A scout’s tale: Jim Howard is a longtime Oriole

In December, we began a new series in this space. We are introducing you to some Orioles scouts before the new season begins. Some fans may not even know their names. Hopefully, after reading this and upcoming posts, you’ll know a lot more than that. So on we go ...

When the Orioles ended a 14-year run of losing seasons and returned to the playoffs in 2012, it was huge for the organization. So many players, manager Buck Showalter and his coaches, scouts and front office members helped the team return to prominence.

Among them was Jim Howard, a longtime Orioles employee, yet someone that many fans may not even know. Howard is the longest-tenured member of the Orioles scouting staff. After one season with the Angels, Howard’s first day on the job with Baltimore was Nov. 1, 1988. The 2018 campaign will be his 30th season as an Oriole.

He has mostly served in a pro scouting capacity the last several seasons, filing reports on players in the minors and majors. But for most of his time with the club, he was an area scout, trying to find amateur players to select in the First-Year Player Draft. Players he has signed that made the majors include Erik Bedard, Jim Johnson, John Parrish, Rick Krivda, Jim Hoey, Val Majewski and Keith Reed. He signed Gary DiSarcina for the Angels.

Howard Accepts Award Sidebar.jpgHoward, 55, is a two-time winner - in 2009 and 2012 - of the Orioles’ Jim Russo Scout of the Year award. As a player, he was drafted twice, including once by the Orioles, although he didn’t sign then. And he played four years in the minors as a middle infielder for the Blue Jays and Yankees, reaching Double-A. He is in the Siena College Hall of Fame and the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame.

So, yeah, this gent has had a long and strong baseball career, one that is still going well.

In just the last year or so, he scouted extensively in the International and Southern leagues, did some advance work for the big league team on interleague games, had coverage of five or six major league clubs, and scouted games in the Arizona Fall League and the World Baseball Classic. In the WBC, he saw games in South Korea and Japan. But other than, that it was quiet for the 1984 Siena grad who was a two-time All-Star in the Cape Cod League in college in 1982-83.

But moving back to the 2012 Orioles, who won 93 games, a wild card game and advanced to the American League Division Series, Howard had a big hand in that club’s success.

He signed Bedard, who was traded for five players, including Chris Tillman and Adam Jones, two key players on that club. He signed Hoey, who was one of two players traded for shortstop J.J. Hardy. He signed Johnson, who saved 51 games that season. He also provided some positive scouting reports on Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, two pitchers on that team acquired before the season in a deal for Jeremy Guthrie.

“I took pride in that team and it was kind of what we do at the grass roots level,” Howard said of the O’s return to the postseason for the first time since 1997. “Being part of a winning ballclub meant the world to me.”

Howard takes pride in being with the Orioles for so long that he has worked under a long list of general managers: Roland Hemond, Pat Gillick, Frank Wren, Syd Thrift, the duo of Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie, the duo of Flanagan and Jim Duquette, Andy MacPhail and now Dan Duquette.

“I played at the minor league level for four seasons after college,” Howard said. “Getting into scouting was my way of transitioning from playing to the real world. I never expected that 31 years later, we’d be talking about my longevity in the industry.

“Looking back, I feel tremendously lucky that I was able to at least prove my merit to those that had my professional future in their hands. Somehow, I’ve been able to stay an Oriole my entire career basically.”

When Howard first started to pack miles on rental cars in various states and at various ballparks, there was no Internet or cell phones. Or advanced stats, for that matter. He’s seen a lot of changes along the way.

“When I first started, I think of the miles on the road,” he said. “If you were on your way to a park, you would stop at a pay phone to check in on any issues with weather or changes in who was pitching. Now the cell phones are our constant companions.

“Back then, all of our reports were hand-written in triplicate. No computers. When I wrote a report on an amateur, you had to press down hard enough to get the writing to show up on that bottom copy. Now it is a completely different world.”

With all the video, advanced stats and information in the game now, all clubs still rely on scouts with experience. The eyes in the park, if you will, belonging to a veteran baseball guy like Howard. After all these years, he is keenly aware that there are some skills scouts can put a grade on and some aspects of the game they just can’t.

“Most of these amateur players drafted have the talent or some level of talent,” he said. “But among those players that get looked at, the separating factors a good portion of the time tend to be things that are not as visible: what is between the ears and what’s in the heart.”

Howard got drafted twice himself, including the Orioles in the sixth round in 1983 by scout John Stokoe for then scouting director Tom Giordano. But he felt the time wasn’t right to sign with a lot going on in his life. A year later, Toronto selected him in round 19 and his playing career on the pro level began. It took him to him places like Medicine Hat, Alberta; Kinston, N.C.; and Knoxville, Tenn. A middle infielder, he reached Double-A.

But his post-playing career has certainly worked out rather well. In July 2011 he was inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame located in Wappinger Falls, N.Y. It came before a game at the home ballpark of the short season Single-A Hudson Valley Renegades of the Tampa Bay organization.

“As I came to find out, the scouts in this group are nominated, for lack of a better word, by major league general managers. To me, it meant a lot that, even though I worked basically for just one team my entire career, it was nice to know my reputation was held in positive light outside of my organization,” he said.

Howard has had a fascinating and long career. Signing Bedard was a big part of it. That deal had such impact on the Orioles and still has impact. Howard was also part of a group of scouts that once recommended to Andy MacPhail that trading Bedard could help stock a rebuilding club. And the trade sure has worked out well for the Orioles.

Coming up soon in another entry, I will provide some quotes from Howard about Bedard. About the young kid he once saw that didn’t even hit 80 mph on a radar gun to the established major league pitcher he would become. To the time that the scout that was there at the beginning when he first signed, and was also there as Bedard headed for the Seattle Mariners on Feb. 8, 2008. Stay tuned for that.

Here is the profile on Kirk Fredriksson from December when we started this series.

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