It was the name that caught my eye. I’ve been working on the Sprague Family Collection: Atherton Sprague (AC 1920) taught mathematics at Amherst College and coached tennis. His wife, Marion Whittemore Sprague and daughter Rosemary Sprague were both Smith College graduates and fixtures on the Amherst theatrical and literary scene. I was processing a photo album from Rosemary Sprague’s childhood when I came across photos of her and a young man, captioned “Howdy Groskloss.”
I Googled the name and discovered that Howard Hoffman “Howdy” Groskloss was a 1930 Amherst College graduate. A look into his Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Alumni Bio File reveals just how extraordinary Howdy Groskloss was.
Groskloss grew up in Pittsburgh and was recruited by the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team when he was just in high school. According to a 1930 article from the Boston Evening Transcript, Barney Dreyfuss, president of the Pirates, offered to put him through college if Groskloss would agree to join the team after graduation and not play college football. Grosskloss apparently didn’t take him up on the offer. Instead, he played varsity football, basketball, and baseball at Amherst, and in fact seems to be most lauded for his football skills. The Amherst Student newspapers from Groskloss’ college years are filled with gushing stories about his athletic achievements. He also had mental prowess to match his athletic skill: Groskloss received an academic scholarship from Amherst, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and was president of the Scarab senior honor society.
The Scarab was responsible, among other things, for maintaining Amherst College traditions. The society printed rulebooks for incoming Freshman and oversaw events including the annual Freshman-Sophomore cap-burning battle. At the time, first year students were required to wear pea-green caps until late February of their Freshman year, when they would attempt to burn the caps in a bonfire and Sophomores would attempt to prevent them. Although the Scarab had laid out rules for the event, things went horribly awry in 1930 when five students received terrible burns on their faces and bodies. Sophomores were supposed to be carrying buckets of water to put out the Freshman bonfire, but several had replaced the water in their buckets with kerosene. In letters to the administration and statements to the press, Groskloss took full responsibility for the events and attempted to absolve his classmates.
As awful as the incident was, Amherst appears to have appreciated Groskloss’ nobility and handling of the situation and he was not held responsible. The rest of his senior year does not appear to have been tarnished. Howdy delivered the senior Class Day speech on June 13, 1930, and graduated cum laude.
After graduating in 1930, Howdy went back to Pittsburgh and played three seasons for the Pirates, while simultaneously attending medical school at Yale. He eventually left baseball to attend medical school full-time, later transferring from Yale to Penn, and became an OB-GYN. He served as chief medical officer on an aircraft carrier during World War II, taught at several medical schools, published medical research on a variety of topics, and according to a 2006 article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, pioneered the use of ultrasound technology in medicine.
Howdy passed away in 2006, several months after his 100th birthday.
[Note: Howard Gloskloss is not Amherst’s only connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their current manager, Neal Huntington, is a 1991 Amherst College alumnus, and two other Amherst alumni also manage major league baseball teams.]