Here is a piece of material written by Bill Plummer III, National Softball Hall of Fame Manager on the History of Howard's Softball. Back in the golden era of slow pitch softball, if you asked a fan "Who was the most recognized and famous slow pitch team in America?" more often than not that person would reply,"Howard's Furniture of Denver, North Carolina." How did a team from a small hamlet 30 miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina reach such noterity? The talents of Don Arndt, Gene Fisher, Bert Smith and Stan Harvey and others of course helped, but the glue and the driving force behind the team was its sponsor, the late Richard Howard. Howard had a business acumment second to none and used it in a variety of business interests--furniture stores, restaurants, motor racing, sporting goods, restaurant supplies and equipment, bowling alleys and of course slow pitch softball. His team started as part of a church league, gradually branching out to compete with other church and Open teams throughout North Carolina. Richard pitched on the Mt. Pleasant Church team and on a summer day in 1955, the Mt. Pleasant Mules traveled to an all-day tournament in Richmond, VA. Despite injuries to two players, the team played eight games in one day to win the tournament. Said Howard,"It didn't mean a lot to anybody but us, but we really loved it." Winning that tournament made Howard want to win more trophies. With money from his discount furniture business, Howard gradually put together a team of some of the best players he could find. From season-to-season the team grew in stature, winning state and regional tournaments. But it wasn't until 1969 that Howard's Furniture made its first appearance in an ASA National Championship. It wasn't the kind of appearance Howard had expected. His team lost two straight and finished last in a field of 32 teams. This prompted Richard to say,"We got out of the car on one side and got back on the other side." He told his players."We are going back to North Carolina and practice and if we don't get any better, we are going to say in North Carolina." As history has shown, Howard's team got better and four years later won their first ASA National Championship in 1973 and repeated in 1974. In 1978, the team was changed to Howard's/Western Steer and three years later the team won the first of its three ASA Super Division Championships. Ironically, Howard's first of three Super Nationals was held in his home state, with Burlington, North Carolina the 1981 host.The remaining two Super Nationals were back-to-back 1983 and 1984. The 1981 season marked Richard's 25th year of championship softball and the team performed like champions on softball diamonds throughout the United States, winning 160 of 175 games and seven players from that team now members of the ASA National Softball Hall of Fame: They are: Richard Willborn, Dick Bartel, Don Arndt, Gene Fisher, Stan Harvey and Rick (The Cursher) Scherr. By 1989, however, Howard decided to call it quits and didn't sponsor a team for the first time in more than 30 years. Richard said it was time to stop because the players got too greedy, the bills grew too large--topping $200,000 in 1988--and the schedule of 150 plus games becoming a grind. Because of his love for the sport, some thought Howard would never get out. But remember he was a business man first and foremost. Said Howard in an interview July 16, 1989 in THE ATLANTA JOURNAL. "We felt like if we dropped off and others dropped off, softball would be what it should be, a game, not a salaried job.The players thought I'd never get out, they didn't figure I could live without it." On April 28, 1998, Richard Howard passed away at the age of 73,leaving behind a record of accomplishment that is unmatched.
Here is how it all began, Howard's Furniture way back when in 1964. And Also the familiar Howard's logos.
The 1973 and 1974 Howard's Furniture Team are pictured here, They won back to back ASA championships in these years: Some of the legends on this team included Don Arndt, Stan Harvey, Bert Smith, Gene Fisher, H.T. Waller, Tony Cloniger and Denny Hogan. No less that 5 ASA Hall of Famers played on this team.
Don Arndt played for Howard's for most of his glorious career. He was inducted into the ASA Hall of Fame in 1993. In 1985 at the age of 50, he hit 309 HRs for Howard's. His composite stats for Howard's (1970-1987) are 6166 for 9821, .627 batting average and 3330 HRs. Arndt was named to 18 All-World Teams and was also MVP twice in those tournaments.
Stan Harvey set the ASA Major National Tournament HR record in 1978 when he hit 23 homers and drove in 45 runs. His previous high was 19 in 1973, the year Bert Smith set the record (21) that was broken in 1977 by Herman Rathman & Bruce Meade of Nelson's Painting (22). He was inducted into the ASA Hall of Fame in 1996 after being named to 9-All America Teams.
