Thursday, September 13, 2007

My Conversation With Frank Howard (Part Two)

“It was the next to last series that year (1973), in Detroit, on a Friday night," said Frank Howard ("Hondo" finished his career with The Tigers). "Its rainy, sleeting, cold—45 or 50 degrees. Everybody is freezing their rear ends off. Maybe 5,000 have actually shown up at Tiger Stadium. We are well out of it (the playoffs). Jimmy Palmer (Baltimore Orioles) has us shut out on two hits going into the bottom of the 5th inning. Somebody always asks me whether there was a defining moment in your career, when you know your career is over with. Well, this was it for me.”

“We get two base runners ahead of me with nobody out. So, I am told to grab a bat (to pinch hit for Eddie Brinkman). You don’t want to hold up the game. You do a couple of GI Stretches—couple of practice swings. Remember, its 45 to 50 degrees in the ballpark. So, I always say anytime you make contact off Jim Palmer, in your mind as a hitter—it had to be a rope. You usually didn’t make that kind of contact off him. Talk about a good live fastball. Palmer had one. Great curve ball too. He had the most fluid motion. The ball just whew!! Whoosh!! (Howard using his right forearm to display velocity), jumped right out at you. I call it afterburner speed. His ball appeared to pickup steam as it gets near the plate. A Quality fastball that he could place right here (Up and In). Well, anyway—I hit a ball off Jimmy past the bag at third base. You think it’s a bullet in your mind. I'm believing two bases. I get out of the box. I look up, thinking that baseball is rattling around in the leftfield corner. And, here’s that great third baseman for Baltimore—Brooks Robinson—he’s got me played just back of the bag—on the line. He backhands me. Goes BING!!—BING!!—BING!! (motioning with his hands around the fictitious bases). I make three outs with one swing of the bat. I hit into a Triple Play!! I use to have nightmares about it—REALLY!! You don’t have to tell me now---I know my career is OVER!! (laughing). So, I always tell Jimmy—‘You got me released in Detroit.’ He asked me: ‘You remember that!!’ ‘Sure, I remember—its embarrassing to hit into a Triple Play. One that signified the end of my career.’

Typical Frank Howard. He could make you believe he wasn't much of a ballplayer. But, "Hondo" was a very good Major League Baseball Player. A career that started out strongly. One that found him crowned the 1960 National League Rookie of The Year. Yet, he wasn't 100% during those early years. As we pick up My Conversation With Frank Howard--we begin at the start of his Major League Career.

“When I came to LA, I had a bad arm. I hurt my right arm in Los Angeles (for The Dodgers). I played my first two years there, before they operated on it. Playing through a lot of pain—I didn’t have the type of years I really should have had. And, it wasn’t so much an adjustment to the new league (when traded to Washington)—actually The American League was a better league for me—because they had the bigger ballparks back at that time. As a hitter, you would see the four seam fastball, curveballs in American League. The National League had smaller ballparks—I was a better high ball hitter than low ball hitter. The National League, with those smaller ballparks, had everybody throwing sinker and slider—everything down in the (strike) zone. Every pitch had movement on it.”

“But, my first two years, I couldn't throw a baseball from here to that wall (about 10 feet away)—without it killing me. But, then—they took the chips out and everything was OK. My improvement (as a player) came from more playing time. We win The World Championships in 1959 and 1963 (The Dodgers) out there in Los Angeles. ’59 I was up and down—back and forth. I was eligible for the playoff. But, they didn’t put me on The World Series Roster. Still, they (LA) gave me a World Series Ring and a one-half share. Which was very kind of them. Of course, I made a little contribution in the 1963 series—not much (never one to talk about himself, "Hondo" hit a clutch Home Run in The Dodgers Series Clinching Victory over The New York Yankees that year). Then, of course—I got traded to The Washington Senators. 'First in War, First in Peace and DEAD Last in The American League' (chuckling) at that time. And, people ask me—‘Frank, what’s the difference between winning and losing? Is it psychological, what is it?’ Well, in my mind—anything can snowball for you—a positive way or a negative way—if you let it. Quite simply, the difference, I see, is (The Dodgers had) Don Drysdale, Tommy Davis and Maury Wills; Ron Fairly, Willie Davis and Sandy Koufax. Any three combined together, are quality players. That’s what separates the Big Boys from those guys in the second half of any league.”

