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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Art Howe: Time in perspective

On December 15, 2011, Art Howe will turn 65. That is a fact. It is also a fact that means next to nothing to almost all of you. It means something to me. It is not life changing, but life reflective.

This is Art Howe as the manager of The Oakland A's.

I remember Art Howe, as a rookie, before he was ever even going to make the big show.
Of course, that was a long long time ago.

A very young Art Howe on The Pitsburgh Pirates

Howe signed his first playing contract at age 24, with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971. He came to the major leagues as a part-time player with Pittsburgh in 1974–75, before a trade to the Astros in 1976. He played all four infield positions, mostly as a third baseman and second baseman, for Houston from 1976–82. In 1980, he suffered a fractured jaw when hit by a pitch from Expos pitcher Scott Sanderson. After missing the entire 1983 season with an injury, he finished his playing career with the St. Louis Cardinals (1984–85).

Art Howe on The Houston Astros 1978

On the weekend, I saw Moneyball. Great movie that really captured a lot of aspects of what goes on in baseball and the culture that needed to be changed. That is not the focus of this blog, but it got my thinking and talking about the topic I will blog on.

As the years roll by, many familiar names pop up in the world of sports. To me, most of them remind me of times way in the past, where I was in a different time and place. Art Howe reminds me of my youth, the early 1970's, when baseball, and more specifically The Montreal Expos, were my life.
Last year both my parents passed away. I have spoken at length about my mothers passing in many blogs, but not that much about my father. Most of the stories about my father have centered on the crazy things he did in his life.
But my father also knew how to have good clean fun. He loved sports, and baseball in particular. It was the one thing we always did together. We both loved watching baseball, and when I was much younger we would always play catch in the backyard. I remember he could throw super high pop ups for me to catch.
Most kids my age could not catch those pop ups. I could. Part of that I guess was the amount of times we did it.
Back in the early days when Art Howe was a rookie, there were many old timers at the end of their run in professional sports. They really meant very little to me, just as Art Howe as a player meant very little to this current generation. To them, he was an old manager who looked his age.
In the early days of The Expos, they had many players of that type come through town. Two stick out in my mind.

1969 Montreal Expos

First, there was Maury Wills. Wills was a very successful all star who was clearly on his last legs as The Expos were an expansion team in 1969. I was four that year, and really had no idea who Maury Wills was.

Maury Wills as an Expo

Of course my dad, who was in his mid thirties then, knew of him very well.
We grew up in Montreal, and when my father was a young child like I was at that time Maury Wills played for the Dodgers. In those days, The Dodgers meant the Brooklyn Dodgers. Later they would go on to become the Los Angeles Dodgers. While they were in Brooklyn, the Dodgers minor league team was The Montreal Royals. Many great players of the day, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax and all the Dodger greats played in Montreal. To a guy like my father, Maury Wills would bring back memories.

The legendary Jackie Robinson as a Montreal Royal with famous manager Leo Deroucher

Before he was a big time actor on The Rifleman, Chuck Connors was a professional baseball player.

The second player to make a lasting impression was Ron Fairly.
Ron Fairly was an old player when he became part of The Expos in 1969. He had been around more than 10 years. However, unlike Wills, he was still a very productive player, a star, and lasted 4 or 5 very good years with The Expos. In my fathers eyes he was much more than just a Montreal Expo. To me, that is all he was. I was too young to have those memories.
When we moved to Toronto from Montreal in 1977 Ron Fairly's career was near the end. He was still productive, but not a star anymore. The Toronto Blue Jays were just an expansion team that year and again Ron Fairly showed up and became a star on that team. Another time marked in history for me, for various reasons.
Ron Fairly as a Toronto Blue Jay

In life, we all go through stages and carry memories with us. For each person, based on their age, the time and the perspective they have, those lasting memories will be different.
A younger Ron Fairly as a Dodger

A somewhat older Ron Fairly as a Montreal Expo

For me, Art Howe will always be that rookie who started out with The Pirates and was a very good player on The Astros who always seemed to play well against The Expos. I don't see him as the old guy who managed several teams in the Major Leagues. The character they portray him as in Moneyball is not how I will ever view him. That is an image for a younger generation who didn't live the life I lived.
I will end on this note. In high school I remember a kid named Paul Zammitt. He was a loud mouth, pimple faced obnoxious punk most of the time. As time passed, he grew up and grew out of that. He is now a very successful real estate agent in my town. I met him once at a bar about 15 years ago, and of course he was nothing like he was in high school. I realize that. But no matter what he does now, I will always remember that kid in high school and how he was then. Our early impressions leave a lasting impression.
A much older Paul Zammit. In high school he was pimple faced and had a big brown afro.

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