Royals Manager Dick Howser’s Brain Tumor and Death in 1987

Howser managed his last game as the A.L. skipper for the 1986 All-Star game on July 15. Two months later, in mid-September, an AP story said:

Kansas City Royals manager Dick Howser, who is battling a malignant brain tumor, has faith that he’ll be in Florida for spring training and will be managing the team April 6, 1987 when the Royals’ face the Chicago White Sox in a season opener.

”I know it’s a day-to-day situation, but I’m optimistic. I have a lot of faith in The Lord,” Howser said in an interview published in Monday’s Kansas City Times. “The medical team here is fantastic. I’m starting to gain weight.”

Howser managed the American League to a victory in the All-Star game July 15, and two days later, doctors diagnosed his brain tumor. One week after the All-Star win, surgeons removed part of a cancerous tumor from the left frontal lobe of his brain.

HOWSER, WHO has received thousands of cards and well wishes from fans across the United States, plus Japan and Europe, took radiation treatments twice a day for five weeks. Now, he awaits doctor’s orders for the next step in treatment. ”I’m not going to say it’s been easy,” said Howser, who except for hair and weight loss, appears much as he did before the operation. “I’ve had days when I’ve been depressed. But right now, I feel great. My plans are to manage the Royals in 1987.”

Of course, it didn’t happen. Howser made an effort in spring training, but on February 24, the Wichita Eagle headlined this story “ILL HEALTH COMPELS HOWSER TO RESIGN”:

Dick Howser decided his life was more important than baseball and resigned Monday as manager of the Kansas City Royals.

“I can’t fight cancer and do my job at the same time,” said Howser, who has undergone two operations since a malignant tumor was discovered in his brain in July. I thought I could, but I can’t.”

Howser announced his decision at a noon news conference at Terry Park in Fort Myers, Fla., site of the Royals’ spring training camp.

Billy Gardner, hired this winter as the Royals’ third-base coach, will become the manager, Royals general manager John Schuerholz said. Howser will continue to work for the Royals on a part-time basis, although those duties won’t be determined until later this week.

“It’s regretful to see a man of Dick’s stature after all his contributions to our organization and to the game have to step aside,” said Schuerholz. It’s sorrowful, really.

“But we know full well it’s best for him to get healed and on his terms. He needs to be under less stress and pressure to get it done.”

After severe headaches and a stiff neck developed while he was managing at the All-Star game in July, it was discovered that Howser had a tumor in his brain.

Howser’s decision came just three days after pitchers and catchers reported to the Royals’ spring training camp.

On the first day of practice Saturday with the temperatures in the low 80s, Howser was on the field almost three hours and at the ballpark six hours.

Then Sunday, he didn’t come onto the field until 10:30 a.m., a half hour after the team began practicing. He returned to his office in the clubhouse about noon, and left the park at 1:30 p.m.

“I think what got to me was the heat,” Howser said in the news conference. It’s not really devastating. It’s just that I need more time to rest.

“I can’t do it like this.”

Monday morning, Howser was on the Royals’ bench at the ballpark for about an hour before leaving.

“My mind had been made up,” said Howser. I wouldn’t have walked off the field that way if my mind hadn’t been made up. I knew when I went back to the training room it was over.

“I’ve been pushing and pushing since the first operation in Kansas City and the second operation in Los Angeles. I’m going to be putting on the uniform part time. I’ll do whatever they want me to do part time.”

Howser never, to my knowledge, appeared on a major league field again. In mid-June 1987, the Wichita Eagle reported his death:

To Dick Howser, the only thing more important than winning was giving the other guy a good fight.

“At least,” the former manager of the Kansas City Royals once said, “I can scratch him up a little.”

The scratching and fighting are over for Howser. His nearly yearlong battle with brain cancer has ended. The man who brought the Royals a World Series title died Wednesday at a Kansas City hospital. He was 51.

“This is a sad day for baseball. Dick Howser was one of the great men of our game,” said baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

“It’s merciful,” said Royals general manager John Schuerholz. “His suffering has finally ended. It tears you up inside to see a man with so much fight, so much love for life fade like he has these last two weeks.”

Howser most recently had been hospitalized since June 3, and Kansas City third baseman George Brett said, “You figured it was a matter of time. But when it hits you, it’s still a bomb. He was a terrific manager. He was an even better person.”

WHILE MANAGING the Yankees, he didn’t even back off from George Steinbrenner. The New York owner ordered Howser to fire third-base coach Mike Ferraro following the team’s American League playoff loss to the Royals in 1980.

But Howser said if Ferraro had to go, so would he. Steinbrenner accommodated him.

“If you don’t stand up for what you believe in,” Howser said later, “then you’re not living. You’re just existing.”

Ferraro, who later joined Howser as his third-base coach in Kansas City, broke down and cried when he learned of Howser’s cancer.

Howser refused to indulge in self-pity. “We are all going to die,” he said last winter, “and we don’t like it. People are always talking about tomorrow, but there’s no guarantee tomorrow will get here. You fight today and hope tomorrow gets better.”

HOWSER SEEMED to instill that fight in his players. Taking over the Royals after the players’ strike in 1981, he took Kansas City to two division titles and the World Series championship in 1985.

Seldom has a team so imitated the spirit of its leader as did the Royals in ’85. Down three games to one in both the American League playoffs and the World Series, Kansas City came back on Toronto and St. Louis to win both.

“He was a man of pride and integrity and he battled cancer with the same fervor he battled the opposition, with an aggressive spirit he exemplified both as a player and as a manager,” said Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Our best word to describe Dick is class.’ He will be sorely missed by baseball and the country. . . . .”

Actor Burt Reynolds, Howser’s classmate at Florida State University and a longtime personal friend, called him “a gentleman with a tremendous heart. Dick Howser has been my friend since seventh grade. . . . I’ll remember him as not only one of the best athletes I ever knew, but also as one of the best friends.”

Lou Piniella said of Howser: “In addition to being a close personal friend, he taught me a great deal about the game of baseball. Some of the things I have learned from him have helped me develop my managerial skills and I am grateful for all that he did for me, first as teammates with the Yankees and then when we were in opposite dugouts.

“More important, though, Dick showed me what it meant to be a professional. He was a man of dignity and character who was respected by all who came to know him. . . . I know I will miss him for all he has done for me professionally, but even more for all he has done for me as a friend.”

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 7:20 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Although I was 16 and living in St. Louis during the 1985 World Series, I still cheered for my lifetime favorite KC Royals. When Dick Howser was diagnosed with cancer, I sent him a “get well” card. About a month later, I received a thank you card in the mail that was signed by Howser himself, and his wife.
    Almost 30 years later, I still display that card prominently in my personal office. Rest in peace Mr. Howser and God bless your spirit!

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