Irwin Howe

3 Feb

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Irwin M. Howe founded Howe News Service in Chicago in 1910, published an annual record book and served as the primary statistician for several minor leagues, including the Western and the Three-I leagues.

After the 1911 season American League Secretary Robert McRoy, who was responsible for compiling statistics, left the league office to become an executive with the Boston Red Sox.  President Ban Johnson named Howe the league’s statistician; he served in that capacity until his death in 1934.

Irwin Howe

Irwin Howe

Howe leveraged his position with the American League.  He became the official statistician of several more leagues, including the American Association and the Federal League, wrote a nationally syndicated column called “Pennant Winning Plays,” became editor of the annual “Wilson Baseball Record and Rule Book,” and published an instructional pamphlet for kids.

The ad from 1914 pictured above is for Howe’s 48-page “Pitching Course,” which he called “A correspondence school for baseball.” The pamphlets sold for one dollar, but were also offered by many small newspapers across the country for free to children who signed up subscribers (the pictured ad is from The Commoner, the Lincoln, Nebraska newspaper published by William Jennings Bryan).

Boys Learn Scientific Baseball Free

Ed Walsh of the Chicago White Sox will teach you the detail of his Spit Ball

Joe Wood of the Boston World Champions (1912) will teach you his great secret of breaking over his world famous Smoke Ball

Walter Johnson of the Washingtonians will teach you how to acquire and maintain speed

“Nap” Rucker of the Brooklyns will teach you the mastery of his famous knuckler

Christy Mathewson of the N.Y. Giants will explain fully his Fadeawy Ball

These lessons are so plain, practical and so profusely illustrated, that by following the instructions given, you can not only develop pitching ability…You will also learn to Increase Your Batting Average and more effectively Hit Any Pitcher.  Every lesson edited by Irwin M. Howe, the official statistician of the American League, the new Federal League and there organizations and an Eminent Authority on Baseball.

The pamphlet also included a lesson from Guy Harris “Doc” White of the Chicago White Sox “which deals in part with proper methods of training and living.”

Howe claimed his one dollar pamphlet was “Well worth $100 to any man or boy whether or not he ever expects to become a big ball player.”

Howe's pamphlet

Howe’s pamphlet

Perhaps Howe’s most famous contribution to baseball was certifying Ty Cobb as a .400 hitter in 1922.

On a rainy day in New York (years later in his book “Baseball as I Have Known It,” Fred Lieb said the game took place in August—contemporary newspaper accounts say it was May 15), Cobb beat out a ground ball hit to Yankee shortstop Everett Scott.  John Kieran of The New York Tribune (he was later a columnist with The New York Times) was the official scorer.  He charged Scott with an error.

Fred Lieb of The New York Telegram, who was compiling The Associated Press (AP) box score for the game, credited Cobb with a hit.  Lieb said “Considering the soggy field and Cobb’s speed, I gave it a hit.”

Fred Lieb

Fred Lieb

Howe’s habit was to rely upon The AP box score that appeared in the Chicago newspapers while awaiting the arrival of the “official” box score by mail.

When compiling the final averages at the end of the season Howe chose to accept Lieb’s scoring of the game rather than Kieran’s, and released a statement with the season’s final statistics:

 “I noted that the averages reached from my official scoring sheets had Cobb hitting .3995 (actually .3992).  With the unofficial averages giving him .401, I felt how can we deprive this great player of a third .400 average over a fractional point.”

Ban Johnson approved Howe’s decision.  Lieb, as president of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s (BBWAA) New York chapter was put in the uncomfortable position of attempting to repudiate his own scoring judgment.  He argued that the Kieran’s “official” score should be accepted, and said in a statement:

“Obviously, when there was a difference of opinion between the two scorers, the official and not the unofficial decision, should have been accepted.  There would be no further need for members of the Baseball Writers Association serving as official scorers if they were regulated to a secondary position.”

In a letter to Lieb, Ban Johnson said the “official” box score “was plainly in error in one other particular” besides the Cobb “hit” and “I requested a report of the official score of the game of May 15.  Mr. Howe had previously made a careful investigation of all facts surrounding the scoring.”  Johnson also chided Lieb asking “Are we to believe that you reversed your judgment at this late date?”

The 1923 “Wilson Record and Rule Book”–edited by Howe–contained an asterisk next to Cobb’s .401 average and noted that it was “not recognized” by the BBWAA—Howe was secretary of the association’s Chicago chapter.

The asterisk eventually disappeared, and Ty Cobb, thanks to Howe’s decision,  remains a .400 hitter for the 1922 season.

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