“That’s again where those scouts come in. If they can get you that exceptional talent that you can develop—George Brett, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey and Willie Mays. If you can get two or three guys like that with talent, you are going to be very competitive.”

“But, someone said to me (upon being traded to The Senators):’Isn't that not a big letdown for you?’ I said: ‘No, its not.' Where I was getting 425 At Bats in Los Angeles, I am going to get 550 to 600 At-Bats in The American League. It will give me a chance to make a little better wage.(His trade to The Senators was a good decade before Free Agency arrived for players).”

I always thought The Senators actually had some good players. Ken McMullen (third baseman) was a far better player than what history has remembered him as? (SBF)

(Nodding his head in agreement) “Well, he was. I’ll tell you what. Ken was a well above average third baseman. He had a very accurate arm and was a good low fastball hitter. You are exactly right—he was a much better player than remembered. But, you don’t get that type of recognition, when you play on a second division club. This is America. America Loves Winners!!”

“Now, there is nothing wrong with that. And, we don’t play to lose. We play to win. Look at Ernie Banks. Probably, the only player in the history of 145 years of Major League Baseball, who won back to back Most Valuable Player Awards on a last place club. He never saw a World Series. Yet, he's recognized as a great player. Who knows, if he had played with The Yankees, played with somebody that won five or six World Series—He would have been a Demigod. He is—in my mind. On a winner—he would have been classified as one. Just a GREAT PLAYER!!”

It's very true. Dick Bosman and Joe Coleman were fine pitchers for those late 1960’s Washington Senators also. Yet, not remembered because of who they played for. (SBF)

“They were definitely steady players. When you consider a ball club (like the Expansion Senators) that is going to end up 25 or more games under .500--then have two pitchers like Bosman and Coleman who win 12-15 Games each per season--You’ve had ONE HELL OF A YEAR!!’ The Clubs only going to win 70 or so—and they are winning 12, 13, 14 or 15. That’s pretty outstanding.”

But, no matter what talent you have—its tough to win in The Majors, isn't it? (SBF)

“Oh—people don't even realize how difficult it is to even finish .500, 81-81. Today, it might get you to the playoffs, but its not going to get you to The World Series. But, you have to get to that level first—before you can seriously consider being a contender. Sure, there are rare exceptions, where you jump from 75 Wins to 92 Wins—But, you could probably count them on the fingers on your two hands. The Key is to get to that .500 Level and hopefully have that good player or two coming—where they will get you over the hump to that 95, 96 win range.”

You look at that 1969 season, the only time The Expansion Senators ever were above .500—was Ted Williams the difference--or was it the players? (SBF)

“He had a GREAT IMPACT. He also had a fine coaching staff. Nellie Fox, Joe Camacho, Sid Hudson was the Pitching Coach, a few more. But, you are going to get an exceptional year when everyone is having Career Years. Remember, it was an Expansion Year (The Seattle Pilots & Kansas City Royals joined The American League; The San Diego Padres and MONTREAL EXPOS—The National League). So, if you look at all the great offensive years—such as (Roger) Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s Home Run Record (1961)—and that’s said with the UTMOST RESPECT toward Roger. All those great offensive years—1961 & 1962 (Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators in the AL. The Houston Colts, New York Mets in the NL.). My best year as a Dodger was 1962—Expansion Year. You wouldn’t think two more clubs or twenty more pitchers in the league would make it that thin. But, it was career years there. And, we were having the same kind of a year (1969), when we sort of went into a tank. I think we lost about 14 & 15 in a row—most all by one or two runs in most of those games.”

“People have asked me about him (Ted Williams). And, I have met a lot of great men in our business. A LOT OF GREAT MEN!! But, he is probably the Most Charismatic/Electric type individual I have EVER MET IN MY LIFE. We all like to consider ourselves good American Patriots, but this guy spent five and one half of his prime years in the United States Armed Services. He did it willingly. Never, ever, did he bitch about it or even talk about it—unless someone brought it up. He might then casually dive into it. A TRUE PATRIOT. He and Tom Yawkey (Long Time Family Owner) of The Red Sox raised millions of dollars, and Millions and MILLIONS of dollars for The Jimmy Fund, a Cancer Fund for Kids.”

