If you are 50 years old or younger, you missed seeing “The Capital Punisher” in a Washington Senators uniform. Fortunately, I saw Frank Howard in-person from Section 528 of the upper deck in 1965. The man hit moonshots. RFK Stadium could not contain him. He was the star player at the time for the Washington Senators, thanks to a blockbuster trade with the Dodgers.
In Howard’s career of 1,895 games, he spent most of his career donning the Senators uni for 1,077 games. He actually played a few months for the Texas Rangers in their inaugural season in 1972 before owner Robert Short traded him mid-season to Detroit. Of his 382 majestic home runs, 237 were with Washington.
At 6-foot-7, Howard was larger than life to the little kids who were Senators fans mostly because of him. Yesterday, he passed away at 87 years old after battles with health issues that included skin cancer that cost him part of his ear. He said it just made him look scarier to little kids.
He showed up at many Nationals games when the team found Washington and RFK Stadium as a home in 2005. He was like the D.C. baseball ambassador after his retirement in 1973, and made his permanent home in Northern Virginia and most recently in Aldie, Virginia.
His upper deck home runs in RFK were commemorated with white seats. There he was side-by-side with Ryan Zimmerman on September 23, 2007 for the final time that RFK Stadium would host an MLB game. Howard would throw out a first pitch for the Nats first-ever playoff series in 2012. He was there a lot at Nationals Park, be it for an event to teach kids about baseball or to watch a game — until his health got the better of him.
Howard’s 237 home run mark for the Senators passed Harmon Killebrew and others, until Zim surpassed Hondo on July 30, 2017 with his 238th career homer for the “All-Time” Washington leader. Who would you want to break that mark besides Zim?
For me, I was one of those kids who pestered my parents to attend “Bat Day” which the team actually gave away full-size Frank Howard baseball bats to every child. The bats were the same exact specification from Louisville Slugger that Hondo swung in games. He was the man. A gentle giant. A fan favorite. Whether you saw him play or not, his statue is outside Nationals Park. Walter Johnson to Howard to Zimmerman for the faces of the franchise. Killebrew would have been that player if he didn’t leave with Griffith to Minnesota. That gave Howard the full hearts of Washingtonians. Many think Dylan Crews will be the next FoF.
The Lerners added Howard to the Ring of Honor in Nationals Park in 2016. He passed on the same day that the Nationals won their first World Series exactly four years prior — and on the same day of Game 3 of his former Texas Rangers were playing in the World Series. Though his Rangers tenure was a short 95 games due to being traded again, he always took it in stride. He said he thought he would have played his entire career for the Dodgers, the team that signed him out of Ohio State. He was a two-sport star in basketball and baseball. Even after he was drafted into the NBA, he chose baseball.
Howard was a Rookie of the Year in 1960 and was a World Series champ alongside Sandy Koufax in 1963. What a career for Howard that spanned three different decades and four All-Star games. He saw a lot of baseball, and would later become a coach for several teams including the Yankees.
After his playing career, Howard began coaching which was great to keep him in the game and teach kids. He got to manage partial seasons as an interim manager for the Padres and the Mets. Mostly, it was all about the thousands of baseball players he helped in his 22 years of coaching.
Like Howard, you can expect Zim to be the D.C. baseball ambassador in retirement. But there will only be one Capital Punisher. It isn’t important how he died, rather how he lived and touched others.