This post is a collaborative effort by Allstars, Senators69 and DonH.
Allstars (aka Andrew) agreed to put a post together for after the game based on information provided by those who attended the session. We quickly realized that was not practical and decided to post/publish it on the next off-day. Too much good stuff from the session and we wanted to do it justice. So part 1 is an overview about Frank Hondo Howard written ahead of the session. And part 2 is a summary of the Q&A session with Frank.
Part 1 – The FoF for the 1960s era Washington Senators
For anyone older than 50 years old, you probably have some great memories of watching the player affectionately known as “Hondo” when he played for the Washington Senators. Frank Howard was a large man standing at 6’7″ and well over 250 pounds, and could muscle baseballs into the upper reaches in RFK stadium where they would mark the home runs with special colored seats. Howard was and still is a fan favorite and was inducted into the exclusive “Ring of Honor” which is mostly reserved for local stars.
The night started off with a Frank Howard Q&A hosted by Phil Wood.
Frank Howard turned 80 years old earlier this month, and was originally a Dodger after they had moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Howard debuted in 1958 and was Rookie of the Year in 1960 for the Dodgers. He was a four-time All-Star and an MVP finalist a few times.
The Dodgers traded Frank Howard in a blockbuster deal to the Washington Senators for Claude Osteen as the main piece. Frank Howard was a key piece of the 1963 Dodgers team that won the World Series.
When owner Robert Short moved the Senators after the 1971 season to Texas, Frank Howard played there for just the 1972 season and traded for cash mid-season before retiring after the 1973 season. Frank Howard still lives in the Washington, D.C. area in rural Virginia and has attended several Washington Nationals games since 2005.
Part 2 – Frank Hondo Howard – “The Greatest Living Washington Baseball Player – Induction Into the Nats’ Ring of Honor
On Friday, August 26, 2016, the Nationals inducted Senators great Frank Hondo Howard into the Ring of Honor at Nat’s Park. For anyone who lived DC baseball in the ‘60’s Hondo was simply the greatest. Bill Ladson wrote a summary of the induction ceremony. And earlier that day, Phil Wood spoke with Frank about the honor.
A couple of hours before Frank’s induction, the Nats hosted a private Q&A session with Hondo. That event was only open to about 150 season ticket holders who were lucky enough to grab one of the limited number of special event tickets.
Some fans from this blog were fortunate to attend that event, including ZMunch (Don), JCCfromDC, Senators69, 105, and a few others.
Below are notes from that delightful event that we wanted to share with the rest of TalkNats nation.
Phil Wood hosted and began the session with the characterization of Hondo as the greatest living Washington baseball player. A look at Frank’s career stats would support that notion.
Frank was in a wheelchair due to recent hip surgery.
Frank has a great sense of humor about his playing days and baseball in general; often had a funny story to go along with his response. Very charming and enjoyable, and very humble about his career and accomplishments.
First thing was an introduction of ex-Senators’ teammate Hank Allen who was in the audience. Hank went up and hugged Frank. Frank joked that he loved playing with Hank who had to play both center field and left field when Frank was in left. Frank said that when a fly ball came toward CF-LF, Frank would say I’ll try it, I’ll try it, but Allen would say I’ll get it.
On his trade from the Dodgers to the Senators, he was the 4th outfielder in LA, and he really appreciated the chance to play every day in DC. That led Frank to provide his thoughts on making it to the bigs (remember, Howard worked for years in baseball after his playing days). Frank gave some rough numbers here: At any one time, there are usually about 150 players in any MLB team’s minor league system. Howard said only about 10-11% make it to the show. Of those ~15 players, about 5 are usually solid franchise players or better, 5 are ok MLBers, and the remaining 5 are really AAAA players.
On his fame and popularity with the fans, he hopes that Zim and Harper get to experience the love he continues to receive from the fans as a face of the franchise.
On the topic of getting instructional coaching, he said he hated criticism (like most players do), but that critiquing him was fine. He saw an important distinction between criticism and critique. He also talked about his respect for feedback from real baseball folks.
On Ted Williams, Phil Wood claimed that Ted said he never saw anybody hit the ball harder than Frank. Howard added that he would have liked to have hit more HRs. He joked that of the 12,000 seats in the upper RFK outfield deck, only about 7 were painted white commemorating Howard’s HRs. Ted Williams said the other 11,933 seats were for his Ks!
Later in the Q&A, Phil Wood related a conversation Phil had with Adam Dunn when both were visiting RFK. Dunn asked about the selected white painted seats in the outfield. Phil explained to Dunn that those marked the landing spots for some of Hondo’s HRs. Dunn was dumbfounded; he could not believe anyone could hit a baseball that far.
Hondo said the memories and friendships he made in the game are forever. Those friendships and the opportunity to play a sport he loved are among the things he cherishes the most about his playing days.
On the “great managers he played for. Loved them all, they were all different:
- Walter Alston — Quiet.
- Gil Hodges – Had the best peripheral vision of the field and sense of positional relationships than anybody he ever knew.
- Ted Williams – The most electric and charismatic manager ever; gave 5 prime playing years to military service; otherwise, Williams would have set every hitting record in the book.
- Billy Martin – The Godfather; very much into team spirit; stand together or fall together.
