Q&A: Howe reflects on his 7 trips to the postseason

September 24th, 2016
Art Howe made seven trips to the postseason during his 33 seasons as a player, scout, coach and manager in the Major Leagues. (AP)

Art Howe came out of the University of Wyoming figuring his dreams of becoming a professional athlete weren't going to come true. He returned home to Pittsburgh, went to work and played baseball in weekend leagues for the fun of it.

Then, at the age of 24, a Pirates scout saw enough of Howe to offer him a contract, and his dream came true.

Howe spent the next 33 years as a player, scout, coach and manager, and was able to take part in the postseason seven times -- as a player with the Pirates (1974) and Astros ('80, '81), a coach with the Rockies ('95) and as a manager with the A's (2000, '01 and '02).

Howe reminisces about those opportunities in this week's Q&A:

MLB.com: Is the last week of September different than the rest of the year?

Howe: If you're fighting for the postseason, it's like you're in the postseason. Every game's vital -- and don't let any manager fool you or kid that he's managing every game to win no matter what and everybody's on call. You manage differently because you might have a starter out there throwing a shutout and, all of a sudden in the fifth inning, it's 0-0 and he gets a couple guys on, you're going to the bullpen. Whereas in the regular season, you're going to let him pitch through that jam or give up a couple runs, whatever. You can't afford to give up anything when you're fighting, when you're trying to get to the postseason. It's exciting times. I'm enjoying watching this year, especially the American League Wild Card chase. ... Going into the weekend, there were six teams in contention for those two spots.

MLB.com: You were a late callup by the Pirates as a rookie in 1974, but got to experience your first postseason [that year].

Howe: We got to play the Dodgers in the postseason. I actually got an at-bat, grounded out to short, but got my feet wet in the postseason. It's so exciting to be one of the few teams playing in October, you've had a heck of a season and you got an opportunity to fulfill a dream -- and that's to win a World Series. I never fulfilled that dream, but I was in the postseason seven different times -- three as a player, one as a coach and three as a manager. There's nothing like it. It's like you're walking on air.

MLB.com: In the 1980 playoffs with the Astros, four of the five games with the Phillies in the National League Championship Series went extra innings. Lingering memories?

Howe: Vern Ruhle was pitching in Game 4. The Phillies had a couple of guys on in the fourth, and then came the only ruling on the field that the Commissioner made from the stands. Gary Maddox hit a jam job back toward Vern on the mound. To this day, no one knows whether he caught the ball in the air or not. I was playing first base, and I'd have to go on the books as saying he trapped the ball. [Umpire] Doug Harvey was behind home [plate]. He called it out on a line drive, but both runners took off. Vern threw it to me and I stepped on first, so basically that was a double play. Bake McBride, who had been on second, was standing on third base. I could have very easily just threw it to second for the triple play, but I wasn't going to risk throwing the ball into left field. I just ran the ball all the way to second, stepped on second, they called an out there. It was supposed to be a triple play. The inning was over.

We came off the field and then the umpires got together and they went over to the stands to talk to the Commissioner, who was sitting in the stands. Bowie Kuhn made the ruling that it was a double play, because the guy on third could have gotten back if he had known that Vern caught the ball and the out was called -- which is a bunch of baloney because I would have thrown the ball then if he was trying to get back. He wasn't trying to get back, so I just ran it down there and stepped on second. They called it a double play.

MLB.com: Even with all that, the Astros seemed to be in good shape in Game 5.

Howe: We had Nolan Ryan on the mound in the eighth inning. He was basically unbeatable in his career at that time with a lead after the seventh. And, in five pitches, the Phillies had bases loaded with nobody out on their way to a five-run inning, cutting our lead to, 7-5. My old roomie, Greg Gross, was right in the middle of that darn thing. ... He was the third hitter in the inning, dropped [a perfect bunt down the third-base line to load the bases]. Larry Bowa led off the inning with a single and then Bob Boone, who couldn't run a lick, hits a chopper back up the middle. We're cheating for the double play. It was a jam shot, one-hopper to Nolan's right. If Nolan leaves the ball alone, our shortstop, Craig Reynolds, is right there at the bag for a double play. But Nolan reached out, tipped the ball and it just rolled behind the bag. Then, Gross drops down the bunt and now Pete Rose and the boys are coming up.

MLB.com: Then, in 1981, you guys win the first two games at home and can't finish the Dodgers off.

Howe: That was devastating, because we thought, "Finally, we're going to get to the promised land," and it just didn't happen again. We had great pitching on our club. We had lost J.R. [Richard] the year before. If we had had J.R. in our rotation those two years, I'm wearing a couple rings, I guarantee you. The Dodgers had that special pitching, and that was Fernando's year. They just shut us down. Two runs in three games at Dodger Stadium.

MLB.com: Then came 1995, the strike-shortened season, and you were a coach with the Rockies, who made it to the postseason in a record-setting third year of existence.

Howe: We had an outstanding hitting ballclub, but our pitching was a little on the thin side. That was before the humidor at Coors Field. Don Baylor was the manager, and I remember him saying that if the other club scored two runs in the top of the first, we were ahead, because had the Blake Street Bombers coming up. But it was a great year. It was the first year of Coors Field and we sold the park out every single game.

MLB.com: And then came your managerial tenure in Oakland, where you took the A's to the postseason in the final three years.

Howe: We just had to start from scratch. But in the fourth year, the rewards were visible -- and the next three years, we played in October. We ended up with a pretty good rotation, with , Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. We had a heck of a ballclub with Jason Giambi at first, Eric Chavez at third, and at short.

MLB.com: All three years, you go five games in a best-of-five series and lose.

Howe: Heartbreaking, to say the least. In 2001, there was the flip by [Derek] Jeter where Jeremy Giambi is trying to score from first. That will go down in the annals as one of the biggest plays in postseason history. It seemed like one thing would happen that kept us from advancing.

MLB.com: The year before, Hudson beat Texas, 3-0, in that final game of the regular season to advance.

Howe: In the seventh inning, it was still 0-0. In the bottom of the seventh, Huddy comes in and says, "Just give me one run, guys. That's all I need." That was awesome. Randy Velarde goes up and hits a home run. It was a great team. You have a pitcher come in there and just yell it to the guys, "Get me one. That's all I want." Then, we scored two more in the eighth. That was a bonus.

MLB.com: And then comes 2002, and the Twins.

Howe: It was a rewarding time in Oakland, but there was the disappointment. Your goal isn't to get to the postseason. The goal is to win the World Series. You go home feeling you came up short.