Howsam, former Reds GM, Broncos founder, dies at 89

DENVER -- Bob Howsam, the man who gave baseball its Big Red Machine and gave Denver its beloved Broncos, died Tuesday in Sun City, Ariz. He was 89.

Howsam had been having heart problems, said his son, Robert Howsam of Colorado Springs.

Howsam's career bridged two sports and several leagues, and even his short-time jobs produced success: Between co-founding the Broncos in 1959 and joining the Reds in 1967, he was general manager of the
St. Louis Cardinals when they won the 1964 World Series over the
New York Yankees.

He built a reputation as a visionary who pioneered the use of film to hone a hitter's swing, expanded the use of artificial turf and orchestrated blockbuster trades -- such as the one that brought Joe Morgan to the Reds in 1971.

But his guiding principle was that the fans came first, his son said.

"He loved the fans. They made his life," the son said.

A Denver native, Howsam started his sports career in 1947 as owner of the Denver Bears of the Single-A Western League, later taking the team to Triple-A as a New York Yankees affiliate, his son said.

Howsam spearheaded the construction of Bears Stadium, which would later be expanded to become Mile High Stadium, the Broncos' first permanent home.

Howsam helped found the American Football League in 1959 and was principal owner of the Broncos. His co-owners included his brother, Lee.

"Without Bob Howsam, the Broncos would not exist, that's all there is to it," Broncos spokesman Jim Saccomano said.

The new team struggled, going 4-9-1 in the inaugural 1960 season and 3-11 in the next. The Howsams sold the Broncos in 1961, but the franchise went on to become an enormous draw in Denver, routinely selling out home games.

Howsam landed with the Cardinals in 1964 and was instrumental in the trade that brought Orlando Cepeda to St. Louis early in the 1966 season. Howsam had left for Cincinnati when Cepeda helped the Cardinals win the 1967 World Series and the 1968 pennant.

In Cincinnati, Howsam is credited with building the Big Red Machine, one of the most dominating teams in baseball history.

Led by future Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Morgan, and spurred by Pete Rose, the Big Red Machine won back-to-back World Series in 1975-76. They also captured four NL pennants and won six division titles in the 1970s.

"He put together an organization that became the model for all of baseball," said Bob Castellini, the Reds president and chief executive officer.

"From what I've seen, I think the Big Red Machine could have been the greatest ballclub ever," Howsam said in a 2004 interview. "I know the Yankees compared in the 1920s. We had such great balance."

Howsam had to win over the players union and then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn to install wall-to-wall artificial turf at the new Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.

Turf had been introduced in Houston at the Astrodome, but under Howsam's design, the only dirt in the infield was in cutouts around the bases.

Howsam also pioneered the use of film to help hitters improve, his son said. He would film them in hot streaks and in slumps so they could see the difference in their mechanics.

Howsam later was a member of the Colorado Baseball Commission, which helped bring the Rockies and major league baseball to Denver.

Howsam was nominated for the Hall of Fame in the executives/pioneers category last year but fell short of the 75 percent of votes required for admission.

Robert Howsam said his father lived in a retirement home in Sun City with his wife, Janet Howsam. He would have turned 90 later this month.

He was still innovating, his son said, trying to convince the home to install solar panels to turn Phoenix's plentiful sunshine into an emergency backup power supply.