“He (Williams) was really an amazing man. Light years ahead of the game when it comes to hitting a baseball—round bat, round ball—hit it square. Boy, HE WAS SOMETHING!! And, he was a JOY TO PLAY FOR!! I know that for a fact.”

“I am in Spring Training three days (1969). You know he is a BASEBALL ICON. But, you really don’t know (at that point) what type of guy he is? What type of guy he is going to be, to play for? So, I am in Spring Training three days, Freddy Baxter—The Clubhouse Man—comes up to me—‘Boss wants to see you.’ (Howard talking almost quietly, unnerved, repeating this line). OH!! (Shaking his head up and down—me chuckling). I was running pretty good in those days—both on and off the field. So, I knocked on his office door (Hondo raps the table next to him repeating the sound). ‘You want to see me Skip?’
‘Yeah Bush (came the reply). Come in here (waving Howard into the room).’ He (Williams) called everyone ‘Bush’—Bush Leaguer. ‘Can you tell me how a guy can hit 44 Home Runs and only get 48 bases on balls?’—Ted said. Well, I say: ‘I try to be aggressive.’ Williams interrupts: ‘YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!! I’ve seen you hit that first little swifty when you get the chance.’ I respond: ‘Well, I better like that number 1 or that 2, 3 or 4—slider or change are UFO’s!!’ Williams responds: ‘What do you mean—UFO’s??’ ‘Unidentified Flying Objects!!—I tell him (laughing). So, he starts to laugh (both of us are busting out also). He says, ‘Do you ever take two strikes to get that real good pitch to move on?’ I said: ‘Skip, if I took two strikes to get a good pitch to move on—I would be walking back to the dugout 300 times per year—not 150 times (both of us continuing to laugh). Now, Ted’s laughing now. He said: ‘Could you take a strike?’ Well, I said; ‘anybody can hit with a strike.’”

“And that story brings up something important to me. We always talk about plate discipline, pitch selection. In my mind, you can count the really good two strike hitters in 145 years of baseball probably on four hands and four feet. Maybe—30 or 40 of them in the history of this game. Players that could consistently hit with two strikes. Wade Boggs, Billy Madlock, oh there are a lot of them (Rod Carew? SBF). Yes--what a hitter!! But, the point is—anyone can hit with a strike.”

“Now—Williams says to me: ‘I am talking about whether it’s a good tough fastball or good location—something other than what you are looking for. Try it for me (take a strike call every once in a while), be patient.’

“Alright, I said. Well, I tell you what it did. For me, it took a hitter that was overly aggressive—the strike zone (for Howard) the bill of my cap to my shoe laces—(horizontally) six to 8 inches off the plate. And, tunneled down to a more disciplined area. I am certainly not going to have a strike zone of (Harmon) Killebrew or (Willie) Mays, or (Al) Kaline, OR WILLIAMS—because those guys--you always had to throw four strikes. They know that strike zone. But, Williams did take me from that real large circle of concentration into a much smaller one. I began to lay off a few more breaking balls that were out of the dirt and the strike zone. I started laying off those high borderline fastballs that were up and out of the strike zone. I ended up getting more 2-0, 3-1, hitters counts than I had EVER GOTTEN in my life.”

“As a result, my On Base Percentage went up. He (Ted Williams) was just light years ahead (when it came to batting knowledge) of everybody. He didn’t mess much with you mechanically—if you had played 6-8 years in the Big Leagues—unless you had absolutely no success. Then, he would make some mechanical changes for you. But, he NEVER MESSED with your head. He was an thinking man’s hitter.”

Well, he made Eddie Brinkman a petty good hitter in 1969. (SBF)

“Yeah, you know Eddie Brinkman had always been a great fastball hitter. Believe it or not—he never really hit much for average. But, all of us were susceptible to the off speed pitches. 'Wimpy' (Brinkman) did well under him."

