California Angels Alum Jack Howell has now come back home to serve as manager of Single-A Burlington
By David Rice
When Jack Howell came up with the California Angels in 1985 it was during the franchise’s most successful period. Howell played 3rd base and left field on the 1986 AL West Championship team that came within one strike of reaching the first World Series in franchise history.
Jack Howell got to play with future Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, and Don Sutton as well as Angel greats Brian Downing, Bobby Grich, Bob Boone, and Doug DeCinces. He was mentored by Carew and Downing, who he said both had a profound affect on Howell’s major league career. Howell played for the Angels for seven seasons Fromm 1985 to 1991, before playing four years in Japan.
Howell then came back to the United States and played for two more seasons with the Anaheim Angels in 1996 and 1997. This time he was the veteran who entered the young players Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Tim Salmon, and Jim Edmonds. The first three played an intregal part in bringing home the first World Series title to Anaheim.in 2002.
After Howell’s playing career ended he went into coaching managing the Missoula Osprey in the Pioneer League in 2002 before moving back to his hometown of Tuscon, Arizona to be the hitting coach for the Tuscon Sidewinders (Arizona Diamondbacks Triple-A Affiliate until 2008) in the Pacific Coast League. This was part of a 10-year stint in the Diamondbacks organization where Howell served as a hitting instructor and field coordinator for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Howell also had stints with both the Florida Marlins and Seattle Mariners organization beginning in 2011, serving in the same capacities as he had been with the D-Backs before accepting a role as a field coordinator for the LA Angels in 2016 and 2017. In 2018 Howell was named the Manager of the Low Single-A Burlington Bees which he has now held for two seasons.
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Howell says he just tries to provide the guidance that the Angels young prospects need. “The neat thing about where I’ve been in my career is I’ve done almost everything. It feels great to Get back to managing. The neat thing is that I can give back,” Howell said of managing. “Although the game has changed it’s still the game of baseball. I feel my best attribute I can give the players at this level is more the mental aspect. Most of these guys have never played a full season. A lot of these players have never had struggles before and I can help them with that. I know where they all want to go and I spent a lot of time, and I know the mental toughness it takes to get there and I can pass that along to them.”
When Jack Howell began his professional career with the Angels when he was an undrafted free agent after graduating from the University of Arizona in June of 1983, Howell was contacted by the Angels and he was sent to their minor league system. In 1985 Howell was playingfor Triple-A Edmonton and George Hendricks went down with an injury and Howell was called up to the majors on May 20th, 1985 and he never looked back.
Howell remained on the Angels roster for the next seven seasons including his finest year in 1987 when Howell played in 138 games hitting a career-high 23 homers and driving in 64 runs and hitting .245. He followed it up with another good season hitting 16 homers and driving in 63 runs with a .254 batting average. Howell got to play on the AL West champion 1986 team that came within one strike of making it to the World Series.
Howell said despite falling just short of the World Series that it was an amazing experience. “Anytime you’re just one strike away from going to the World Series and you’re surrounded by all these great players such as Reggie Jackson, Don Sutton, Brian Downing, and Bobby Grich to name a few it is amazing,” Howell said. “The thing I remember the most even after the home run we still had our chances to win inthe bottom of the ninth and we couldn’t get that big hit. It wasn’t one event that lost it for us, it was a series of events. It was a great series to be a part of no matter how you look at it. I just felt bad for some of the players who were at the end of their careers who never had reached a World Series.”
Howell added, “The toughest thing for me was looking up at Mr. Autry, who was an amazing honor to play for. Mr. & Mrs. Autry were great owners they treated us really good and they wanted it so bad,” Howell said. “Just to see him up there and standing ready to accomplished something he had never done, that was the toughest thing to see. There was a lot of guys from that team who went on to coach or manage. It was a very special group of guys for sure. We had a lot of guys who had big pieces in baseball history like Carew, Reggie, and Don Sutton.”
When Howell was first called up he was mentored by a very special player in Angel history that Howell gives credit for a lot of his success and for showing him the ropes.
“Rod Carew was a good friend of mine, he kind of latched onto me early and showed me the ropes. He had that type of personality that wanted to help me,” Howell said of Carew. “When I came up I had been a high average guy in the minors. He knew I was a owner guy, but he was trying to show me how to approach at-bats. Rod taught me how to keep my swing short. He taught me the mechanics of what it was to be a hitter. He was the one who had the biggest impact on my career especially early on. Rod Carew was the most talented player I ever played with.”
The other player Howell gives a lot of credit to helping early in his career as well in regards to conditioning and strength training was Angel legend Brian Downing who was one of only two players to be on the first three AL West Division Championship teams, and also strength and condition coach the legendary Jimmie Reese‘s who once roomed with Babe Ruth.