Rick Scherr played in his first USSSA World Tournament with Slinger Foundry of Milwaukee in 1974. (see photo below) He was 6-9 with 4 homers and 6 RBIs. He Was voted player of the Decade for the 1980's by Softball USA. All he did from 1980-1989 was bang out 4872 hits in 6862 at bats for a batting average of .710 while still smashing 2985 home runs, collecting 6021 RBIs and all this in 1451 games. He spent most of his career with Howard's and to this day remains one of the most recognizable players to ever play the game. He is a member of both the USSSA Hall of Fame (1994) and the ASA Hall of Fame (2001). He was named to 25 All-Word teams and also selected MVP of these tournament an incredible 5 times.
Tom Beall played with Howard's from 1979 through 1984 after having successful years with nationally known teams as Reeds Nuts, Howard & Carroll and Dave Carroll Sports. His composite totals with Howard's were: 995 HRs, 2065 RBIs and a .662 batting average. Tom Beall was inducted into the ASA Hall of Fame in 1990.
Dick Bartel played with Howard's from 1981 through 1984 after starring with such teams as CC Brick and Campbell's Carpets. His composite totals with Howard's were: 580 HRs, 1090 RBIs and a .654 batting average. He was inducted into the ASA Hall of Fame in 1990 after previously being inducted into the USSSA Hall of Fame in 1985.Bartel collected 14 All-World honors during his great career.
Gene Fisher was the first of many Howard's Furniture and Howard's/ Western Steer players to be inducted in the ASA Hall of Fame. He played for Howard's from 1959-1983. He made 4 ASA all-american teams and 1 USSSA all-world team in his career that saw him win 4 ASA titles and 2 USSSA titles with Howard's. In the 1973 ASA nationals, he hit .658, with 13 home runs and drove in 20 runs. His best ASA national was in 1978, where he had 14 home runs and 40 RBIs. He had a career batting average of over .550 and hit more than 3000 home runs.
Bobby Lutz and Richard Howard were the Manager and owner that put all this together. They are pictured here below along with the two original Howard's players, Don Arndt and Gene Fisher. Also pictured is the 1977 team.
Howard's also managed to attract these other players to Denver, NC to play some softball. These guys are no slouches either. There are some pretty impressive names in this group: Tommy Maiden, Roger Brown (ASA Open MVP - 1974) , Dave Carroll, Curtis Williams, Steve Howard, Mike Jacobs, Buddy Slater, Ed Roth, Steve Williams, Denny Hogan, Ray Fleetwood, Bill Ferguson, Russell Bradley, Dennis Myers, Mike Cellura, Clyde Guy, Ricky Huggins, Darrell Misenheimer, Tim White, Fred Trice, Mike Bolen, Cecil Whitehead, Bill Blake and the best defensive outfielder of all time, Richard Wilborn.
These two guys set the ASA Major Open National Tournament Home Run record in 1977. They Played for Nelson's and hit 22 each in the tournament. Both went 32-50 (.640 Average). Bruce Meade had 40 RBI's and Herman Rathman had 39 RBI's. For the 1977 season, Rathman was named player of the year by Softball Writer, Wirt Gammon. Rathman hit 244 homers on the year and had a .642 average. Meade by the way had a decent year with 225 homers and a .764 average. Bruce Meade, by the way was named to 25 All-World teams (3 time MVP) and is the only softball player inducted into the 4 national softball hall of fames (ASA, USSSA, ISA and NSA).
Look at a young Bruce Meade in 1976 playing with Warren Motors:
Here's a guy nobody mentions much... Jim Mortl. He was the very first player to be inducted into the USSSA Hall of Fame in 1980. He was the MVP of the 1971 USSSA World Series as he hit .800 (12 for 15) to lead Accurate Welding to the title. He made the 1969 USSSA all-world team for Milwaukee Electric Tool. He also made the 1970 and 1971 Eastern USSSA all-world teams for Accurate Welding. He also led Marasco's Variety Faire to the USSSA World Series championship in 1972 by going 10-19 (.526). Another little tid-bit on Jim Mortl is the fact that he also led the ASA Open National Tournament in hitting back in 1963. He batted .720 for a local Milwaukee team. A few other players in the USSSA Hall of Fame include:
Inducted in 1986, Joe Seymour played all of his career in North Carolina for such teams as Candyman Bombers, Lenoir Tire and Poindexter Lumber. He hit over 3000 homers in his career and carried a career batting average of .620. Seymour collected over 100 individual MVP and all-tournament honors in the 1970's and 1980's. He led the Candyman Bombers in home runs in 1977 with 126.