When you played the game—you used a really heavy bat. Today, many players use a far lighter bat at the plate to create faster movement through the strike zone. What do you think about that? (SBF)

“Well, I honestly don’t know if the wood is as good these days. Now, I am sure that Super Player gets Good Wood, but you see so many bats break today. I don’t believe the wood has had time to age properly. Getting back to (Ted) Williams. He said: ‘You like wide grain or thin grain?’ I said: ‘I like wide grain.’ Williams responds: ‘Man, I love thin grain. Look, you order six dozen bats. At the end of the season, go through them—see the ones you think have the good wood. You might have six to eight you might send back to Louisville (Slugger—Bat Manufacturer). You take a little linseed oil and rub it on them with a little resin—bone it in. Then, let the bats sit in a dry room all winter long. Don’t even take them to Spring Training. So, when you come back north, you will have had seven months of aging.’

“Much more solid bats. I think because they (bat producers) make so many bats for so many teams—I don’t think you get the (good) wood in the bats that you use to. But, if I had to hit today, I think I would still use the same length bat—but an ounce lighter. I was a 36.5—35 ounce guy. I would go today to 36.5 length, but 34 ounce. It would give me the opportunity to move the bat a little deeper into the hitting area.”

I ran into Sam McDowell a few weeks ago in the Orlando Airport. He said you always killed him!! (SBF)

“I have heard guys say ‘I own this pitcher. I own this batter. I own this guy.’ No, we service that account. We don’t own it (laughing). We don’t own that pitcher, we service him. We compete with him. You always say you hit this guy, that guy--that’s all a bunch of bologna. It would be interesting to see what your lifetime average would be against these guys. I would bet its not what you would think it is. But, any lefthander, I would take my chances, no matter what kind of equipment he had. Number one---the breaking ball in always going to come in to speed up your bat. Number two—their fastball is usually going to tail away. So, you have to stay with him a little longer—thinking in terms of that opposite power alley. If they do make a mistake with that breaking ball, its going to speed up to my pull field. And, if it’s a mistake, its already elevated. All you need to do is get your bat on it. The fat part of the bat on the baseball.”

“But, I got to tell you he (McDowell) had great stuff. WHEW!!!!" (he threw hard—SBF) "Yes, Wow--did he ever!!"

What was it like to hit at RFK Stadium? Many players today claim the fences are too deep. (SBF)

“I think one of the reasons why (the complaints) is because of many of the parks being built today are so fan friendly—which they should be—their dimensions are a little shorter. And, these players see the smaller ballparks and say: ‘Geez—we are hitting in a mausoleum here.’ I have had writers ask me about it. But, there is no question that in the spring, with the rain, the cooler weather at night—the ball doesn’t quite jump as well. Daytime, it jumps. Once that warm weather gets here—that baseball jumps all over that ballpark. It’s a fair park (RFK). Not a bad hitters ballpark.”

You liked playing there, didn’t you? (SBF)

“I liked the day games, because I saw the ball a lot better in the daytime. I didn’t mind it. You gotta compete. I didn’t mind the night games. I think for guys with glasses (Howard wore glasses in the late 1960’s), that ball looks like its right on top of you at night. During the daytime—it looks like its sitting on a string, dangling, waiting for you to hit. You know, I asked Al Kaline the exact same question, figuring he would tell me he loves Day Ball. He said: ‘I do love the night time. I see the baseball better at night.’ Now, I have had other guys tell me that—which was tough for me to imagine. You know, I had poor eye sight."

How difficult was the Final 1971 Season for you in Washington?

“That’s a funny thing. Maybe some players had sensed that earlier in the year. I have NO IDEA! (really?—SBF—shocked, and I was to hear this) Yeah, No Idea the franchise was going to be moved. Here again, if I knew then what I know now—I might have suspected it. Because we used to open up on a Monday—the very first game of the year in those days. The day before the regular season opened—the last two years I was with The Senators—we played a Saturday/Sunday exhibition in Dallas—Ft Worth, Texas. Then, fly in on Sunday evening—after a day game—and be at the ballpark next morning at 7AM for Opening Day. But, I had no idea that Franchise was being relocated. And, I did not find out until the night before the word came down. I came back to the team hotel---and our player reps were there. They told me, we were moving. ‘What!!??’ I said. And, they told me we were moving to Dallas—Ft. Worth. Now, there is no question there is an area there that can sustain a Major League Franchise. That’s not said with any sense of criticism—but it was just surprising to me, they (The Senators) were going to relocate their franchise.”

