At 85, Frank Howard is still our hero…


Generally, a voice from the previous can take you there instantly.

And on a chilly, snowy Saturday in January, when the voice is that of your first baseball hero, it not solely takes you again all these years, it places a yr in your eye, a smile in your face, and a glow in your coronary heart.

Frank Howard, the Washington Senators’ slugger whose towering house runs into the higher deck of RFK Stadium captured the imaginations of Washington baseball followers from 1965-1971, captivated greater than 170 of us who heard him communicate on the cellphone Saturday to a Society for American Baseball Analysis assembly.

Once I was six, I used to be sure that the face of God appeared just like the 6-foot-7 Howard’s. Years later, listening to the 85-year-old baseball lifer rattle off lineups and stats from video games performed earlier than I used to be born, I’m positive Huge Frank additionally has the voice of God.

Photograph by Robert Riger/Getty Photographs

“Like my previous teammate Tommy McCraw used to say, ‘Frank, we’re within the eighth and ninth inning,’ “ Howard recalled.

“I mentioned, ‘Yeah, we’ve bought a one-run lead, and I hope they tie it up and we play 25.”

The “Capital Punisher” has a thoughts that’s nonetheless as sharp as a Stephen Strasburg curve, and all of the vitality he must spin baseball yarns for greater than an hour, enchanting a gaggle of grown ups in order that they’re instantly overgrown youngsters..

Whereas Howard fondly remembers Washington and the enjoyment he gave to followers of the often woeful Senators, his proudest accomplishment got here earlier than he was traded to D.C., profitable the 1963 World Collection with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“You’ll get extra recognition and respect for enjoying on a world championship ballclub than you’ll ever get for any particular person stuff you do,” Howard mentioned.

That’s why one of many 382 profession house runs he can immediately recall is the one off Whitey Ford in Recreation 4 of the ‘63 Collection, one among solely two hits Ford allowed. The homer gave Howard’s staff a 1-0 lead, and the Dodgers would go on to win 2-1 to finish a four-game sweep.

Legendary left-hander Sandy Koufax was on the mound for the Dodgers that day, and Howard remembers his teammate as probably the most dominant pitchers ever.

“If you wish to mix sheer velocity with an awesome curveball — an awesome curveball, not a superb one — you’re named both Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan,” mentioned Howard.

Howard’s World Collection homer and the shot he hit off Steve Carlton within the 1969 All-Star Recreation, in entrance of the house followers at RFK, are the primary that come to his thoughts. And whereas there have been loads of mammouth pictures into the stadium’s higher deck, not one of the specifically painted seats that mark them has any specific worth.

The White Seats In The Outfield.

“There are 12,000 seats within the higher deck at RFK, and 20 of them are painted white,” he famous. “The opposite 11,980 of them had been for instances I walked again to the dugout with a bat caught up my bottom.”

Regardless of his massive half within the Dodgers’ success, with 123 house runs and 382 RBIs in his seven seasons in Los Angeles, the Dodgers traded him to Washington earlier than the 1965 season in a five-player bundle for future All-Star pitcher Claude Osteen, infielder John Kennedy, and money.

“I couldn’t make the primary staff,” mentioned Howard, who was competing for Dodger at-bats with the likes of Wally Moon, Duke Snider, Willie Davis, and Ron Pretty.

“That’s the sort of expertise we had. However coming to Washington, it gave me a chance to play every single day, add 150 at-bats to my yearly complete, and consequently, I had my finest years there.”

With the Senators, Howard honed his hitting craft below the administration of former Dodger teammate Gil Hodges, and maybe the sport’s best all-around hitter, Ted Williams.

“Ted Williams was essentially the most electrical, charismatic individual I’ve ever met in my life. Not solely a baseball icon, however an American icon,” mentioned Howard, describing Williams’ 19-year profession round service in two wars earlier than popping out of retirement to be the Senators’ skipper in 1969.

Howard remembers their first Spring Coaching assembly.

“I’ve seen you hit. You want that first little swiftie (fastball) you see,” Williams instructed him.

Washington Senators

Photograph by Concentrate on Sport by way of Getty Photographs

“I’d higher like that number-one fastball,” Howard responded, “as a result of that quantity two, three, and 4 they put down there—curveball, slider, change—they’re unidentifiable flying objects.”

A laughing Williams satisfied Howard that if he might take only one strike throughout an at-bat, he would see extra pitches to hit.

“Most of us mere mortals, we don’t function too nicely in these 0-2, 1-2 counts. They’ve bought you cornered. However you let that rely go 2-0, 3-1, then we would be capable of function a little bit,” Howard mentioned.

“He took a undisciplined hitter — strike zone from the invoice of your cap to your shoelaces, in or off the plate two or three inches. Take a 6-foot-7 man and condense the strike zone.”

Howard discovered himself shedding a number of breaking balls within the filth and excessive pitches that may have been pop-ups.

“I noticed extra 2-0, 3-1 counts than I ever noticed in my life, and I went from about 48 bases on balls to about 127*, in a single yr, with one easy tip from this hitting guru.”

