The Capital Punisher-Frank Howard

For sixteen years, Frank Howard, a behemoth six-foot-eight 275 pound strongman, struck fear into the hearts of major league pitchers. Frank Howard began his career with the Dodgers, but had his best years after being traded to the lowly Washington Senators. His tape measure home runs became the stuff of legends, his strikeout totals rose, and Frank Howard became a beloved figure in our nation’s capital. Frank Howard also was given one of the best nicknames ever bestowed on any athlete- the “Capital Punisher”. Nobody who ever played the game could say he was more powerful than Frank Howard.

At Ohio State University, Frank Howard was an All-American in both basketball and baseball. He signed with the Dodgers, even though the Philadelphia Warriors had drafted him to play in the NBA. Frank Howard was the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1959 after hammering 43 Pacific Coast League home runs. The following year, 1960, he was named the NL Rookie of the Year with Los Angeles after he hit 23 homers with 77 runs batted in. Frank Howard also struck out over 100 times that season, the first of ten that he would exceed the century mark in whiffs. Playing in cavernous Chavez Ravine, Frank Howard’s home run totals suffered because of the far away fences. He still managed to hit 121 in five years there, and in 1963, Frank Howard and the Dodgers won a World Series over the Yankees. Frank Howard’s upper deck homer in Game Four off of New York’s Whitey Ford helped the Dodgers to the sweep. However, his low batting average in 1964, along with the fact that he was not the swiftest of foot in the outfield, led the Dodgers to trade him to the awful Washington Senators for Claude Osteen, a pitcher that had several good years in a Dodgers’ uniform, including a pair of 20 win campaigns.

The Senators were a pathetic bunch, but Frank Howard was glad to be out of LA, and in a more conventional hitter’s park. Frank Howard was known to strike out in bunches; his six in a row followed by a double play ball in a twin bill versus the Red Sox in 1965 a prime example. He also could swat homers in clusters, as his record 10 in just 20 at bats in May of 1968 attests. As manager of the Senators, Ted Williams skippered them to their one winning season during Frank Howard’s time there, and he taught Frank Howard to be more patient at the plate. Williams looked at Frank Howard’s walk totals over his career, which never exceeded 60 in a single season until 1969, and asked, “Can you tell me how a guy can hit 44 home runs and only get 48 bases on balls?” Frank Howard would walk 234 times combined in 1969 and ’70. The Indians actually walked Frank Howard three times intentionally on September 2nd, 1970; two of those times Frank Howard was leading off an inning!

But the fans did not come to see Frank Howard walk; they came to see him hit home runs. Using one of the biggest bats ever in baseball, a 37 inch, 35 ounce piece of lumber, Frank Howard clobbered some of the longest home runs in Major League Baseball history. He hit one an estimated 560 feet when while still with the Dodgers at Pittsburgh’s old Forbes Field. Frank Howard was one of three men to hit a ball onto the left field roof at the old Tiger Stadium- Cecil Fielder and Harmon Killebrew being the other two. In a game in Boston’s Fenway Park, Frank Howard hit a ball so hard off of the dead centerfield wall 400 feet away that outfielder Reggie Smith had the ball in his glove before Howard had reached first. There are 24 seats in Washington’s RFK Stadium in the faraway upper deck that have been painted white, each one hit by a mammoth Frank Howard blast. Howard has joked that all the green seats are for each of his many strikeouts. But the longest ball Frank Howard hit may have been against the Yankees. He hit a ball that was ruled foul clear out of Yankee Stadium; no fair ball had ever made it. Both announcer Phil Rizzuto and outfielder Bobby Murcer swore the ball was fair.

Frank Howard hit 44 homers in 1968 and 1970 to be the AL home run champion, and he just missed in 1969, his career high 48 falling one short of overtaking Killebrew’s 49. Frank Howard led the AL with 126 runs batted in, the last of his four 100 plus RBI seasons. Lifetime, Frank Howard clouted 383 homers, had 1,119 RBI, and fanned 1,460 times. Frank Howard ended his playing days with the Tigers in 1973. The gentle giant was well liked in the game, and after a couple of managerial stints with the Padres and Mets, Frank Howard eventually became a member of the Yankees organization, where today he is in the role of a special advisor. How strong was Frank Howard? At the All-Star Game in 1968, Harmon Killebrew, a robust six-footer who weighed well over 200 pounds, stretched for a throw at first base and tore his hamstring. Frank Howard came to the aid of his home run rival, picking him up like a sack of potatoes and carrying him off the field, with one arm!

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