“A City that’s had a team for over 70 years previous to that—it was sad. But, we had some poor clubs there. Its tough to ask people to support us, under those circumstances. To be supported really well—you got to win.”

But, it must have hurt you, and in many respects this moment was the harbinger of things to come, when The Senators traded Eddie Brinkman, Joe Coleman and Aurelio Rodriguez to Detroit for Denny McLain (before the 1971 Season)? (SBF)

“If Denny McLain had not hurt his arm—he may well have been in The Hall of Fame one day. You talk about quality equipment—knowing how to pitch. He was a competitor. He had just electric stuff. But, he hurt his arm. And, it was common knowledge around baseball that he was pitching with a bad gun. Sure, he was still fiercely competitive. But, his equipment wasn’t what it was when he won 31 Games (in 1968). So, we end up giving up one of the outstanding young third basemen in the league (Rodriguez). You give up an outstanding young arm in Joe Coleman. You give up an outstanding defensive shortstop who played 17 years in the big leagues (Eddie Brinkman). You give all that away in ONE DEAL LIKE THAT (Whistling) WHEW!!!!! So, instead of gaining the two or three players you need to get over the hump. You lose three players that were young. They were all young then (remembering almost in disbelief at the tragedy of the trade). It put a pretty big dent in our organization.”

The Killing Trade of The Senators Franchise. (SBF)

“Yes, that trade probably was the thing that killed that franchise—at that time. No doubt (sadly stated).”

I read earlier this year in a book about Curt Flood—the day before he skipped the team in 1971 to fly to Barcelona, Spain---he confided in you that he didn’t have his skills anymore. (Curt Flood fought The Reserve Clause--which stipulated Major League Baseball Player's were basically chattle. He refused a trade from St. Louis to Philadelphia--claiming he should have earned the right to choose his own employer at the end of his contract. As far as Curt Flood was concerned--The Reserve Clause represented SLAVERY. THIS LANDMARK CASE went to The Supreme Court, and THE Final Decision gave Major League Baseball Players their rights in Free Agency. The Beginning of BIG SALARIES. A Victory that Curt Flood NEVER PROFITED FROM. Flood--arguably one of Baseball's MOST IMPORTANT FIGURES--SBF)

“Yeah, he did. I talked to him. He had been out of the game for over one year. You can’t stay away from the game for that long and expect to recapture your skills. ‘Curtis, give it to 125 games. See where you are. If you still feel that way then, do what you got to do. You've been away from this business for a while. You are not going to recapture that right away.’ I tried to sway him into staying and staying the course. But, its tough when you have been that successful, up to that point in his career. And, even though he left the game for a period of time—its tough when you don’t experience that same level of success upon returning. Like I have said before about your last two years in the Big Leagues. You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to see the skills on the down side.”

“Its tough, when you are fouling off pitches that you use to hit 430 feet away from Home Plate. Or, when you are taking a third strike fastball because you can’t react to it. Its disappointing to see your skills erode to a point you know you can’t compete. He expected it to come back easier."

You know, the whole Curt Flood situation is sad. He gave up everything for what he believed in. And lost everything in the long run. Yet, every other player benefited from him. Very sad. (SBF)

“Well, its true. What these young men have today (Free Agency and Large Salaries)—he set the standard (its true—SBF), for everyone. Curtis made it all possible.”

September 30, 1971--that last game at RFK—any recollections you could share? (SBF)

“I came to play, I came to win a game. It’s the only game we won all year long that mattered—and we forfeited. (Long Pause—remembering sadly). Its like you said—you have baseball for over 70 years and then, just like that—you lose it. Of course that led directly to the Washington Folks heading over to Baltimore to watch The Orioles—just wanting to continue seeing Major League Baseball. (I could tell, he really didn't want to talk about that fateful night--not even his FAMOUS LAST HOME RUN AT RFK)"

Washington had a lot to do with Baltimore’s success. (SBF)

“No question about it.”

