Friday, January 02, 2009

Catching Up With Frank Howard

My Favorite Player Of All Time!! Frank Howard has been on the periphery of news surrounding Washington Baseball over the past few months. In Spring 2009, "Hondo", along with Walter Johnson and Josh Gibson, will be honored at Nationals Park with a Bronze Statue commemorating his playing career in The Nation's Capital. Additionally, it was reported in December that Howard had been released from his contract with George Steinbrenner and The New York Yankees--immediately fueling rumor and speculation that Frank could be offered a position with Our Washington Nationals. And finally, back on October 1st, Frank Howard's closest friend, former teammate and pal, Eddie Brinkman passed away.

For some time I have wanted to catch up with "Hondo" and chat with him about these topics. But knowing Frank Howard's been recovering from knee replacement surgery, rehabilitating, taking in the loss of Mr. Brinkman and spending the holiday season with family--the timing was just not right--at least not until today.

This afternoon, Frank Howard and I hooked up on the phone for a good 20 minutes, catching up and talking a little baseball. Charming and friendly as always--"Hondo" was ready and gave me his usual, entertainingly, best stuff.

With that here we go with "Catching Up With Frank Howard".

Have you had the opportunity to see any photos on the production of the statue being made of you? (SBF)

“I haven’t had the chance to see any pictures. This one gentleman (Andy Rotman-Zaid) called me. He wanted me to come to Chicago to take a look at it, but I just couldn’t go. I was under a very tight schedule at that time. But, as I told him (Andy), ‘you guys are the professionals, you know what you want to do and how you want to do it—you don’t need my OK.' No, I haven’t seen any pictures yet. (And in typical Frank Howard style, he wasn’t interested in seeing any either).

“First of all, let me say this. I am flattered that people would think enough of me to do something like this. And as I told these same people (from The Rotblatt-Amrany Studio), I feel privileged and flattered. This is pretty select company to be honored along side Josh Gibson and Walter Johnson. But it’s also important that these statues will represent Washington Baseball and its very long history.”

How does that make you feel to be honored as an icon in such company? (SBF)

“Well, it’s really a nice feeling, it really is. But I don’t get too wrapped up in it. As you well know, I don’t dwell on the past. I don’t believe in living in the past. I believe in living in the day—playing today’s game—today. I just talked to one of my old coaching buddies; who is his early 80’s now, right before Christmas. And when you look back at 49 years, nearly 50 years in baseball, we probably never retained the level of success that we strived for as a young person—most of us anyway. But I thank God for the few things that have not gone my way in the game of baseball, there have been a thousand great things to happen—and there has been a thousand great people that I have met.”

“We don’t have many donkeys in our business (both of us chuckling). If one does kind of alienate himself from the rest of the crowd, he ends up being lonely. When I think back to all the great players I have played with, played against, and all of the great friendships I have formed—those are the three things that if I am going to dwell on the past, those are the things that really stay with me. Those are the things I think about and the things you really come to appreciate. But there again, having that statue outside of The Nationals Ballpark, I don’t look at it as a tribute, but I look at it as something that is very flattering to me as an individual.”

In this day and age, it’s really nice to hear the humility and appreciation from a ballplayer. (SBF)

“You can’t get wrapped up. Everybody has ego, but real pros they keep it in-line. They keep it in-check. I’ve run across some great, great players and very seldom do you hear the word ‘I’ come out of their mouths. And you know, being curious about that, and asking those players about it (not using ‘I’)--you usually get a pretty standard reply: ‘If you got talent, you don’t need to tell anybody about it, because they will know it.’”

Switching to a different topic, I know that you have been released from your contract with The Yankees. (SBF)

“Yes, that is true.”

And in the wake that information coming out, there has been rumblings about you joining The Washington Nationals in some capacity. Is that a possibility? (SBF)

“You know something, and I am not trying to evade your question, but I couldn’t tell you (if there is an interest on Washington’s part). There has been talk like that for a couple of years with me being an Ex-Washington Player. I really don’t know what they are thinking or what they have in mind. Or, whether they even have anything in mind. I really don’t know.”

“But it would be great to a part of that Washington Franchise."

(Now thinking about how his time with The Yankees ended)

"I’ve tried to explain this to the press and I have talked to all the great people I have been associated with in The Yankee Organization. The courtesies extended to me were unparalleled. Now, I had a lifetime agreement with The Big Boss (George Steinbrenner), but I didn’t bring it up to Brian (Cashman—Yankees GM—when he approached Frank on ending the relationship) as I have too much respect for him and I didn’t want to say anything bad about the organization. There was no need for that. Mr. Steinbrenner is a lot like all of us these days (getting older). We have our good days and bad days and I have too much respect for him. He has been too good to me over the years. I just couldn’t throw something like that into the game.”

