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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Common Man: The Manly Awesomeness of Frank Howard

This really blew my purkinjerkin’ cells to pieces…no, not the delightful article…the fact that Neyer never saw Hondo play!

Despite a reputation as a low-average slugger in a terrible era for hitters, Howard managed to put together at .273/.352/.499 line across 16 seasons. His 142 OPS+ is tied for 61st all time, ahead of former teammate Duke Snider, and other Hall of Fame sluggers including Reggie Jackson, Chuck Klein, Al Simmons, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Billy Williams, Carl Yastrezemski, and (of course) Jim Rice.

In fact, it might be helpful to think of Frank Howard as the player everyone thinks Jim Rice was. Like Rice, Howard was a defensively challenged corner outfielder. Both lasted 16 seasons, each playing from age 21 to 36, and both hit, believe it or not, 382 homers. Howard’s career OPS was .851, and Rice’s was .854. Rice had a higher batting average, more hits, and more doubles, but also had 1700 more plate appearances. While superficially similar, however, Howard’s performance actually towers over Rice when we account for the era and stadiums in which he played. While Rice spent his whole career taking aim at the Green Monster, Howard was mired hitters’ hells in Dodger Stadium and RFK Stadium for almost all his career. Howard had two full seasons in LA’s Memorial Coliseum in 1960 and 1961, and one full year at Tiger Stadium in his last season, but otherwise played in a scoring wasteland.

Their careers also differ in another essential way. While some writers have twisted themselves into knots to demonstrate that Jim Rice was The Most Feared Hitter In the American League, it’s Howard who was really frightening.

Repoz Posted: February 03, 2010 at 12:49 PM | 38 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hall of fame, history, sabermetrics

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   1. philevans3154 Posted: February 03, 2010 at 01:41 PM (#3453216)
"The Capitol Punisher" is such a great nickname.
   2. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: February 03, 2010 at 01:42 PM (#3453217)
While some writers have twisted themselves into knots to demonstrate that Jim Rice was The Most Feared Hitter In the American League, it’s Howard who was really frightening.


this was mentioned by me and many others ad nauseum during the Great Rice Debates of ought-9
   3. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: February 03, 2010 at 02:05 PM (#3453228)
One ought not mistake ought for aught.
   4. Jose is Absurdly Correct but not Helpful Posted: February 03, 2010 at 02:08 PM (#3453234)
1979 NLCS game was on MLBN this past Saturday. How did Chuck Tanner decide that Ed Ought ott to be catching? That's a bad thaught process.

And who the hell was Heity Cruz?
   5. salvomania Posted: February 03, 2010 at 02:27 PM (#3453244)
Heity Cruz---one of the three Cruz brothers---also known as Hector, never came close to the heights of his older brother Jose but had a more distinguished career than Tommy. The Cardinals thought he might be their slugging 3rd baseman of the future, as I believe he displaced Ken Reitz, but it turned out he was a poor fielder and not much better of a hitter, so, as they did with Reitz, they eventually pawned him off on the Cubs.
   6. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: February 03, 2010 at 02:34 PM (#3453249)
"aught" and "ought" are also sometimes used as names for 0, in contradiction of their strict meanings. The reason for this is a rebracketing, whereby "a nought" and "a naught" have been misheard as "an ought" and "an aught".


from John Ellison Kahn and Robert Ilson, ed (1985). "naught, nought". The Right Word at the Right Time.
   7. Mr. Hotfoot Jackson (gef, talking mongoose) Posted: February 03, 2010 at 02:43 PM (#3453259)
Heity Cruz---one of the three Cruz brothers---also known as Hector, never came close to the heights of his older brother Jose but had a more distinguished career than Tommy. The Cardinals thought he might be their slugging 3rd baseman of the future, as I believe he displaced Ken Reitz, but it turned out he was a poor fielder and not much better of a hitter, so, as they did with Reitz, they eventually pawned him off on the Cubs.


Man, Hector had what had to have been one of the greatest seasons ever for an Arkansas Traveler (Cards' AA franchise) back in '73, flirting with the Texas League Triple Crown (30 HR, 105 RBI, .328 BA). I remember seeing him hit 2 HRs in Shreveport sometime that year.

