November 27, 1924: Cal Howe
Born on this day 95 years ago, Calvin Earl Howe had a long road to the major leagues. His professional career was interrupted by war, much as it was for any ballplayer bursting onto the scene during the 1940s. As just a 17 year old, Howe pitched professionally for both the LaCrosse Blackhawks and Union City Greyhounds of the Wisconsin State League and Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League respectively. Both teams were at the Class-D Level, far from big-league competition.
With the war breaking out, it would be six years before the once-teenaged professional would join baseball's pro ranks again. In 1948, he returned with the Clinton Cubs of the Central Association, Class-C Ball. In 26 games, he went 18-4 with a 2.40 ERA, putting him on the radar of teams in upper divisions of professional ball. Though it had been more than half a decade since he played professionally, he was still just 23 years old and might have an MLB career ahead of him yet.
He moved all the way up to A-Ball in 1949 after spending 16 games with the Class-B Decatur Cubs. Getting the ball 12 times that season for the Des Moines Bruins, Howe pitched effectively to a 9-7 record with a 4.29 ERA. It felt as though his time for a shot with the Chicago Cubs might be coming soon. However, he did not earn a call up with the team and he would find himself biding his time over the next two years.
A step back in 1950 when he went 3-8 with a 5.40 ERA with the Grand Rapids Jets (a Cubs' A-Ball affiliate) put the major leagues even further from Howe's radar. However, a bounce-back 1951 campaign that saw him go 9-6 with a 2.47 ERA across 135 innings pitched was just what he needed to rejuvenate his chances of one day pitching for the Cubs. Following another solid 1952 season where he recorded a 2.28 ERA for the Macon Peaches, Howe earned a late call-up to the big club.
On September 26, the third-to-last day of the regular season, he was called upon against the rival St. Louis Cardinals in front of 5,000 fans at Sportsman's Park. Entering in the seventh with his team down 10-1, the pressure was mostly off the 6' 3" left hander toeing a major-league rubber for the first time. It showed as he pitched two clean innings to end the game, striking out Dick Sisler and Gerry Staley in the process. Chicago scratched across two meaningless runs and lost 10-3.
Though there were two games left in the season, Howe didn't get into either contest. When the 1953 season began, he was back in Macon where he dominated again. In 144 innings, he went 11-7 with a 2.50 ERA. However, he didn't get another shot with the Cubs. The next season, he continued his hot run in Macon, going 15-7 in 154 innings with a 3.16 ERA. Despite posting such impressive numbers three years in a row, the Cubs never came calling.
Howe spent the next three seasons in the Cincinnati Reds' farm system, but he never regained the form he had at the beginning of the 1950s when it seemed like he could've been a serviceable member of a big-league rotation. He was given just one chance in Chicago out of the bullpen, had given up no runs in two innings and that was that. No more chances came Howe's way and after going 5-4 with a 3.00 ERA the Double-A Nashville Volunteers, the 32-year-old called it quits. His career had spanned nearly half his life by that point and he was ready for something new.
He got to spend more than the next 50 years enjoying life outside of baseball. Howe passed away on May 5, 2008 at 83 years old, one of very few that ever gets to live out the American dream of playing Major League Baseball, even if it came on a single, fleeting day.