Howard managed very briefly and following is his evaluation of how managers are viewed: Great players make you look brilliant. Good players make you look good. However, if you are short a few quality players – you look awful — basically making the point that it is the players who make a manager great. This was not to disparage managers, but to emphasize the importance of the players. Later in the session when asked about what is more valuable to an organization – a great manager or a great scout — he was unequivocal – a great scout.
He was asked to talk about ex-Senators shortstop Eddie Brinkman, another beloved player of the era. You could tell Frank just loved Brinkman. He told a story about a day-night double header at Fenway
Frank got a poor reception in Boston – 34,000 fans booing him (he was joking about this).
In the first game he struck out 4 times, and at one point Brinkman told him he should try to bunt on his next AB. His next AB was in the 9th and Brinkman was on 2nd. So Frank was the winning run, and he was thinking HR. He was looking forward to the AB since he had figured the pitcher out (so he thought), but then they brought in a reliever. He sat slider and whiff. Sat slider again and whiff again. Got a fastball that he should have killed, but he fouled it back.
He then noticed Eddie Brinkman waving at him and laughing. Holding up 5 fingers and then pointing down (i.e., you are going to whiff and K for the 5th time). And indeed, he whiffed the next pitch as some fan was really giving him a hard time.
In the second game he K’d his first AB, and in his second AB he hit into a double play. 34,000 New Englanders gave him a standing ovation! So he joked that he thinks he is the only player in MLB who in 7 ABs made 8 outs with 7 Ks.
Don then had the opportunity to ask him his feelings about his famous super-hot streak when Frank hit 10 HRs in 20 ABs, to which Howard responded: If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be in the majors!
Frank did not spend much time in the minors (1.5 years), but he did play 4 years in Latin America, which he viewed as very helpful. He observed that many guys in Latin America play baseball 24×7 starting from the time they are small. Helps build skills.
Frank was also asked who were the toughest pitchers he ever faced, and Hondo said Any pitcher with good command. Also those with sheer velocity and a good curve like Koufax and Ryan. He also rattled off many of the other better pitchers of his time.
As many know, Howard played basketball at Ohio State and was drafted by the 76ers in the NBA. Did he ever consider and NBA career? — No, baseball paid well. Later in the Q&A, Phil noted that Frank did some commercials once gaining greater fame with the Senators. Notable was a Brut aftershave commercial, which sadly seems not to be found on the internet, and a Nestlé’s Quik commercial that, despite being deleted from YouTube, may be found here:
On his arm, when he first came up he had a great arm (unlike what we Senators fans remember) and held the Dodgers outfield assists record for a while (someone thought he might still hold it). But an injury changed all that, and he was forced to take cortisone shots during his Senators career.
At one point someone commented about his bobblehead, and he did a fantastic bobble head impression – his head bobbing up and down and speaking in a staccato rhythm. Got a lot of laughs.
On his favorite stadium – wherever he was currently playing. He loves the new stadiums.
Hondo then recalled his first MLB game. Said Robin Roberts was the pitcher. On Frank’s second AB, he crushed a HR. Next night at batting practice, Roberts called him over and asked How’d you like that fastie I threw you yesterday? I didn’t want you to go back to the minors! FYI, Hondo was NL rookie of the year in 1960.
On his last Senators game in DC in 1971, Frank was sad but honestly believed that MLB would come back to DC within about 5 years. [Frank ole buddy, you were off by about 30 years!]
As many know, in that final Senators game, after Hondo hit a HR in the 9th inning against the Yankees, the RFK fans stormed the field, and the Senators were forced to forfeit the game! Hear the end of that game here in this video.
On Bryce Harper and making baseball fun again: Your time in the game is short and the players should do what they need to do in order to enjoy playing the game. So he somewhat endorsed what Bryce was saying about having fun. However, he then added that if you admired a hit a bit too long, Bob Gibson would make sure to put a new part in your hair next time!
JCCfromDC then addressed Frank and recounted that he saw Hondo’s last game in 1973 when Frank played for the Tigers. Hondo faced Yankees pitcher Sparky Lyle, and hit a HR to win the game. JCC asserted that he saw Frank hit that HR one-handed to which Hondo responded: “If you can’t hit ‘em one-handed, you can’t be in the majors!”
JCCfromDC correction/update: One small correction, the home run off of Lyle in 1973 wasn’t his final game, but it was in his final season. Howard hit a PH two run HR in the 9th to turn a 4-3 loss in to a 5-4 walkoff victory for the Tigers in a nationally televised game. Lyle was one of the top relief pitchers of the 70’s and had a great slider. Howard was fooled by the slider and kind of lunged at it, taking one hand off of the bat. But he got the barrel to the ball and out it went! He smoothed it out, as FP would say. Howard’s take was indeed if you can’t hit HRs one handed, you can’t play in this league! – tongue firmly in cheek.
Phil Wood then took the lead to wind the program down in an exchange with Hondo in which Frank had the following thoughts:
- The proudest moment of his career was winning the 1963 World Series with the Dodgers. Nothing beats winning a World Series.
- Hondo thought that the current Nats team would do well in the playoffs and that the Nats organization was top notch, especially the scouts who hold the keys to the talent funnel.
All in all, a great and special event for Senators / Nats fans of all ages.
And here are some Hondo items that were on display at the Q&A.