Quite a few guys came through Little Rock & put together great streaks when I was a kid during that general era -- Garry Templeton & Bake McBride really stand out in my memory -- but Cruz was the only one I can recall who stayed long enough to put together an exceptional full season.
   8. billyjack Posted: February 03, 2010 at 04:31 PM (#3453372)
Heity Cruz had some key hits for the Reds in the '79 pennant race, and was considered an unexpected spark plug. He was a fan favorite with his super-enthusiasm too. ;)) There was no full-time space for him on the Reds, and he couldn't hit anyway. Apparently traded for Mike Vail, who was a workmanlike Met-Cub outfielder.

Key 4th inning double at Houston in late September

Key late inning RBI vs San Diego three days later

Key 9th inning double in Game 2 vs Pittsburgh
   9. Ron Johnson Posted: February 03, 2010 at 04:57 PM (#3453392)
Talking feared, I remember Brooks Robinson once said the most important play he ever made was on a Frank Howard line drive he didn't quite get to.

Howard got all of the ball and didn't get much loft on it. Robinson said it would have torn his arm off if he'd reached it.
   10. kubiwan Posted: February 03, 2010 at 05:19 PM (#3453402)
While some writers have twisted themselves into knots to demonstrate that Jim Rice was The Most Feared Hitter In the American League


Is this correct? My impression is that it has been the opposite, namely, it has just asserted as true without any evidence beyond "You had to have been there."
   11. Jose Canusee Posted: February 03, 2010 at 05:57 PM (#3453433)
If contact lenses had been more common then, Howard could have ditched the glasses and always played with some stubble and thereby send fear into the pressbox instead of looking like a school principal. Hard to say if it would have helped, the sportswriters of that era might have withheld HOF votes for refusing interviews and acting like a jerk rather than being impressed with your fearsomeness.
   12. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: February 03, 2010 at 06:09 PM (#3453443)
Jeez, some warning might have been nice before I went and got Albrighted by the 2nd picture in the article.
   13. Rally Posted: February 03, 2010 at 06:23 PM (#3453452)
My inside sources from former clubhouse attendants tell me that Frank Howard took craps that were more fearsome than Jim Rice.
   14. depletion Posted: February 03, 2010 at 06:33 PM (#3453458)
One of the comments to the article mentions Dave Kingman playing on the Mets while Howard was a coach. That's just too much slug being concentrated in one place. I bet they problems getting baseballs through the clubhouse door as the sluggishness tended to repel baseballs at about 10 slugs/cm^2.
I recall Howard's homer streak. While I watched the Mets, the announcers gave updates on what Howard was doing. He might have broken a record Kiner had for HR/month, or some such trivia.
   15. Susan Posted: February 03, 2010 at 06:53 PM (#3453468)
Never saw Howard play, but I did see him on the player panel at the SABR convention last summer in DC and chatted with him briefly afterward. He was incredibly genial and friendly (and yeah, freaking tall).
   16. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: February 03, 2010 at 07:06 PM (#3453477)
I recall Howard's homer streak. While I watched the Mets, the announcers gave updates on what Howard was doing. He might have broken a record Kiner had for HR/month, or some such trivia.

it was a rather amazing week

May 12 thru the 18th of 1968

6 games, 25 PAs 10 dingers, 17 RBIs

542/560/1.833
   17. Walt Davis Posted: February 03, 2010 at 07:16 PM (#3453486)
looking like a school principal.

if you're high-school principal was the size of a pro wrestler. You probably did have to be there to understand the way that Howard physically dwarfed pretty much every other player out there. Big guys are much more common now but Howard at 6'7" 255 (right!) when most players were probably 5'11" 170 was just massive.

Man, look at the names on that 71 Senators team -- Harrah, Biitner, Unser, Mincher, Elliott Maddox, Lenny Randle (never knew he made it up in time to be a Senator), Burroughs (him neither), McCraw, Epstein, Curt Flood, Bosman, McClain (still just 27!), Broberg, Linblad, Knowles ... sounds like my baseball card collection at the time (god forbid I should get an Ernie Banks or Billy Williams ... I swear Topps intentionally banned Cub cards from the Chicago market)

In fairness, Rice was probably a much better defender than Howard in his younger days. We pick on him but the young Rice did have decent speed and was probably an average LF. Howard was always a lumbering ox. (OK, I wasn't around to see him until the end but I think the 8 career SB speaks for itself.) As a kid I used to joke (technically speaking, not that it was funny) that the only way Howard could hit an inside-the-park HR is if he laid down a bunt -- everyone would faint. (someone will now go to retrosheet and find a Howard inside-the-park HR.)
   18. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: February 03, 2010 at 07:25 PM (#3453492)
You probably did have to be there to understand the way that Howard physically dwarfed pretty much every other player out there.