In the time I have known you, you have always been very humble. (SBF)

“Well you have to be. That really is the pros way of doing things. I have always taken great pride to be a Pros-Pro. Listen, something will work out for all of us in the end. We will make it work out. There we go again—you can’t dwell on the one or two things that don’t go your way. You just can't do that."

Frank, on a personal note, I wanted to say how saddened I was to hear that Eddie Brinkman passed away. The moment I heard the word, I thought of you immediately. (SBF)

“It was very heartbreaking (for me). Here again we are talking about The Pros-Pro. A shortstop that lasted 17 years in the big leagues. A shortstop 17 years in the big leagues. A terrific defensive player. A little shaky with that bat, but boy was he ever a marvelous shortstop.”

“He was tremendously popular with his teammates and tremendously popular with the other competing ballclubs. They all liked him. We were like brothers. We had more fun together. I could tell you stories with Gil Hodges; with Ted Williams; he and I—oh you would laugh and laugh and laugh!! But I tell you what; he’s now playing on a pretty good ballclub up there. (Heaven).”

“He is special--very, very special.”

And from those thoughts, Frank and I briefly chatted about some personal stuff. (SBF)

And how are you doing health wise? (SBF)

“As you know, I had both of my knees replaced. The right one is great. The left one--replaced about seven months ago—is just now starting to come around.”

Working out at all?

“Oh yeah!! Religiously, not every day, but at least three or four days per week. You know, years ago, they would have considered me ancient—but they are saying now with decent nutritional habits and some consistent exercise—based on where you are age wise and body wise, that we can be productive into our middle 80’s. So, I am going on that premise—even though everyone knew I didn’t play with a full deck back then (laughing at himself). I may now be down to four cards, but they are all deuces and I am hoping All Deuces Are Wild!!”

With that great line, "Catching Up With Frank Howard" concluded.

Frank Howard laughing the remainder of the time we spoke on the telephone. He knew he had gotten off a good closing line. You just got to love “Hondo”. No matter the situation, My Favorite Player of All Time!!--The most self-deprecating person I have ever met.

And even during tough personal times, Frank Howard has perspective.

"Happy New Year Frank!! Sohna sends her best!!"

"Please give her my best as well. Happy New Year to both of you!!--please keep in touch."


Anonymous said...

I hope Hondo gets a job with the Nats. I remember being a little boy at DC stadium on Bat Day, banging the bats on the concrete chanting HONDO HONDO HONDO. Cool.

Anonymous said...

I hope there is a "Statue" walking around Nationals Park this year.

Steve Walker said...

I wish they had signed Big Frank already!

JayB said...

I trust what Frank Howard tells me.......Nats have not contacted him yet!!!!!!!!........makes you wonder if they will remember to print tickets for us before the first game again....some things just do not change about this organization.

An Briosca Mor said...

At this time, I would prefer that the Nationals spend their time contacting free agent players who might actually take the field in 2009. There will be plenty of time to swoop in on Frank Howard for something after that's done. I don't think they have to worry at all about some other team going after him. Give the guy a chance to recover from his knee replacements. That does take a while. He'll have a better idea in a few months of what he'd be capable of doing for the Nats, or anyone else for that matter.

Anonymous said...

When I see your Frank Howard stories, I read every word and wish it wouldn't come to an end. What a special man Frank is and we all can learn a lot from him, not just baseball but life as well.

Anonymous said...

Hondo is a class act. If the Nationals hire him, it will wash away a lot of last year's rancor.

I think he would rekindle a lot of interest in DC baseball that's faded since 2005.

Anonymous said...

Marketing and team operations are two completely distinct operations that can work independently in parallel.

Anonymous said...

He is my favorite player also, all-time.

I have seen Elvis in concert, live, but never did anything special to meet him.

I've seen Paul McCartney in concert. Great. One of the Immortals of the last 1,000 years. But I didn't do anything special to meet him.

I saw James Brown in concert three times. Another hero. Maybe the most influential African American of the last 100 years, after MLK and Obama. Never met him.

But I want to meet Frank Howard, whom I've seen play baseball dozens of times. I told my kids about Hondo for 20 years...on and on and on...and friends and neighbors kept wondering who the heck is Frank Howard? Now, with the statue, and the hopeful naming of Hondo as a member of the Nats staff, everyone--everyone--will know the name and legend of my boyhood hero.

My greatest disappointment with the Nats is that they have never had a Frank Howard Day. It is time to do so--on they day we unveil the statue!

Anonymous said...

I met Frank at lunch today after the statue ceremony. I'll tell you that It felt like I was 7 years old again (I'm 45). He couldn't have been nicer or more gracious.

Made my day!