Howie Pollet: One of Those Rickey Melons!

HB 003 HOWIE POLLET 2From the late 1920s through the early 1950s, the St. Louis Cardinals operated a farm system that pretty much resembled the good  and growing business of a fabled Hempstead, Texas watermelon grower. – Everything they harvested came out tasting sweet – with very little hassle from unwanted seeds.

Such a melon was a a tall and slim lefthanded pitcher from New Orleeans named Howard Joseph “Howie” Pollet. This guy’s work and production were as sweet as they came. Starting out with the New Iberia Cardinals of the Class D Evangeline League in 1939, Pollet was only age 17 on Opening Day. He didn’t hit age 18 until June 26th, but age didn’t matter. Howie rolled through his first season of competition against other kids and many older men by posting a 14-5 record with an ERA of 2.37. This young melon came cooled. And he was good enough to spend the end of the season with the then Class A1 Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League, posting a 1-1 mark and a 4.67 ERA.

The 19-year old second year version of Howie Pollet pitched the whole season with Houston, registering a 20-7 record with an outstanding ERA of 2.88. Under future Cardinals mentor Eddie Dyer, the 1940 Buffs won the Texas League straightaway championship in a 16-game lead runaway from second place San Antonio. Houston then won the Shaughnessy Playoff before bowing to the Nashville Vols, 4 games to 1, in the Dixie Series.

HB 003 HOWIE POLLET Back with Houston in 1941, the now 20-year old lefty showed that he had little left to prove in the minor leagues, even at his still tender age.  In 1941, Pollet posted a 20-3 record for the Buffs and a league leading  ERA of  only 1.16. In all of Texas League history through 2008, only Walt Dickson’s 1.06 ERA, also posted with Houston back in 1916, beats the 1941 mark of Howie Pollet. Pollet also led the Texas League in strikeouts in 1941 with 151. The Buffs again won the Texas League straightaway race, this time by 16.5 games, but they lost in the first round of the playoffs for the Texas League pennant.

No matter what, Howie Pollet’s minor league days were done after 1941. Pollet finished that season in St. Louis, going 5-2 with a 1.93 ERA for the parent Cardinals. Howie spent the next two “war seasons” of 1942-43 going 15-9 over both seasons. His 1.75 ERA in 1943, however, still led the National League. Pollet then spent 1944-45 in the military service, coming back in 1946 in time to go 21-10 with a second league leading 2.10 ERA title. Pollet was 0-1 in two games of the 1946 World Series, but he wasn’t the only melon in the patch. The Cardinals still won the sweet taste of a world championship.

After a couple of mediocre years in 1947-48, Howie Pollet revved it up again in 1949, going 20-9 with a 2.77 ERA in 1949. He then fell back to 14-13 in 1950.

On June 15, 1951, Howie Pollet was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates with Bill Howerton, Ted Wilks, Joe Garagiola, and Dick Cole in exchange for lefty pitcher Cliff Chambers and outfielder Wally Westlake. A couple of years later, the Pirates would deal Pollet to the Chicago Cubs. Howie would return to finish his career in Pittsburgh in 1956. His 0-4 mark with the Buccos in ’56 convinced him to hang ’em up. He finished a 14-season MLB career with a record of 131 wins, 116 losses, ann ERA of 3.51 over 2,107.1 innings of big league action, and 934 strikeouts to 745 walks. Howie Pollet never blossomed into the territory of sustained greatness that most people predicted for him, but when he was good and really on his game, he had the kind of stuff that placed him way up there among the best of all time. He spent his last two seasons working out of the pen.

PolletHoward473.84_HS_CSUAfter baseball, Howie Pollet returned to his adopted home of Houston and went into the insurance business with his former Buffs and Cardinals manager, Eddie Dyer. He even returned to baseball one year to serve as pitching coach for the Houston Astros. He was only age 53 when he died of cancer in 1974. Sometimes the good guys who arrive early also make an early exit. Baseball and Houston were the poorer from the early passing of the great Howie Pollet, but we’re glad we had him while we did.

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