I remember once when they were playing the Orioles and Hondo got on first, and he made Boog Powell look small (not an easy feat)--even the announcers expressed amazement at the juxtaposition
   19. JustDan Posted: February 03, 2010 at 07:35 PM (#3453495)
He was incredibly genial and friendly

This is where the comparison with Rice breaks down. Howard was always considered a gentle giant. And there was F-E-A-R in the opposing team, but that may have been more with the less than imposing lineup around Howard.
   20. Nick Esasky's "Vertigo" Posted: February 03, 2010 at 07:42 PM (#3453502)
"...the only way Howard could hit an inside-the-park HR is if he laid down a bunt -- everyone would faint. (someone will now go to retrosheet and find a Howard inside-the-park HR.)"


No IPHR for Hondo...
   21. Harmon "Thread Killer" Microbrew Posted: February 03, 2010 at 07:43 PM (#3453503)
What's with the Corey Koskie dig at the end of the article? Was he a grump with the media or did he do something at TwinsFest?
   22. Roadblock Jones Posted: February 03, 2010 at 07:44 PM (#3453506)
I met Frank Howard once when he was between baseball jobs -- or maybe just baseball seasons -- at a liquor store, where he was doing paid appearances for J&B;whiskey. This was probably 20 years ago.

Huge guy, very friendly, very shill-y: I was trying to get him to open up about managing the 1983 Mets and he was trying to tell me what a great product this here J&B;is. I was also trying to shoot photos of him, candidly, but he kept turning around and smiling at the camera no matter where I tried to hide.
   23. tfbg9 Posted: February 03, 2010 at 07:46 PM (#3453507)
looking like a school principal


Nope. Howard looked like a high school vice-principal.
   24. Swoboda is freedom Posted: February 03, 2010 at 07:56 PM (#3453514)
I saw Howard play with Washington one night when I was a young kid. It was helmet night! Had the Senators helmet for years. Hondo hit a big home run, which made the Senators only lose by 4. Elliot Maddox was the center fielder, made a couple of nice catches. 1971, last year in Washington.
   25. GuyMcGuffin Posted: February 03, 2010 at 08:16 PM (#3453535)
By far the coolest feature of RFK stadium were the white Frank Howard seats scattered in along the upper deck that marked where his HRs landed.

The current DC incarnation has done other things to mark his legacy as well.

Hondo got by far the biggest ovation of the day at the last baseball game ever at RFK. Great moment. They put him next to Ryan Zimmerman at 3rd for photo-op purposes.

They unveiled a statue of him along with Walter Johnson and Josh Gibson at the main gate. The statues are hideous, but it's cool that they chose him to go along with those two.

They also had a Frank Howard/Adam Dunn bobblehead tandem last year for stadium give aways.
   26. Zac Schmitt Posted: February 03, 2010 at 08:42 PM (#3453551)
Those statues are funny. You gotta appreciate the thought, but they're the sort of thing that probably sounded like a good idea but really, really don't work in practice. Still, though, if even one kid goes home and looks up who Frank Howard, Josh Gibson, and Walter Johnson are, mission accomplished.
   27. GuyMcGuffin Posted: February 03, 2010 at 08:51 PM (#3453557)
I suppose. But is the mission compromised if the kid is disappointed when he learns Walter Johnson was a mere mortal and not Shiva: The multi-armed God of Throwing?

Ugly Statue
   28. vortex of dissipation Posted: February 03, 2010 at 08:55 PM (#3453563)
The first major league game that I ever attended was a Senators/Pilots game at Sicks Stadium in 1969. Frank Howard hit two massive home runs, both to center field. The second one was an absolute moon shot. I couldn't believe that anyone could hit a ball that far...
   29. Proo Posted: February 03, 2010 at 10:58 PM (#3453638)
As a kid I used to joke (technically speaking, not that it was funny) that the only way Howard could hit an inside-the-park HR is if he laid down a bunt -- everyone would faint.