Inducted in 1989, Tippy Larsen played all of his career in Massachusetts for such teams as The Stylists, Loring Construction, Ye old Liquer Cabinet, Tippy's, EJ Alex Construction and Cassidy & Lee. All these teams played in Action, MA. He holds the distinction of being the only male player to be elected to a Hall of Fame without ever playing softball on the Major class level. Larsen played his career in Class-C. His teams won the Massachusettes Class C state titles in 1983 and 1987. He had a career .540 batting average and as a pitcher won 627 games while losing only 103. This record included a 440-69 record in tournament play.
These two guys were 2 of the first 4 players inducted into the USSSA Hall of Fame. Frank Taccone in 1981 and Glenn Eichelberger in 1983. Both played for Rochester, NY based teams Pace Electronics and Mazzola Castle. Pace Elctronics was known as the "Green Machine" because of their uniforms. In the USSSA 1973 Eastern Worlds, Pace finished a respectable third behind the Croten Dukes of New Castle, PA and USSSA powerhouse, Dino's Pizza of Detroit. Glen Eichelberger (17-29, .586 7 home runs and 18 RBIs) and Frank Taccone (7 home runs) both made the USSSA all-world team. They followed that up with another third place finish in the USSSA 1974 World Series (behind Dino's and Bay Area Merchants of Richmond, CA). Glen Eichelberger (8-14 [.571] 5 home runs, 8 RBIs) and Frank Taccone (9-15 [.600] 2 homers, 5 RBIs) lead Pace. Eichelberger batted .607 in the 1972 season and .626 in the 1973 season. In the 1974 USSSA Eastern Worlds, Pace once again was third (behind Sol Mintz of Washington, PA and Jesse's of Louisville, KY). After many near misses, the team, now renamed Mazzola Castle finally won the USSSA World Series in 1977 as they neat 2-time defending champ, Snyder's Softball Club of Novi, MI in the final. Another player on this Rochester based powerhouse was slick fielding shortstop Andy Santillo. He was inducted into the USSSA Hall of Fame in 1991.
Benny Holt and Ronnie Ford were the first two Professional League MVPs. Ben Holt, playing for the Chicago Storm, won the triple crown in 1977 with a .690 bating average, 89 home runs and 187 RBIs. Ron Ford, playing for Detroit Caesars, almost won the triple crown in 1978. He led in home runs with 80, RBIs with 201, but finished 2nd in batting to teammate Mike Nye (.654 to .645). Ford went on to lead the league in home runs (43) and RBIs (122) in 1979 as well, but Rick Weiterman won the batting crown (.557) and the MVP award. Holt, now playing for Cleveland, came back to lead the league in home runs in 1980 (42), but Ron Olesiak of Chicago won the RBI and batting crown as well as the MVP award. Bill Gatti, mentioned earlier in this page won the 1980 and 1981 MVP awards. Dana Andry won the last Pro MVP award in 1982 playing for the Cleveland Stepien Competitors.
Phil Higgins was arguably one of the best all around softball players to ever play the game. He could do it everything great. he played with Slinger Foundry of Milwaukee in the 1974 USSSA Worlds and hit 5 home runs and collected 14 RBIs. In the 1975 USSSA worlds, he led the tournament in hitting .750 (12-16) with 3 homers and 11 RBIs. He made the USSSA all-worlds team that year too. he also made the team in 1976 playing for Synder's Softball Club. In 1977 he went pro and played with the Milwaukee Copper Hearth renamed to the Schlitz. He spent 6 years in the pro league being named to the all-league team 5 times. Higgins batted .611 with 41 home runs and 131 RBIs in 1977. In 1978, he hit .569 with 49 home runs and 137 RBIs. He then followed that up with a .531, 89 RBI performance in 1979. In 1980 he drove in 95 runs. All these figures were good enough to finish in the top 10 every year. He went back to amateur ball and in 1984 led Lilly Air Systems of Chicago to the ASA Major National Championship. He was named ASA Major MVP as he hit .848 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs. Joining Higgins on the Lilly Air championship squad as well as the ASA Major all-american team were former Pro stars Ken Parker (.714, 10 home runs), Ron Olesiak (.667 and 10 home runs also) and Ben Holt.
