Former president and general manager of the Denver Bears, builder of Bears Stadium and founder of the Denver Broncos, Robert “Deacon” Howsam put the Mile High City on the baseball and football map.
As a young first baseman, Denver born Bob Howsam, like every other kid who played baseball, had visions of going to the majors. In time, he realized that he was not going to make it. Still determined to get there, he turned to the administrative side of baseball.
In 1947, U.S. Senator and former Colorado Governor Ed C. Johnson, then president of the Class A Western League, appointed Howsam as league executive secretary.
With no professional baseball background, but with a burning determination, Howsam began his climb to the majors. Two years later, he joined his father and brother as president and general manager of their newly acquired Denver Bears franchise. Bob Howsam was quick to be recognized as one of the top minor league executives.
One of his early challenges was the building of a new stadium to replace the old and tired Merchants Park. In 1949, with a new Bears stadium completed the year before, Howsam’s Bears set a Class A season attendance record. The Bear’s enjoyed four 400,000-plus attendance years under Howsam.
In 1952, Howsam was named Minor League Executive of the Year by The Sporting News, a coveted honor that he was to receive again in 1956.
By 1955, Denver fans were eager to move up, and the Howsams purchased Kansas City’s Triple-A American Association franchise. Two years later, Denver won the Junior World Series, just missing the league pennant in a tremendous late-season drive.
Howsam was active in the organization of the American Football League, of which Denver was a charter member, and was present for the league’s first meeting in Chicago in 1959. To meet this expected future space need, he expanded Bears Stadium by adding the famous South Stands.
Howsam left sports for a time in 1961, but was right back in 1964 when his idol, Branch Rickey, selected him as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Two months after he joined the club, they wiped out a nine and a half game deficit to win the National League pennant and the World Series.
He then moved to the Cincinnati Reds in 1967 as general manager and executive vice president. During the 1970’s, he led the team to five division titles, four National League pennants and back-to-back World Series wins in 1976 and 1977.
According to Howsam, his greatest moment in sports came the evening that Cincinnati won the fourth straight game to beat the New York Yankees and win the World Series in 1976. “We won all three games in the division playoffs against Philadelphia and all four games against the Yankees, without losing a single game during the division and World Series games.”
Upon induction into the Hall of Fame in 1971, Howsam naturally felt that it was a great honor to be re-recognized by the state in which he was born. “One of the things I felt most pleased about was to have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my father-in-law, the late Senator Ed. C. Johnson, who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame previously. I was pleased to have been honored with great men like Jack Dempsey, Byron “Whizzer” White and Senator Johnson. Being recognized with this tribute by your peers is one of the proud moments in my life.”
Bob and wife Janet had two sons, Robert Jr. and Edwin. Both were outstanding athletes in football, baseball and basketball in Denver high schools and played in college.
One of the things I felt most pleased about was to have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my father-in-law, the late Senator Ed. C. Johnson, who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame previously.