#84 David Howard
When I realized that David Howard had made the list of The 100 Greatest Royals of All-Time, I wanted to end the list immediately. How can a player so bereft of talent be listed among the greatest players of any franchise, much less one with so many great players like the Royals? It appears all you have to do is stick around, and in the 90s, the Royals had an appetite for mediocrity.
A product of Manatee Community College (how is their mascot NOT the Manatee??) David Howard was a 32nd round pick by the Royals in 1986. His father, Bruce, had been a decent starting pitcher in the last 60s for a few seasons. In his first pro season, David hit .194 with one home run in 289 at bats, and was successful on just eleven of twenty-one base stealing attempts. Somehow, the Royals saw something in him and sent him to low A ball Appleton in 1988 where he hit .223 with one home run in 368 at bats, and success in just seven of twelve steal attempts. The Royals somehow saw this as improvement, and kept him around. The next season, he hit .232 as a 22 year old in Rookie ball, so the Royals sent him back to the Florida League where he began his career, and he responded by hitting a career high .236. His star was rapidly rising.
In 1990, Howard hit .250 at AA Memphis and smacked five home runs, which no doubt raised eyebrows as to possible steroid usage. Amazingly, this impressed the Royals enough to allow him to skip AAA Omaha, and make the 1991 Opening Day roster. David did not let them down, hitting .216 with a whopping eight extra base hits in 216 at bats. This impressed the Royals so much, they decided to let go former All-Star Kurt Stilwell, and gave the starting shortstop job to David Howard.
Now anointed a regular, David amazed Royals fans with a .224 average, a .271 on base percentage, and a slugging percentage of .283 despite missing almost two months with an injury. Howard would miss most of the next two seasons due to injury, but in 1995 he returned better than ever. He hit .243 as a utility infielder, playing every position on the field except catcher, pitcher and third base.
In 1996 , the Royals lost shortstop Greg Gagne to free agency, and rather than picking some fan off the street and letting him play shortstop, they decided to let David Howard start at shortstop once again. While a random fan may have hit better than the .219 average Howard put up that season, David did draw a career high forty walks. The pitchers that issued those walks were immediately stoned to death.
David lasted one more season as a utility infielder, hitting .241/.287/.321, before the Royals finally determined that he would never develop into the power hitting shortstop they had envisioned. He took his act across the state to St. Louis for parts of two seasons before finally hanging it up.
For his career, David Howard hit .229/.291/.303 with 11 home run and 148 RBI. Mike Hampton has fifteen home runs in a third of the at bats. Carlos Zambrano has twelve home runs in a sixth of the at bats. He had 146 Runs Created in his career, spanning 1795 plate appearances. George Brett had the same number in 1985 alone over 665 plate appearances.
I don't want to imply in any way that David Howard was a superior player to Jim Sundberg, Jorge Orta, or guys that didn't make the list like Pat Tabler and Daryl Motley. This list reflects the value the Royals placed in allotting playing time, and the Royals wasted far too many at-bats on players like David Howard in the mid-90s.