Posts Tagged ‘Howie Phillips’

Buff Biographies: Howie Phillips

July 22, 2013

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The Buff with a 1954 Buffs cap. No Photo of Howie Phillips was available. Try to visualize Huckleberry Finn in an old flannel uniform that is a size too big for him. That will get you there as fast as an actual photo.

That’s the Buff with a 1954 Buffs cap. No Photo of Howie Phillips was available. Try to visualize Huckleberry Finn in an old flannel uniform that is a size too big for him. That will get you there as fast as an actual photo.

He almost falls in the cracks of most baseball memories. It’s easy to do when you’ve been a slender of build guy with only modest accomplishments at the minor league level and no time in the big spotlight of the major circuits. Yet, as much as the descriptors fit him to a tee, no Houston Buffs fan who watched him play out his greatest season in 1954 as a second basemen for the Texas League champions will ever forget him.

His name was Howard Dale (Howie) Phillips (5’10”, 162 lb.) (BL/TR). He was a little guy (DOB: 1/07/1930) ¬†who could play second base at the age of 24 with all the cool, clear look of a legitimate prospect for the big leagues, except for one legitimate career complication: Howie was digging ’em out of the dirt for a farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals, behind several other prospects and a guy at the keystone sack who was coming off a .342 season in 1953 and another .300 plus year in the majors on his way to the Hall of Fame playing ahead of him. Still, no one could see the unthinkable in 1954: Two seasons later, a new Cardinal GM named Frank “Trader” Lane would be dealing the “elder” Red Schoendienst off to the New York Giants.

It wasn’t hard for Phillips to get lost from attention among his fellow infielders on the 1954 Houston Buffs. Third baseman Ken Boyer was the

Howie Phillips Buffs 1954

Howie Phillips
Buffs 1954

hottest prospect going for the Cardinals that year and he was manning third base, playing great defense, and knocking the cover off the ball. Ditto Bob Boyd at first base on the productivity scale – and Boyd also drew attention as the first black player in Houston Buffs history. That left shortstop open to be ably filled by another very popular hot prospect named Don Blasingame – and a little barely wind resistant fellow named Howie Phillips to play second base for the second year in a row in 1954.

Phillips had batted only .257 in his 1953 first season as the Buffs second sacker and no one really expected him to have the best season of his pro career in 1954, but he did – and it still went pretty much unheralded by the media, perhaps, due to the attention the other infielders were drawing to the cause of winning.

Howie Phillips, Courtesy of Contributor Bill Hickman. (Looks like elsewhere he got a uniform that fit.)

Howie Phillips, Courtesy of Contributor Bill Hickman. (Looks like elsewhere he got a uniform that fit.)

Howie Phillips batted .306 for the ’54 Buffs. He hit only 3 HR, but he sprayed out 200 hits in the 161 games he played. It was his only season as a plus .300 batter. after playing 1955 for Rochester, Phillips came back in 1956 to hit .290 for the Buffs for his second best offensive year in eleven all minor league seasons (1948-58). He was on his way to a career batting average of .272 and 30 homers. Like many others of those reserve clause days, Howie simply never got a shot at one major league time at bat. He was always one of those guys who, in spite of their hustle, never got to see a single official pitch in the big leagues.

One other note about Howie: he probably looked even smaller because of his preference (or assignment to a uniform that was a little too big for him. We always kidded that he chose the big size for its greater weight support against the wind.

The guy was a hustler, a good fielder, a pesky base runner at the top of the batting order, and he also just may have been for the 1954 Buffs a variant of that old Reggie Jackson descriptor as “the straw that stirred the drink” of victory for the 1954 Buffs.

Howie Phillips passed away at the age of 70 on July 10, 2000 in Fresno, California.

Photo Courtesy of Darrell Pittman. - In this one of the 1954 Buffs, Howie Phillips is the 2nd from right on front row. He got a fitting uniform in time for the late season team photo.

Photo Courtesy of Darrell Pittman. – In this one of the 1954 Buffs, Howie Phillips is the 2nd from right on front row. He got a fitting uniform in time for the late season team photo.