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At 85, Frank Howard is still our hero…

Typically, a voice from the previous can take you there straight away.

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 tear 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.

After I was six, I used to be sure that the face of God regarded 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 certain Large Frank additionally has the voice of God.

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Whitey Ford Pitches To Frank Howard

Picture by Robert Riger/Getty Photographs

“Like my outdated teammate Tommy McCraw used to say, ‘Frank, we’re within the eighth and ninth inning,’ “ Howard recalled.

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

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

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 Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“You’ll get extra recognition and respect for taking part in on a world championship ballclub than you’ll ever get for any particular person belongings 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 in all 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.

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

“If you wish to mix sheer velocity with an amazing curveball — an amazing curveball, not a great 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 mammoth photographs into the stadium’s higher deck, not one of the specifically painted seats that mark them has any explicit 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 have 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 form of expertise we had. However coming to Washington, it gave me a chance to play on daily basis, add 150 at-bats to my yearly complete, and in consequence, I had my greatest years there.”

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

“Ted Williams was essentially the most electrical, charismatic particular person 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 recollects their first Spring Coaching assembly.

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

Washington Senators

Picture by Deal with 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 acquired you cornered. However you let that rely go 2-0, 3-1, then we’d be capable to 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 plenty of breaking balls within the grime and excessive pitches which 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 biggest managers ever.

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

“There are plenty 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, have 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 Might 12-18, 1968, when he belted 10 homers in a span of 20 plate appearances, which is still the key league file for many homers in a single week.

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

“Your swing is in all probability flawless, you’re studying your opposing pitchers fairly good,” mentioned Howard.

Expertise performs a key function, too. “Most hitters don’t turn 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 an alternative. 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 acquired the moniker in faculty, 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 have 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 easy, pure mechanics.

“Certainly one 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 Sixties, when TV prompt replay was a comparatively new know-how, somebody must get away a tape measure to find out how far Howard had hit one in all his legendary photographs. Within the twenty first Century, main league ballparks have radar all through the sector that immediately calculates house run distance, velocity, launch angle, and dozens of different metrics.

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

“We by no means considered it,” Howard mentioned.

“The world we reside in right this moment is a lot extra superior.”

Howard believes right this moment’s gamers have all of the instruments, know-how, and knowledge out there to them to take the sport to new ranges.

“They’re larger, they’re sooner, 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 right this moment’s gamers the large salaries they’ve earned by means of free company, which took place two years after his last main league recreation 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 greatest season in 1969.

“At this time’s younger athlete is, for essentially the most half, a really clever younger man. He’s acquired an opportunity to do in 5 or 10 years what it takes most working males 50 years of their life to attain. 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 last recreation at RFK, a recreation the Senators forfeited when followers stormed the sector within the ninth inning.

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

“Bob Addie, an amazing sports activities author for The Washington Submit requested me, ‘Frank, do you ever suppose 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 turn into the Nationals. However for that lengthy winter with no staff, we had recollections of Frank Howard and his monster upper-deck photographs to maintain us heat.

Even now, with a staff to like and a World Collection championship of our personal to savor, Large Frank is still our hero. Simply listening to his voice can encourage candy, summer time goals within the midst of one of many coldest winters the sport has ever recognized.

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