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Bob Howsam, 1918 - 2008

Executive built baseball's 'Big Red Machine'

February 20, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Bob Howsam, a baseball and football executive who assembled the "Big Red Machine" in Cincinnati, helped put the St. Louis Cardinals in a World Series and co-founded the Denver Broncos, died Tuesday at his winter home in Sun City, Ariz. He was 89.

Howsam, who also lived in Glenwood Springs, Colo., had heart problems, said his son, Robert Howsam of Colorado Springs.

In 1967 Howsam became general manager of the Reds and is credited with building one of the most dominating teams in baseball history by hiring Sparky Anderson as field manager and orchestrating important trades -- such as the separate deals that brought Joe Morgan and George Foster to the Reds in 1971.

Led by future Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Morgan and spurred by Pete Rose, the Big Red Machine won successive World Series in 1975-76. They also captured four National League 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.

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

Howsam remained with the Reds until 1978, then returned in the GM role from 1983 to '84, bringing Rose back to the team as player/manager. He left the Reds for good after Marge Schott bought the franchise.

Before joining the Reds, Howsam became general manager of baseball's Cardinals in 1964, the year they beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Howsam started his sports career in 1947 as owner of the Denver Bears of the Class A Western League, later taking the baseball team to triple-A as a 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 Howsams sold the team in 1961.

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

Born in Denver in 1918, Howsam attended the University of Colorado, where he met his wife, Janet. They married in 1939 and had two sons, Robert and Edwin.

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