But he did shock me with this revelation. If you read the Nats320 story "The Night My Washington Senators Died" you might recall how early in the game while Hondo was in the on deck circle preparing to bat, I yelled out to him (as a 12 year old kid): "I am going to miss you Frank Howard!! You are my favorite player!! And how Howard eventually noticed me in the seating section behind The Senators Dugout--pointed his bat at me--and responded: "I'll miss you even more."

While recalling that fateful evening nearly 36 years later Frank Howard says (without any prompting from me)--"I remember hearing this kid say to me that night during the game: "I am going to miss you Frank Howard" while I was getting ready to hit. And I turned around to see this kid in a red plastic batting cap looking right at me--crying.  It was like tunnel vision and for the briefest moment, that was all I could focus on."

Stunned to hear Hondo say this, I respond: "I was that kid! I was with my brother and a few of our friends who attended that game and sat directly behind The Senators Dugout." (SBF)

"No?" (Howard)

"Yes." (SBF) "And I can show you my original story that describes the entire evening."

For about 10 minutes, Frank Howard and I went over that timeless moment, incredible to find out we were linked in time.

Then the conversation continued.

Frank Howard told me one last funny story:

“We got a day-night doubleheader up in Fenway Park (playing for The Senators). 34,000 New Englanders all over me. 'Go to work you clam eaters. I love you too,' I am saying to myself. "I end up striking out my first four times to the plate in the day game. These people are all over me. Whew!! You’re embarrassed. You play to win. You play to help your club win. And, you play to perform well. That’s what they pay me for. I am sitting on the bench and Brinkman (his roommate with Washington) sits down next to me and says: ‘You going to feature a little contact before this wake is over?’ ‘Zip it,’ I said. ‘You haven’t had a base hit in over two weeks. And, you are going to get all over me!!??’ He’s laughing. A phenomenal person to play with. (Remembering fondly). We were like brothers. Still are today. Probably, my Best Friend (honestly--I could see Howard thinking about his good times with Ed Brinkman--those moments were flashing in front of him-SBF).”

“So, I said: ‘Don’t worry about it Wimpy. Get on base in the 9th—and I’ll pop one into the net and we’ll win a ballgame.’ Sure enough, The Sox were up two runs in the top of the 9th with two outs. Wimpy gets a two out base hit. That’s the first hit he’s had in weeks—and he’s getting all over me (laughing). So, anyway—Arthur Lee Maye follows with a single. I am now the winning run. And, we do play to win. Not to lose. We want to win. Eddie Kasko (Red Sox Manager) makes a pitching change. This doesn’t look too good. Some three-quarters righthander is going to bury that slider/sinker on me. I know he’s not going to give me a fastball. So, I am sitting on a slider. He throws me one—strike one. Sitting on a slider—whew!! Strike Two. Now, I am thinking this guy might overthink and straighten me up with a fastball. Sure enough—he throws me a fastball. And, if I was--in stroke—I would have hit it on Landsdowne Street (over the Green Monster Wall at Fenway). But, I fouled it straight back. So, I am trying to stay focused, relaxed—get concentrated---locked in on this guy and help us win a game.”

“I look out at second base and Wimpy is waving his hands. His signaling ‘FIVE AND DOWN!! FIVE AND DOWN!!—you are going down again!!!’ Sure enough, this Sox pitcher spins a breaking ball and I strike out five straight times in a Big League Game. I wanted to kill him!! (Brinkman). I was chasing him up the runway (both of us busting out laughing). He’s laughing, also. He went upstairs—had his chicken dinner—as it was a day/night doubleheader. The only park where they did this at that time (late 60’s, early 70’s). Everybody else played traditional doubleheaders. I am having my cup of coffee and Brinkman says to me: ‘How you doing?’ ‘How do you think I am doing?’ He says: ‘Try bunting for a base hit the second game.’ (chiding Big Frank) ‘No, I am going up on that net before this day is over with,’ I stated.

So, here we are—the same 34,000 people all over me once again. I strike out my first time to the plate. Six straight times—which is a Major League Record. But, its not the kind you want to set. I come up for a 7th time. These folks have been on me for 6 hours. I mean all over me. Come up a 7th time with a runner at first base—hit a one hopper to Rico Petrocelli—bang, bang—they double me up!!! The only guy in 145 years of Major League Baseball to make 8 outs in 7 At-Bats, six of them strikeouts!! And, I get a STANDING OVATION FROM THE RED SOX FANS AT FENWAY PARK!! (Smiling in appreciation of his moment)."

