Art Howe is used to dealing with pressure-filled situations.
Gilroy – Art Howe is used to dealing with pressure-filled situations.
He’s had to decide whether or not to walk Barry Bonds, field pointed questions from the prickly New York City media and carefully manage major league pitching staffs.
But cooking his daughter-in-law’s chicken pasta medley recipe in front of a live audience as a celebrity chef at the Gilroy Garlic Festival?
That was a whole other ballgame for the former Oakland A’s manager.
“I usually have trouble with burgers,” said Howe, the A’s skipper from 1996-2002, before he took the stage last Friday afternoon. “I’m more nervous about this than being out in front of 50,000 people hitting.”
Howe took the cooking challenge when Karen LaCorte, the wife of Howe’s former Astros’ teammate and Gilroy native Frank LaCorte, asked him to be a celebrity chef. Karen LaCorte serves as the recipe contest chair and head of the cook-off stage at the festival.
“I said, ‘This is the guy you want,’ ” Frank LaCorte said. “He’s a class act.”
And a trip back to the Bay Area – the first since Howe left the A’s – was long overdue. Howe and his wife Betty, who reside in Houston, had planned a trip to California last summer. But Hurricane Rita hit the Texas coast and foiled their plans.
During this trip, Howe got to attend several A’s games and revisited old friends at his old stomping grounds. The memories Howe has of his time with the Oakland organization are good. He helped rebuild the struggling franchise and in his last season, the A’s won 20 straight games – an American League record.
“(The memories) are fond because we did so well. First, we started from scratch,” Howe said. “I was really proud of how we performed in my last three years.”
With one year left in his contract with the A’s, Howe opted to leave for a four-year deal on the opposite coast with the Mets. Howe knew it would take a couple years to get the then-struggling Mets on the right track. But the franchise didn’t want to wait and let Howe go after a year and a half.
“I got an education,” said Howe, smiling. “I thought I would get four years … But in New York, they don’t rebuild. They want to win now.”
He added, “I knew it was going to take at least two years to get rid of the bad contracts. This would have been the final year of my contract and they’re winning everything. There’s only five players left (on the roster) that I had. That’s how much cleaning house they did.”
Though he’s been off the radar since leaving New York, the 59-year-old Howe would like to get back into managing or coaching in the big leagues. Prior to replacing Tony LaRussa, Howe managed the Astros for five seasons. Before getting the A’s job, he was a scout for the Dodgers and a bench coach for the Rockies.
Howe’s next stop could be the television booth. On Thursday, Fox Sports contacted him about doing a pre- and post-game show for the Astros.
“I don’t know if I’d be any good,” he said. “But that way, you’re in the game. With baseball, it’s out of sight, out of mind.”
Betty would also like to see her husband back in the game in some capacity.
“I think he’s happiest when he’s in baseball. And I think he has a lot to offer,” she said. “A lot of organizations need to rebuild and he’s a very good talent evaluator.”
Betty pointed out that it was Howe who moved Craig Biggio from catcher to second base and Jeff Bagwell from third to first during his time at the helm of the Astros. Both players thrived in their new positions. Howe was also the man who moved Luis Gonzalez from third base to left field.
But could Howe recognize when his chicken tenders needed to be taken off the heat during the cook-off? Or when the pasta was fully cooked? When a little help from an assistant on stage, the answer was yes.
In addition to cooking, Howe regaled the Garlic Fest crowd with old baseball stories. At the end of the session, the audience got to ask questions and Howe got in a well-received crack at his old teammate LaCorte, who was watching the exhibition. One fan asked about the infamous jersey-burning incident involving LaCorte. After a bad outing with the Astros, LaCorte returned to the team’s clubhouse in the Astrodome and threw matches on his uniform, which was on a pile on the ground, until it caught fire.
“Frank LaCorte was the only player that ever had a campfire in the clubhouse,” Howe said, laughing.