Jack Howell was a top prospect for which expectations were sky high that he would become an elite player.
He did become an elite player, a superstar and an MVP. Just not in America.
A native of Tuscon, he went to college at the University of Arizona. He was undrafted in 1983 and signed with the California Angels. I hope Rick Ingalls, the scout that signed him, got a bonus. Undrafted players seldom become solid big leaguers.
The left handed hitting third baseman played 21 games for Salem after signing in 1983 and batted .395 with an OPS of 1.176. A small sample size to be sure but it earned him a prolonged look in 1984 with the California League. He improved his sloppy defense but did not hit for much power in his second minor league season.
In 1985, the Angels had him skip Double A and go right to Triple A Edmonton. He was ready. In 336 plate appearances, he batted .373, had an OPS of 1.079 and added 13 homers to his arsenal.
He also spent 43 games in Anaheim with the parent club, playing on a team loaded with stars like Reggie Jackson, Doug DeCinces, Bobby Grich and Rod Carew.
As the Angels went on to win the 1986 AL West, Howell again split his time between Triple A and with the Angels. DeCinces was still a key part of the team and the emergence of Wally Joyner prevented Howell from being a left handed hitting option at first base.
He continued to pummel Triple A pitching, batting .359 in 44 games and having an OPS of 1.054. Today he probably would have been trade bait to shore up the team and their playoff hopes. But the team saw him as the heir to DeCinces, who did not have many years left.
Howell was a non factor in the playoffs, getting a pair of pinch hit at bats in the Game 6 and 7 blowout losses to Boston.
The stage was set for 1987. Third base was Howell’s to lose. DeCinces was still with the team but Howell found playing time at second and in the outfield to make room for both. Eventually DeCinces was released and signed by the Cardinals.
Howell hit 23 homers and slugged .461. It wasn’t a superstar year but it was a solid full season for the 25 year old. He also hit a home run with a broken bat, becoming a poster child of people calling the ball juiced.
He played 154 games in 1988 but his production went down nearly across the board. The effects of a thumb injury hampered him.
In 1989, he hit 20 homers again but virtually nothing else went right. In 1990, he found himself briefly back in Triple A. Howell was not becoming the top producer that his minor league numbers promised.
When the Angels signed Gary Gaetti, the writing was on the wall. If third base was his to lose, he lost it. midway through the 1991 season, he was traded to the Padres for yet another prospect who had issues putting it all together, Shawn Abner.
To be fair, Abner was a Number 1 overall pick and Howell was an overachieving undrafted free agent, so their expectations should not have been the same.
He did not fare well in San Diego and in 1992, Howell found himself in Japan playing for the Yakult Swallows. Oddly it was Doug DeCinces, the man whose job he took in Anaheim, that suggested the move.
There he thrived. He was the 1992 Central League batting champion, led the league in slugging and hit 38 homers in 113 games. Howell became the first non Japanese player to win the MVP in the Japan League. Plus me made millions of dollars as well.
Howell returned to Japan for 1993 and hit 28 more homers and made the All Star team, hitting for the cycle in a game. Yakult would win the Japan Series in 7 games.
He spent 1994 with Yakult and 1995 with the Yomiuri Giants, missing all the work stoppage nonsense in America.
In 1996, he returned to America and played 66 games with the Angels (their final year as the California Angels before becoming the Anaheim Angels).
He became a part time player with the Astros and played on the 1998 and 1999 Division Winners. He would eventually return home to Arizona where he served as a hitting coach for the Diamondbacks.
So he did it all. Jack Howell became a millionaire, an MVP and a champion at baseball. So what if it wasn’t in America?