RIP to Ken Howell, a former pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers and a long-time coach in the organization. He died on November 9 at the age of 57. While a cause of death was not offered, the obituary notice on Medium noted that Howell served as Dodgers bullpen coach while battling complications from diabetes. He pitcher for the Dodgers (1984-1988) and Philadelphia Phillies (1989-90).
Howell attended Tuskeegee University in Tuskeegee, Ala. and was picked by the Dodgers in the 3rd round of the 1982 Amateur Draft. He progressed through the minor-league system pretty rapidly as a starting pitcher, winning 8 games for San Antonio in 1983 in 27 starts. When he made it to the Dodgers’ big-league roster the following year, he was used almost exclusively as a reliever. He went 5-5 in 1984 with a fine 3.33 ERA, averaging 9.5 strikeouts per 9 innings in 32 games. He spent time as a closer in 1985 and 1986, picking up 12 saves in each season while appearing in excess of 50 games each year. Howell made his sold postseason appearance in 1985, throwing a perfect 2 innings of relief in Game 3 against the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series.
Howell struggled in 1987, as his ERA rose close to 5.00. He underwent an offseason surgery to remove the tip of his right collarbone due to an impinged nerve. He spent almost all of 1988 in AAA, pitching for the Albuquerque Dukes and accumulating a 10-1 record as a starter. He only appeared in 4 games with the Dodgers, going 0-1 with a 6.39 ERA in 12-2/3 innings. That would be his last year with the Dodgers, at least at a player.
On December 4, Howell, Brian Holton and Juan Bell were traded to Baltimore in exchange for Eddie Murray. Howell was a member of the Orioles for a grand total of 4 days, and he was shipped to Philadelphia on the 8th for Phil Bradley. In his two seasons with the Phils, Howell was used as a starter and did reasonably well for himself. In 1989, he had a 12-12 record and 3.44 ERA for a team that finished 6th in the NL East. He threw 204 innings, struck out 164 while walking 86 and, on the downside, led the NL in wild pitches with 21. He threw the only shutout of his career on Aug. 2, and it was a 3-hitter against the Cubs.
The success of his ’89 season led to a nice payday, as Howell and the Phillies agreed to a 3-year, $4.7 million contract in the offseason. Unfortunately, his season, and ultimately his career, ended on August 4. He exited that start after 4 innings of work, and had surgery about 10 days later. The Philies found some tissue damage in his shoulder and tendonitis in his rotator cuff area. At the time, the thought was that Howell would rehab his shoulder and be ready for Spring Training in 1991. He was even named the Opening Day starter by Phillies manager Nick Leyva, but further problems led to another surgery. The only games he pitched in ’91 were for the Phils AAA team in Scranton/Wilke-Barre as he tried to rehab.
Howell didn’t pitch at all in 1992 and worked in a handful of games in the low minors in 1993 and ’94, trying to regain the form he’d had with the Phillies to no avail. He ended his 7-year career with a 38-48 record and 3.95 ERA. He struck out 549 batters in 613-1/3 innings, averaging 8.1 Ks per 9 innings in his career.
Howell returned to the Dodgers organization in 2002 as the pitching coach for Class A Very Beach. He coached for 14 years and was the bullpen coach of the MLB club from 2008-2013. He served as an assistant pitching coach with the Dodgers and its minor-league teams in 2014 and 2015.