As usual--that's Frank Howard making fun of himself--My Favorite Player Of All Time!!

Honestly--I didn't know what to expect from him in person, one on one. Many times--a player's pubic image is far different than his private one. Yet, "Hondo" was funny, kind, gracious and truly interested in chatting with me. He had invited me into his home. "I hope you have enjoyed our time together half as much as I did with you," he told me. "This was fun."

Yeah, it was.

But, more importantly, Frank Howard let me experience a different side of his demeanor. One, I had never seen before. The Serious, Knowledgeable Baseball Expert that understands This Great Game. Wisdom and Schooling that enlightened me more than anyone I have chatted with about baseball, in depth--for some time. Really--"Hondo" is a keen observer and educated baseball man. Expertise that really should not be lost.

Before I left his home, Frank Howard was kind enough to sign two 8X10's of the pictures he took with Sohna and I at The Pearsons Wine Autograph Session. Then, I presented him with a special momento. A bound copy of each of my personal stories of "Hondo" and My Washington Senators. Posts that have all appeared right here on The Nats320 Blog.

He was touched, telling me: "I will show them to my son (who has put together a Howard Memorabilia Collection). We'll put them in Our Scrapbook. How about that!? Thank you so very much for your kindness," Howard concluded.

With that--he walked me to my car. As Frank Howard stuck out his right hand to thank me for coming, I not only shook his hand back--but responded in the very same way I did as a 13 year old--the very next time I saw him after My Washington Senators returned to Baltimore as The Texas Rangers. I went for the hug. "You're a Good Man," I said. Returning the embrace, Frank Howard said laughing: "Some people like to believe that."

My time was now officially up. As I drove away--"Hondo" yelled out--"You know how to out of here, RIGHT!!??. If you don't--just call."

So down to earth.

I waved back--chuckling to myself. Frank Howard my not believe it. But, he really is--A GREAT MAN!!

And, The Finest Player to Call RFK Stadium his Home!!


Anonymous said...

Well done SBF, well done. Frank Howard is a great man.

Anonymous said...

What's really nice to read is that Frank Howard is a decent person. That make's all my childhood memories of him that much better. Thanks SBF

Brandon said...

SBF- this is the best feature I've seen on any Nats blog ever. In fact, it's one of the most enjoyable baseball pieces I've read-anywhere-all year.

What a breath of fresh air. The Post can hardly be bothered with any Nats content other than Svrluga's gamers, and this time of year is beating us over the head with 15+ Redskins articles a day. Nats fans, if you want the good stuff- interviews, in-depth analysis, observational humor- it's all on the blogs. The bloggers are eating the local papers' lunch.

I found your interview with Hondo really bittersweet. Sweet in that he seems like such a great guy and part of such a rich baseball history here in this town. Bitter in that we missed 34 years of other guys like him who could have added to the pantheon of Washington baseball greats. Even though we now have the Nats it's still incredibly sad to think of a 70 year legacy cut short by MLB's absurdity.

We're getting ready to say goodbye to RFK, but it seems too soon- the building never got the chance to see all the baseball it should have. When I think about all the great nights I've had there over the past three years it's hard not to think of all the great summers that passed by while the place sat silent.

Keep up the good work. Now, the true coup de grace would be if you could score an interview with Peter Angelos!

Unknown said...

SBF - it took me hours to read both Hondo articles in between work and other things; amazing job and very much worth the read!

Anonymous said...

Great Job SBF... Frank Howard deserves that statue in front of the new ballpark!

Anonymous said...

Frank Howard was a great player and he should be in the Hall Of Fame. He was in the top twenty in career homeruns when he retired. He played most of his career before they lowered the mound because pitchers were dominating and of course when most of the parks weren't sandboxes they are today. His 10 homeruns in 20 at bats over 6 games is still a MLB record one of the homerun records that even the steroid boys couldn't bring down. I was 17 when the Senators left and 34 the first time I met him and he talked baseball for hours he has been a goodwill ambassodor for baseball for 50 years. It is terrific he is being honored with a statue at Nationals Park