[ed note: “* = If any of you would like to call out Big Frank for possibly mis-rembering his own stats of going from 102 walks to 132 in that span in the above direct quote, go ahead. We’re going to let him take another strike here.”]

Howard remembers the person who preceded Williams within the Senators’ dugout, Gil Hodges, as one of many best managers ever.

“Gill actually helped me. He woke me up, too. As an alternative of simply wandering by the sport, he taught me begin pondering a little bit bit and develop into knowledgeable hitter. He might wake you up with these metal blue eyes.”

“There are a number of nice managers,” Howard mentioned, ”however the two guys who I assumed had complete depth notion and peripheral imaginative and prescient of the entire baseball diamond, had been Dick Williams and Gil Hodges.”

Howard is relieved that his former mentor is lastly being enshrined within the Corridor of Fame this summer time.

“God bless him,” mentioned Howard. “Lots of people thought he ought to have been in there 20 years in the past.

Howard’s most prolific stretch of home-run hitting got here from Could 12-18, 1968, when he belted 10 homers in a span of 20 plate appearances, which continues to be the main league file for many homers in a single week.

Howard says the sensation was uncommon, however for that transient time, he definitely was locked in.

“Your swing might be flawless, you’re studying your opposing pitchers fairly good,” mentioned Howard.

Expertise performs a key function, too. “Most hitters don’t develop into knowledgeable hitter till they hit their prime years of between 28 and 33, 34,” he defined.

Earlier than his professional baseball profession, Howard was a two-sport star at Ohio State, incomes All-America honors in baseball and basketball. Howard was drafted in 1957 by the NBA’s Philadelphia Warriors however he opted for a baseball profession with the Dodgers as a substitute. His Buckeye basketball teammates, together with John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas, went on to win the 1960 NCAA championship.

“Had I attempted to play two sports activities, I’d have by no means made it in ether one,” Howard recalled. “I’d have made it, however I wouldn’t have been a participant.”

Howard shares his nickname of “Hondo” with Havlicek, however Howard insists Havlicek bought the moniker in school, and he was given his in Los Angeles by teammate Chuck Essegian.

Howard’s profession additionally briefly intersected with that of a power-hitting hero from the pre-expansion Senators, Roy Sievers.

The 2 had been Senators teammates for 12 video games in 1965, the ultimate days of Sievers’ enjoying profession.

Howard says Sievers’ swing was distinctive for a right-hander.

“Most left-handed hitters have a picturesque-type swing,” mentioned Howard, “the Ted Williams’ the Barry Bonds’.”

He’s seen solely three right-handed hitters with such clean, pure mechanics.

“One in every of them was Roy Sievers,” mentioned Howard. “One other was Mark McGwire, and the third was Dick Stuart of the Pittsburgh Pirates.”

Within the late Nineteen Sixties, when TV immediate replay was a comparatively new know-how, somebody must escape a tape measure to find out how far Howard had hit one among his legendary pictures. Within the twenty first Century, main league ballparks have radar all through the sphere that immediately calculates house run distance, velocity, launch angle, and dozens of different metrics.

Does Howard ever ponder what sort of eye-popping information his homers would have generated?

“We by no means thought of it,” Howard mentioned.

“The world we dwell in immediately is a lot extra superior.”

Howard believes immediately’s gamers have all of the instruments, know-how, and information obtainable to them to take the sport to new ranges.

“They’re greater, they’re quicker, they’re stronger, they’ve entry to higher gear, higher teaching, higher diets,” Howard defined, describing expertise explosion in all skilled sports activities.

“I watch in awe,” Howard mentioned, describing the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby.

Washington Nationals vs St. Louis Cardinals, 2012 National League Division Series

Howard additionally doesn’t begrudge immediately’s gamers the massive salaries they’ve earned by free company, which took place two years after his closing main league sport in 1973. Baseball Reference estimates Howard earned $770,000 in his 14-year main league profession, with a prime wage of $125,000 in 1970, following his finest season in 1969.

“Right this moment’s younger athlete is, for essentially the most half, a really clever younger man. He’s bought an opportunity to do in 5 or 10 years what it takes most working males 50 years of their life to realize. The wage construction is there, they usually’re going to benefit from it. God bless ‘em.”

The final house run Frank Howard would hit in a Senators’ uniform got here on Sept. 30, 1971, within the staff’s closing sport at RFK, a sport the Senators forfeited when followers stormed the sphere within the ninth inning.

Howard didn’t have a lot to say about that sport or homer, however he does bear in mind believing that the nation’s capital wouldn’t endure lengthy.

“Bob Addie, an awesome sports activities author for The Washington Put up requested me, ‘Frank, do you ever assume we’ll get main league baseball again right here?’

“I mentioned, ‘inside 5 years.’”

After which, the baseball legend laughed out loud at his personal naivete.

Baseball followers in Washington waited 33 years after that for the Montreal Expos to maneuver and develop into the Nationals. However for that lengthy winter with out a staff, we had recollections of Frank Howard and his monster upper-deck pictures to maintain us heat.

Even now, with a staff to like and a World Collection championship of our personal to savor, Huge Frank continues to be our hero. Simply listening to his voice can encourage candy, summer time desires within the midst of one of many coldest winters the sport has ever identified.

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