From your lips to Danny Kaye's ears? (or vice versa)
   30. Mr. Hotfoot Jackson (gef, talking mongoose) Posted: February 03, 2010 at 11:01 PM (#3453640)
Ugly Statue


Ugh. That looks like one of the forms the alien takes in John Carpenter's The Thing.
   31. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: February 04, 2010 at 12:41 AM (#3453675)
I suppose. But is the mission compromised if the kid is disappointed when he learns Walter Johnson was a mere mortal and not Shiva: The multi-armed God of Throwing?

Ugly Statue


Yikes. Double-yikes, even.
   32. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 04, 2010 at 01:24 AM (#3453693)
From the proper angle, the Frank Howard statue looks all right. But the statues don't work from most angles.

The Johnson one also makes him look like a middle infielder making a pivot throw. From the video I've seen of him, his body had a lot more forward momentum as he released the ball, versus the way the statue depicts him with more of his weight on his back foot.
   33. AndrewJ Posted: February 04, 2010 at 01:38 AM (#3453696)
In one of Howard's last seasons with Washington, the Senators were in NY and Howard apparently hit a *monster* towering drive which cleared the left field roof of Yankee Stadium I (and it may have still been rising when it exited) and *everybody* in the park took for the very first fair ball to ever leave the Stadium -- but the third base ump called it foul by about a foot. Nobody who saw it believed him. One of the SABR National Pastime annuals had an article about it a few years ago.
   34. Morty Causa Posted: February 04, 2010 at 02:11 AM (#3453707)
Frank Howard hit one of the two hardest balls I ever saw hit that weren't home runs(the other was by Mickey Mantle). I don't even remember the occasion or who the pitcher was or where it was, but the image is still vivid: Howard drilled the ball past the pitcher's right ear so hard that the pitcher stayed poised in his follow-through position until well after the ball had whizzed by him. It was a Clint Eastwood .44 magnum special--that is, had it hit the pitcher flush in the face, I believe it would taken his head off.

Mantle's was in '62 or '63. Batting lefty, he hit what we used to call a frozen rope. This was when the fences were hard and before padding. It hit the wall and came right back at the right fielder, who whirled and fired it to first. Mantle with those natural instincts saw what was going to happen and turned on the after burners midway to first to beat out the throw by a half-step or less.
   35. Best Dressed Chicken in Town Posted: February 04, 2010 at 03:50 AM (#3453753)
From the proper angle, the Frank Howard statue

Why is he immortalized reaching for a ball he might dink into right, if not foul off?
   36. jingoist Posted: February 04, 2010 at 05:13 AM (#3453786)
I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Frank on the 40 minute Metro ride from Vienna, VA to RFK back in 2005.
He was scouting for "Mr. Steinbrenner, the nicest man in baseball" as Frank put it.

He's slimed down considerably since his playing days.
When he got on the train I exclaimed, "hey! it's Frank Howard!"
Frank's response wes, "what's left of him".


A true gentleman and a soft-spoken fellow of considerable wit and insight.
Lots of insight as to Short's mistake in trading for Denny McLain and thus ruining the Senators ability to compete. He felt the Nats gave up way too much for McLain.
Denny never was very good for Washington; never came close to equaling his heroics while a Tiger.
That metro ride is a baseball-related memory I'll keep for the rest of my life
   37. SandyRiver Posted: February 04, 2010 at 03:44 PM (#3453973)
Frank Howard hit one of the two hardest balls I ever saw hit that weren't home runs(the other was by Mickey Mantle). I don't even remember the occasion or who the pitcher was or where it was, but the image is still vivid: Howard drilled the ball past the pitcher's right ear so hard that the pitcher stayed poised in his follow-through position until well after the ball had whizzed by him. It was a Clint Eastwood .44 magnum special--that is, had it hit the pitcher flush in the face, I believe it would taken his head off.

I saw Frank Howard hit a similar laser in the old Polo Grounds in May, 1962, the same game in which Maury Wills homered from both sides. Howard was pulling most everything then so the RF was stationed in right center about 400' from the plate (still about 60' from the fence in that weirdly shaped field.) Howard's liner might've been within reach of 2nd baseman before screeching onward, to be snagged in the RF's webbing after he'd gone back maybe 3 steps. Our seats were front row upper deck over the Dodgers' (on-field) bullpen in left center, maybe 35-40' above the field, and Howard's shot never came close to reaching our elevation. (His game-winning HR in game 2 was a more normal 400 footer well into the upper deck in left, hit on the next pitch after Choo-Choo Coleman dropped a 2-strike foul tip, very typical Mets play.)

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