Biloxi Shuckers

Jim Howarth reflects on career with San Francisco Giants

 Jim Howarth looks at his display at Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art Friday with wife Gloria (middle) and daughter Jennifer. The former Giant was the speaker at the noon luncheon for the "Our Love Affair with Baseball" series.
VETO ROLEY/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD Jim Howarth looks at his display at Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art Friday with wife Gloria (middle) and daughter Jennifer. The former Giant was the speaker at the noon luncheon for the "Our Love Affair with Baseball" series.

BILOXI -- Baseball is a good training ground for business says Jim Howarth, who played parts of four seasons for the San Francisco Giants and spent over 40 years in banking before retiring as senior vice president with Hancock Bank.

Howarth spoke at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art's "Our Love Affair with Baseball" noon luncheon Friday. Next week, former Negro League pitcher Dick "Lefty" O'Neal will speak at the luncheon. O'Neal played for the Biloxi Dodgers, joining the team while stationed at Keesler Air Force Base.

Howarth was drafted by the Giants in the eighth round in 1968 after leading Mississippi State in hits in 1967 and 1968. He also started in banking the same year.

"You couldn't live off your baseball salary," he said. "You had to have another job in the offseason."

At that time, Howarth said, baseball players were tied to their teams by the reserve clause. The reserve clause helped keep player salaries down as they could not move from team to team through free agency as they do today.

In addition to teams controlling where players could go, there was no stability in the game. Apart from the stars, Howarth said players were signed to one year contracts. If a player had a bad season, then he could be cut from the team with no hope of making another team.

In 1969, two years before Howarth would play his first game in San Francisco, National League power St. Louis attempted to trade outfielder Curt Flood to the then lowly Philadelphia Phillies. Flood, a 12-year veteran, refused to go to Philadelphia, citing their history of losing, a bad stadium, and loud, racist fans and requested Major League Baseball declare him a free agent. When Commissioner Bowie Kuhn declined his request, Flood, with the backing of the Players Union, filed suit against baseball. Flood's challenge reached the Supreme Court where, in 1972, a 5-3 vote ruled against him.

Flood would never play for Philadelphia as the Phillies traded him to Washington in 1971 and he retired from baseball after a year with the Senators. However, his action started baseball down the road to free agency and the abolishment of the reserve clause.

Howarth, who played for four years before retiring in 1974 after a knee injury said the elimination of the reserve clause might have kept him in the game, not only due to the higher salaries players earned in free agency but also due to the chance of playing for an American League team.

"I was an American League player," he said, noting that National League teams, like the Giants, played in generally larger ballparks with faster surfaces such as artificial turf. American League teams, on the other hand, played in smaller parks with grass fields that resulted in a generally slower game.

The National League game, Howarth noted, "wasn't my forte. I wasn't fast. I was quick, but I wasn't fast. I would have wanted the chance to play for an American League chance."

Howarth was also not satisfied with his role with the Giants. An everyday player in the minors, Howarth made his first Major League appearance in 1971 after hitting .363 in 110 games at Phoenix.

After getting 13 at-bats in 1971, Howarth played the full season in 1972, quickly picking up a reputation as a solid pinch hitter. In 1972, Howarth was 19-for-70 as a pinch hitter, a .271 average, and led the league in pinch hits in 1973 with 13.

"After you get used to playing every day, it's tough to sitting on the bench never knowing when you are going to play," he said.

However, it was finances that resulted in Howarth's retirement. After his knee injury, Howarth tried to play his way back to the Majors, playing for the Giants AAA team in Phoenix. However, he struggled in his comeback, hitting only .242 in 51 games.

"I was honest with myself," Howarth said. "I knew I was not a great ballplayer."

Howarth said he was working for Bank of America in the off-season and they offered him a full-time position if he would quit baseball. Struggling to regain his form and with no long-term stability and low salaries in baseball, Howarth decided to retire. He said he doesn't know if free agency was available in the mid-70s if he would have retired, but added that he has no regrets about making the decision he made.

And he said baseball helped him be successful in business through developing communication skills to play effectively with other players, being a professional at all times, and getting along with players speaking all languages and coming from different national, educational, and religious backgrounds. Baseball is also a goal-oriented, results-driven game, which, he said, fits in well with business.

"I wasn't the fastest player out there," he said. "But, I knew the game and I knew the fundamentals."

The same skills -- knowing the game and the fundamentals of the business -- assisted him in his business career, he said.