These guys have been inducted into some of the National Hall of Fames in recent years. They were considered some of the best ever at their respective positions: Charles Wright (ISA-1999), third basemen played for Elite, Steele's and Ritch's-Superior where he was the ISA World Series MVP in 1991 and 1992. He also won the MVP award at the ASA Super Nationals in 1989 and 1993. He is widely considered the greatest third-basemen to ever play this game. He gathered all world honors 34 times in his career. Another one considered the greatest at his position is Doug Roberson (ISA-2001), Outfielder who played for Steele's Sports, Superior/Apollo and Ritch's-Superior where he was ISA World Series MVP in 1995. He also won the MVP at 1988 NSA World Series and is a 10-time ASA All-American. Another ISA Hall of Fame member is Dan Schuck (ISA-2002), who also was an outfielder and played on the great Steele's Sports, Bell Corp. and Sunbelt teams. He won the USSSA MVP in 1993 for Bell Corp. Todd Joerling (NSA-2001) is still going strong is one of the all time best shortstops and hitters. He played for Steele's Sports, Bell Corp., Sunbelt and the present day Dan Smith sponsored teams. He won the MVP award in 1997 and 2002 ISA World Series and is an 8-time ASA All-American, winning the ASA Super Nationals MVP award in 1999. Joerling has been named to 28 All-World teams. Ron Parnell (USSSA-2000) played shortstop for Capitol Insulation, Steele's Sports and the great Ritch's-Superior teams of the early 1990ís. He was the 1994 NSA World Series MVP and is a 7-time USSSA All-world team member. Parnell also is a 7-time ISA, 6-time NSA and a 9-time ASA All world performer. Second Basemen Doug Brown (USSSA-1996) won the MVP award at the USSSA World Series for Smythe Sox where he went 16-23 with 13 HRs and 25 RBIs. He played previously for such national powerhouses as Dave Carroll's, Jerry's Caterers and Elite Coatings. Clyde Guy (USSSA-1998) won the USSSA World Series MVP award when he led Superior-Apollo to the crown. Guy batted .862 (25-29), with 18 HRs and 37 RBIs. Guy also patrolled the outfield for Poindexter and Howard's/Western Steer. First Basemen Dennis Graser (ASA-2000) was an 8-time ASA All-american and 6-time USSSA All world selection. He played for such teams as Elite Coatings, Steele's Sports, Starpath, Ritch's-Superior and Spectrum. He also played for Milwaukee Schlitz of the old pro league where he was a 4-time all pro. Don Clatterbaugh (ASA-2001) played outfield for such teams as Blanton's, Kirk's/Ritch's and Starpath. He garnered 6 ASA All America honors for these teams. He is currently still playing on the Senior Softball circuit where he has been named to numerous all world teams. Britt Hightower was just inducted into the USSSA Hall of Fame in 2003. He played Outfield for some of the best teams of his time including Ritch's Salvage, Ritch's/Kirk's and the great Ritch's-Superior teams. Darrell Beeler won the ASA Super National MVP award in 1996 playing for Ritch's-Superior and also won the 1991 NSA World Series MVP award. He is a 13-time all world selections and will be inducted into the USSSA Hall of Fame in 2004. Chuck Maiorana of Michigan was inducted into the USSSA Hall of Fame in 2003. He was selected to the USSSA all world team in 1984 for Miller High Life. He has been a member of a USSSA World Champion Team in six different classifications: Men's B, Men's A, Men's AA, Master's 35 & Over, Master's 40 & Over, and Masters 45 & Over. Bobby Lauria was recently elected to the USSSA Hall of Fame.
©1998 Steve Dimitry, all rights reserved.