Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Few Minutes With Jim Hannan

From the very moment that RFK STADIUM opened in 1962 for Major League Baseball--Jim Hannan was a pitcher for My Washington Senators. At first, a relief specialist and spot starter--Hannan became a Main Stay in the Washington Starting Rotation from 1966 through 1970. Eventually, he was traded to The Detroit Tigers in 1971. His Major League Career ending after that '71 campaign. A season finished as a Milwaukee Brewer. Yet, once Jim's Baseball Life ended--he returned and remains to this day a Washingtonian. Today, approaching retirement in the business world and an active member of The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Assocation. Recently, I caught with Jim Hannan at RFK Stadium to talk about his times as A Washington Senator.

What are your remembrances of RFK Stadium? (SBF)

“A couple of things. When they (DC Sports & Entertainment Commission) opened the stadium, I was here in 1962. I was 22 or 23 years old. I vividly remember walking in the parking lot with my gear bag from the parking lot. Looking up at the wavy roof, it felt like The Space Age was upon us. Science Fiction was coming true. DC Stadium looked like a Flying Saucer. ‘Boy, it doesn’t get ANY BETTER THAN THIS!!’ I said to myself.”

“Wow, I am in The Big Leagues at 22 or 23 years old. My entire career is in front of me—in The Nation’s Capital—really what else could I ask for. This is it. No place better to be. So, that was my First Impression of this stadium.”

“And, the second thing is, and Frank Howard and Brant Alyea (former teammates) both agree with me on—this was a fair stadium. If you hit the ball well, it was a Home Run. If you didn’t hit it right--sting it--you were out. This ballpark was fair to the hitters. It was fair to the pitchers.”

“When The Washington Nationals first moved here—everyone (of their players) on the club—was complaining about Home Runs and the dimensions. But, honestly, the problem arose because of all the ballparks that have been built recently. They are much smaller. They are more compact and therefore—give up more Home Runs. But, honestly, RFK is a fair ballpark to both hitter and pitcher. And, that’s the way every park should be. There should be no gimmicks to enhance the ability of one or the other. Too much of that these days in baseball.”

Obviously, you enjoyed your time playing in Washington; The Senators Franchise deserved a better fate. What were your feelings about DC losing its team? (SBF)

“It was very sad. But, I realized two years beforehand it was destined to happen. We were breaking camp from Florida (in 1970), and we traveled down to Arlington, Texas to play The Pittsburgh Pirates on a Sunday. We had a Day Game scheduled here (at RFK) on Monday—Opening Day. I remember saying to myself: ‘Why in the world are we (The Senators) coming to Texas on a Sunday, when we have to fly to Washington, get organized and everybody settled in for the season.’ We had to be at the ballpark (RFK) at 9AM.”

“It’s The Presidential Opener. President Nixon is coming. THIS WAS INSANE!! So, I started to think to myself—’you know what, they (Senators Owner Bob Short) are going to move this ball club.’ Of course—two years later—they moved the club.”

What was the fan base like for you? (SBF)

“The Senators Fans were terrific. In 1969, we almost outdrew The Orioles in attendance. We had over 960,000 come to see us play here. Baltimore was a World Series team, won the American League Pennant. They barely drew 1 Million. Our Fans were great. The Ownership was not.”

As a player, what are your fondest memories of playing here on the field?

“Several. One night here, my Father was dying. He was sick in Jersey City, but was able to hear the game on the radio. I pitched a three hitter. Only five balls got out of the infield. Three of which, were singles. That was very memorable—because I knew it might be the last game my Father was able to hear (it was-sadly). I don’t think I will ever forget it.”

Another night, I was pitching against Kansas City (The Royals—not Athletics) in 1970. I pitched a one hitter here. And, “Hondo” tried to run in to get a ball—but his glasses were all fogged up. He just missed the ball, never touched it. I give him all the credit in the world; he did try to catch it, because he got a good jump on the ball. As you know, he was not known for his agility in the outfield (chuckling—both of us). But, he came in on that ball, charged it. It was the sixth inning—Paul Schaal hit that ball and it went for a triple. But, they didn’t score. And, that was the only hit The Royals got in the entire game. So close—but I couldn’t blame “Hondo”, he always gave his all. Just the breaks of the game.”

