop. By the time the Astros were winning the 1980 NL West, Howe was filling in nicely around the infield.
In Game 4 of the 1980 NLCS, Howe doubled and later drove in a run. The Astros could have clinched the pennant with a win in Game 4. Instead Howe made the final out in the 10th. The Phillies would go on to wiin.
In the split season of 1981, Howe got some MVP consideration in his best year. He would miss the entire 1983 season due to injuries. He resurfaced with the Cardinals but was let go early in 1985.
Howe then began working up the coaches ladder. He was part of Bobby Valentine’s coaching staff with the Rangers. He would take over the Houston Astros in the early 1990’s before replacing Tony LaRussa in Oakland after he departed for St. Louis before the 1996 season.
Howe took over an A’s team that was in ruins, the superstars had departed and the trips to the post season had dried up. What was left was a sloppy mix of aging veterans and busts from the draft and Dave Magadan.
Jose Canseco returned for a season but Mark McGwire was dealt for virtually no return. Rickey Henderson made another cameo but the team played uninspired losing ball in 1996, 1997 and 1998. By 1999, the team was a Wild Card contender and had a nice core of young players.
In 2000, the stunned the Mariners on the final day of the season for the AL West crown. The A’s lost the Division Series to the Yankees but Oakland was a playoff team again.
The A’s won 102 games in 2001 and took the first 2 games at Yankee Stadium in the Division Series, looking like they were on the verge of surpassing the 3 time defending World Champs and staging an all West ALCS with the Mariners. Then the Jeter flip, the Giambi non slide and next thing you know Billy Beane is alone in the Colesium turning on and off his radio.
Now if you have seen Moneyball, you know that a bunch of superstars left the A’s after the 2001 season, the team filled in the cracks with some no names, Beane and Howe clashed, the team had a wild 20 game winning streak capped by a dramatic Scott Hatteberg homer, they won more games without the stars than with the stars but once again failed to advance.
That much we know.
The movie also didn’t mention some other things. First of all the MVP of the AL was Miguel Tejada and the Cy Young winner was Barry Zito. Both of them were reduced to background figures in the movie.
Beane and Howe fought over Carlos Pena, who Howe wanted to use at first while Beane favored the Sabermetric favorite Scott Hatteberg. To prove his point, Beane dealt Pena despite putting up All Star numbers to force Hatteberg into the lineup. Howe resented Hatteberg as a Beane project and would not play him.
But in reality, Pena started hot but cooled off to the point where he was sent back to the minors. And Howe and Hatteberg had a solid relationship where he was supportive of him.
The movie is told through Beane’s eyes as someone who wants to challenge the old way of thinking. And as a movie, it is a good movie. But it weakens the power of the movie to reduce a baseball lifer to a bumbling fool and fudging the facts to make Pitt look better (as if that is possible.)
Howe left the A’s after the Moneyball season and cashed in with the Mets. The A’s continued to win, making the post season in 2003 and 2006 with new manager Ken Macha and actually making it to the ALCS in 2006.
The time in New York was not a happy era for Howe. Freed of the Beane shadow, he failed to win in Queens and in a humiliating episode, his firing was leaked to the media before he learned of it.
Howe, respected in places not known as the East Bay and Flushing Queens continued to coach, joining the Phillies staff and the Rangers.
Was he someone who was a little too traditional for a new way of thinking? Perhaps. Did he manage a low budget team to the post season 3 straight years? That much is certain.
So remember the lifer more than the bubbling fool in the movie. Art deserves that much respect.
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