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Howie Haak

From BR Bullpen

Howard Frederick Haak
(Howie)

BR Minors page

Biographical Information[edit]

Howie Haak, who passed away at 87 in February 1999, gained acclaim as the scout who threw open all of Latin America to major league baseball. He was a pick-and-shovel man who practiced Branch Rickey's strategy of quality through quantity, assaying tons of raw ore through his time-honored tryout camps. The Pittsburgh Pirates owed much of their talent from the mid-1950s through the 1980s to Haak's efforts; he recommended that Pittsburgh draft Roberto Clemente from the Brooklyn Dodgers system.[1] Among his other signings: Manny Sanguillen, Omar Moreno and Rennie Stennett of Panama; Julian Javier, Tony Pena, Jose DeLeon, and Cecilio Guante of the Dominican Republic; Al McBean of the Virgin Islands;[2] and Roman Mejias of Cuba.

Haak joined the Navy in his teens when his father signed for him. He acquired his tattoos during his years in the Navy somewhere between Hawaii and China. It was there he played baseball first (he did not make his high-school team). Howie mustered out at age 19 in 1931. He finished high school and attended the University of Rochester as a Chemistry major. He then turned to pro baseball, playing catcher. The Professional Baseball Players Database shows him in only three seasons (1940, 1941, and 1946), but his experience appears to be a good deal more extensive. He rejoined the Navy in 1941 and attended the Naval Academy as a "Ninety Day Wonder", after which he was stationed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and the Presidio in Monterey, California. He was on a ship in San Francisco Bay when World War II ended, and he had enough seniority for immediate discharge. After that he called Branch Rickey, Sr. who gave him a job. He sustained an injury in the military, which left the first finger on his right hand permanently extended due to a wire, which explains why he only played briefly after World War II. He first came to know Rickey in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and followed him to Brooklyn, then Pittsburgh. Both Branch Sr. and Jr. had a tremendous influence on his views of baseball as a profession and as on him personally. Branch Rickey, Jr. who was Scouting Director for Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1950s, was his best friend.

Haak was a character, a tobacco-chewing, non-coffee-drinking individual who lived and breathed baseball 24 hours a day. Through the 1950s he wore a sport coat to the National League games and would sit at D league game with a motel towel over him to keep from getting sunburned, but in spring training he was recognized by faded plaid Bermuda shorts that appeared to have seen better days. As the sport changed, Howie remained true to the game, with his memory that could recall every pitch of a game long after most of us couldn't even remember who had played. After he retired, if you asked him if he wanted to watch a rerun on television, he'd remark, "Why, I can tell you all the plays." and he could too.

Haak stirred controversy in 1982 over his remarks that the Pirates needed more white players to draw fans, but African-Americans on the team such as Bill Madlock defended him.[3] Haak believed in one thing in baseball and that was talent. He cared nothing of what a person's race was or what language he spoke; he only cared if the person could catch, run, hit and throw as well as if the person had "baseball smarts" (innately knew what to do when the ball came to the person). After leaving the Pirates in 1988, Haak scouted for the Houston Astros for several years.

Notes[edit]

  1. Frank Eck: "Haak Recalls 'Pirating' of Roberto", The Cumberland Evening Times, October 29, 1971, p. 12. [1]
  2. Associated Press: ""Fortunate Find: Scouting a Haak of a Job Without Knowing Language", The Oneonta Star, June 21, 1962, p. 11. [2]
  3. Associated Press: "Pirates' Madlock Supports Comments", The Casa Grande Dispatch, May 19, 1982, p. 12. [3]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Associated Press: "Remark Not Behind Haak Assignment", The Titusville Herald, May 20, 1982, p. 6. [4]
  • Associated Press: "Buc superscout fnally in headlines", The Gettysburg Times, May 21, 1982, p. 15. [5]</ref>
  • Milton Richman: "Brown Defends Haak", The Monessen Valley Independent, May 21, 1982, p. 9. [6]
  • Jim Sandoval and Rory Costello: "Howie Haak", in Clifton Blue Parker and Bill Nowlin, ed.: Sweet '60: The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2013, pp. 254-256. ISBN 978-1-93359-948-9
  • Dick Young: "Young Ideas: Haak just spoke the truth", The Gettysburg Times, May 20, 1982, p. 11. [7]

Related Sites[edit]