Of course The Presidential Openers were special. One year, I was put on the Disabled List and possibly being sent down (to the minors) as the season began. I asked our then Manager—Gil Hodges—if I could go out on the field (in uniform) for the moment. He said: ‘Sure—go out.’ At that time—The President would throw the baseball into a crowd of players—who jostled for the honor of retrieving it and (the lucky player) getting to take a picture and autograph with The President. Guess who caught the ball? (laughing). Yeah, me. I caught the ball. So, I went over to The Presidential Box with The President (Lyndon Johnson), The American League President (Joe Cronin) and Team President. Our League President and Team President both knowing they had to sign the papers to send me to The Minor Leagues. (Laughing some more) So, they are now all looking at me ‘What are you doing here?’ their expressions.”

“But, they didn’t know, I knew—I was not being sent to The Minors. I was only being sent down to the farm (on paper)—because I had an option. And, the team needed to make another roster move to set the 25 Man Roster. I never got sent down—and The Senators eventually completed their roster. I stayed with the club the entire time as they attempted to make a trade. 15 Days later, I was pitching back in The Majors and stayed all year. But, it was funny and ironic. The one player standing on the field that caught The Presidential Pitch was not an active player. It was nice meeting The President though.”

What was it like playing with Frank Howard?

“Great Guy!! GREAT GUY!! The True Jolly Green Giant. He really is (both of us laughing). He is the friendliest guy. Let me tell one of my favorite “Hondo” stories. We always rotated roommates back in those days. And, we always had roommates on the road. On one trip, I wound up with “Hondo”. We settle down in the hotel room—he looks at me saying: ‘Jimmy—you hungry?’ I reply: ‘Yeah Frank, I will have a little something, not much’ Hondo says: ‘I’m going to call room service. Do you think they serve this late (its 12 Midnight)?’ I didn’t know.”

“Hondo on the phone: ‘Room Service? Its late, I know—can we still get anything? (Howard listening back to whomever is on the other end of the line) Yeah, great. Oh, Good. All right, what do you got (again Big Frank listening on the phone)? Yeah, yeah—anything else? All right—we’ll take two steaks, THE BIG ONES—you know. And, mash potatoes…’”

“So, I am thinking to myself, Frank, Frank, Frank!! —I don’t want all that food. Then, ‘Hondo’ turns to me: ‘Wait a minute (to the operator), Jimmy you want anything?' (Both of us just busting out laughing—for a good 15 seconds—even some snickers—knowing Frank Howard.)"

That’s “Hondo”!! (SBF) “Yes, that’s Hondo. I just love the guy.”

“Another time—we were on a trip to Chicago. We were in a team meeting and he was asked to go on a diet. So, we are heading out to dinner later. Frank is standing in the hallway. Come on Frank—go out with us. He’s all very solemn. Come on—come on. So, he agrees and comes with us to eat. The waitress comes over and ‘Hondo’ says that he’s on a diet. But, then he says: ‘Maybe, I’ll have something.’ He says—‘Do you have poached eggs?’ Yeah, she answers. ‘So, how do you cook the poached egg—you don’t cook them in butter, do you?’ She says no. ‘Ok—I’ll have two poached eggs. No, no—wait. I’ll have a half dozen poached eggs. No—make it a DOZEN!! But, I will have toast but NO BUTTER ON IT—PLEASE!!’

“Hilarious, just hilarious!!” (That’s good, that’s good—SBF) “THAT’s HONDO!!”

Both of us repeating in unison—“That’s Hondo”—laughing the entire time.

As the final games at RFK Stadium for Our Washington Nationals play out—a few more Former Washington Senators will recall some of their memories of The Old Ballyard on East Capitol Street. To a person—their grandest memories—surround “HONDO”--Frank Howard.

Yeah, I am not surprised.

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