Prodigy Pollet, Impossible to Forget

Howie Pollet

The kinship ideas of seasoning and player development hardly ever applied to young lefty Howie Pollet of New Orleans. The kid signee of the St. Louis Cardinals began his pitching career at the age of 18, going 14-5 for New Iberia of the Evangeline League before moving up to Houston of the Texas League to add a 1-1 mark to his rookie season totals. At age 19, Pollet went 20-7, with a 2.88 ERA for the 1940 Houston Buffs. He returned to the Buffs at age 20 to go an amazing 20-3 with a 1.16 ERA for the 1941 Houston club. Pollet did turn age 21 on June 26, 1941. By the time he had finished the season at that tender age of new adult status, hie had registered a minor league record of 55 wins against only 16 defeats and a minor league career ERA of 2.28.

Cardinals General Manager Branch Rickey watched Pollet win his 20th game of the 1941 Buffs season and then called him up to help the Cardinals in their close near-miss pennant race with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The loss of Howie Pollet unquestionably cost the 103-win first place Buffs the 1941 pennant as they went on from there to lose to fourth place Dallas, 3 games to 1, in the first round of the post-season playoffs, but that’s the way things still work in professional baseball. In a pinch, the needs of the major league club always come first.

Pollet finished the 1941 season with a 5-2, 1.93 ERA. He reported to spring training with the 1942 Cardinals with a sore arm. That would be the start of an arm injury history that would haunt and deaden the final results of his total career. More serious shoulder issues were yet to come a few years down the road.

Howie went into the army after posting a 7-5 record and an 8-4 mark for the 1942 and 1943 Cardinals. Pollet didn’t have the greatest fastball in the world, but he had great location ability on his pitches and an uncanny, hard-to-discern capacity for changing the speed at three leels on the pitches he did deliver.

After the war, Howie Pollet pitched the 1946 Cardinals to a World Series championship, posting a season record of 21-10 with an amazing 2.10 ERA. Pollet enjoyed one more 20-win season in 1949, going 20-9 with a 2.77 ERA for yet another near-miss Cardinals club, but painful shoulder trouble would continue to haunt his 14-season MLB career with the Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, and White Sox through his last season of 1956.

Howie Pollet finished his MLB career with a record of 131 wins against 116 defeats and an ERA of 3.81.

After baseball, Pollet retired to his adopted home town of Houston to enter the insurance business in partnership with his former Buffs and Cardinals manager, Eddie Dyer. Pollet also kept an active connection with major league baseball, serving as pitching coach for the Houston Astros in 1965  Sadly, Howie Pollet passed away only nine years later in 1974 at the age of 53.

How many potential Hall of Fame pitchers have lost their way to greatness due to arm injury? Probably more than we shall ever know, but we have to place the name of Howie Pollet high on that list. Were Pollet’s arm and shoulder problems the result of genetics, a freak injury, or the product of too much pitching work too early? I doubt we’ll ever know.

On the other hand, there seems to be no doubt where Howie’s talent was taking him, had he not been injured. It’s also too bad that his family had to lose him so early, but that’s the way life works. We don’t always get what we want, but there are a number of lessons wrapped up in that reality too, starting with my favorite:

Every morning we wake up on the sunny side of the grass is reason enough to celebrate our gratitude by making the most of our day.

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3 Responses to “Prodigy Pollet, Impossible to Forget”

  1. Wayne Williams Says:

    Bill: Great story about Howie Pollet. I remember when he pitched for the Cardinals. In the picture shown he looks a lot like Jeff Francis, the Canadian who pitched for the Rockies for several years and now is when the Royals. Wayne Williams.

  2. Mark Wernick Says:

    There’s an excellent bio on Pollett written by Warren Corbett for the SABR bio project. Should be available at this link:


  3. David Munger Says:

    Bill-Great article. Howie and my Dad’s days on the Cardinals
    were quite successful. He was a friend of the family. When
    I was at LSU, he was a volunteer coach at Rice. Not only was he a
    great ballplayer, he was a great man.

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