“Jimmie Reese was great. he would 10 to 15 quick shots at me with his incredible fungo to work on my quickness. He always kept us in good condition. I was very fortunate to work with such a baseball icon,” Howell said. “I give a lot of credit to the year I red-shirted before I went to Pima Junior College. I really matured a lot, grew and then I got into weight training, which helped me build up my strength and become a player. When I got to the Angels there was this little cheap weight room where Brian (Downing) had all of his weight equipment which made it a little better.”
“Brian and I ended up being really close we actually lived near each other in North Dallas. He mentored me on the weight training, because at that time it wasn’t really frowned upon, but if you were to get hurt doing it would not be good. But I really credit Brian and also Lance Parrish for getting me going with the weights and just mentoring me when I first was starting out in the majors. They were both really good guys.”
Howell’s signature moment in baseball came on September 5th, 1987 against the New York Yankees. With the Angels playing the Yankees in the NBC Sports Baseball Game of the Week. Howell came up to the plate against Tim Stoddard in the 8th inning he could never have known what he was about to do would have such a lasting impact on his career and in baseball folklore.
Courtesy of MLB.com video here is Jack Howell’s broken bat home run. Click on the link to view it. https://www.mlb.com/video/howell-s-broken-bat-home-run-c34583745
Howell took Stoddard’s 1-0 pitched and drove it to right field as his bat broke in half. The ball kept rising and when it had landed it was in the Yankee Stadium right field bleachers 355 feet away. Vin Scully was on the call and said. “That’s the first broken-bat home run I have ever seen. I can’t believe it. I have never seen that before. Put that in your trophy case pal,” Scully said of Howell’s Herculean feat. Howell smiles when you mention that home run like a proud papa would when his kid utters their first words.
“It is a defining moment in my career, that I am most remembered for. Vin Scully was on the call that day and he said it was the broken bat home run he had ever seen,” Howell said of his famous home run. “When you have an icon like Vin Scully says that you take it to heart. It was the one thing that I did that left my mark in baseball. I’m very proud of it. I still have the bat in my trophy case and I have the video of it too. You still see them show on TV occasionally. It just nice to have a neat piece of history and more importantly Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola saying those kind words was very special.”
Howell played for the Angels for seven seasons, but when the Angels signed free agent Gary Gaetti, Howell was expendable and was traded to San Diego in 1991. When that season ended and the threat of a baseball strike loomed, Howell decided to take a chance and go to play in Japan. The decision ended up being one of the best things that could happen to Howell.
“it was a great experience going to Japan. I think it really helped me as I was at that point where my career was starting to fizz out. When I went to Japan I think it really helped me resurrect my career. I really learned to hit, especially off-speed pitching and then we won it all in my second year there,” Howell said. “I won the MVP award my first year as well which was nice. This was a big transition in my career and I was thankful to be able to come back and play in the majors for four more years with the Angels and Houston.”
When Howell returned to the Angels in 1996 it was a totally different team than when he left five years prior. The only players that remained from 1991 was Chilli Davis, Mark Langston, and Chuck Finley, instead it was the beginning of the youth movement that would eventually lead to the World Series title six years later.
Howell found himself in a very different position that as a mentor instead of a mentee. The Angels had a young Garrett Anderson, Jim Edmonds, and Tim Salmon. In addition it was Darin Erstad‘s rookie year and Howell and Ersty hit it off right away. Over the next two seasons Howell helped Erstad learn the ropes.
This led to Howell’s career after his baseball playing days were over as he started coaching/managing and working as a field coordinator for 14 years before coming back home to the Angels in 2016 as a field coordinator for two years before coming to Burlington last season to manage the Bees. Howell has been able to mentor such prospects as Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh, and now Jordyn Adams, Hector Yan, and Jose Soriano to name a few.
“I just try to give them the knowledge and help guide them as they work their way through the system and hopefully that path will lead to the big leagues one day,” Howell said. “They are all special players with a lot of talent (Adell, Marsh, Adams, Yan, and Soriano). It will nice to see them make to Anaheim.”
Tim Salmon may get the designation of “Mr. Angel”, but for Howell will be known as “Captain Jack” as he is leading the young troops into battle each day not only on the field, but off the field as well. When the Angels are holding up another World Series trophy in a few years when guys like Adell, Marsh, and Adams form a championship team with guys like Fletcher, Ohtani, Trout, Canning, and others, Jack Howell will have left his mark on the Angels just as he did in the 90’s with Anderson, Salmon, and Erstad.