Frank Howard

From BR Bullpen

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Frank Oliver Howard
(Hondo or Capital Punisher)

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

Frank Howard was the winner of the 1960 National League Rookie of the Year Award with the Los Angeles Dodgers before a mid-career trade saw him become the best and most popular player for the expansion Washington Senators. His four-year home run duel with perennial champ Harmon Killebrew between 1967 and 1970 earned him the nickname The Capital Punisher.

At 6'7" and 255 lbs., he was arguably the biggest player of his era. A former basketball player at Ohio State University, he spent most of his big league career as an outfielder. He went to Ohio State at the same time as Galen Cisco, but Cisco was a football player in addition to baseball, whereas Frank played basketball.

Howard speaks at a SABR meeting in 2009

In the minors for 1958, 1959 and a month of 1960, he hit copious home runs, never slugging below .550. He became a major league regular in 1960, hitting 23 home runs in 117 games for the Dodgers. With the Dodgers, he slugged .700 in the 1963 World Series which the team won in a four-game sweep over the New York Yankees.

An all-or-nothing slugger with prodigious power but limited speed, he was generally in the mold of contemporaries Harmon Killebrew and Willie Stargell, but his career falls well short of those two Hall of Famers. Between 1967 and 1970 though, Howard found his long ball stroke and engaged in a shoot-out with Killebrew for the American League home run lead, Killebrew winning in 1967 with 44, Howard with 44 in 1968, Killebrew again with 49 in 1969 (besting Howard's career best 48), and Howard again with 44 in 1970.

Few in his era could hit a ball farther. Three upper deck seats at RFK Stadium are painted white where mammoth Howard homers landed, in Section 536, Row 5, Seat 17, Section 538, Row 4, Seat 19, and in Section 542, Row 3, Seat 3.

During his career he hit a total of 17 round-trippers of Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Catfish Hunter, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn and Hoyt Wilhelm. He led the American League in RBI once and was a four-time All-Star.

While not remembered as hitting for average, Howard hit .296 three separate times in his career, impressive numbers when batting titles were being won as low as Carl Yastrzemski's .301 in 1968. He finished in the top ten in the league in batting average four separate times. His combination of a big power and a respectable batting average during baseball's second deadball era gave him a notable career OPS+ of 142, tied for #62 on the all-time list a single tick behind contemporaries Killebrew and Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews. As of mid-2016 that's tied with modern slugger Mike Piazza, and a tick ahead of Alex Rodriguez and future Cooperstowner Chipper Jones. Howard's complete lack of speed, propensity to strike out at alarming levels when it was still frowned upon, and balkiness on defense all worked against enshrinement, which explains his poor showing in his sole appearance on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot.

After being released by the Detroit Tigers in 1973 Howard attempted to continue his playing career with the Taiheiyo Club Lions in 1974 but injured his knee just before the season opener. He retired after only one game.

After his playing career, he became a minor league manager, and eventually was given a chance to manage in the majors, but both of the teams he led, the San Diego Padres in 1981 and the New York Mets in 1983, were in a rebuilding mode. He always did have a reputation of being able to relate to young players and help them improve, and indeed, his two teams both made it to the World Series within three years of departure, on the strength of their young talent.

He served as a coach for many years (including the Milwaukee Brewers from 1977-1980 and 1985-1986) and it was always a sight to see the 6'7" Frank Howard limp, on bad knees, to the first base coach's box.

Based on the "similarity scores" method, the most similar players to Howard are Rocky Colavito, Joe Adcock, and Norm Cash.

Notable Achievements[edit]

NL Rookie of the Year
1959 1960 1961
Willie McCovey Frank Howard Billy Williams

Preceded by
Jerry Coleman
San Diego Padres Manager
Succeeded by
Dick Williams
Preceded by
George Bamberger
New York Mets Manager
Succeeded by
Davey Johnson

Year-By-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1976 Spokane Indians Pacific Coast League 65-78 7th Milwaukee Brewers
1981 San Diego Padres National League 41-69 6th San Diego Padres
1983 New York Mets National League 52-64 6th New York Mets replaced George Bamberger (16-30) on June 3
1997 GCL Braves Gulf Coast League 21-38 15th Atlanta Braves
2002 Columbus Clippers International League 3-4 -- New York Yankees replaced Brian Butterfield (12-25) on May 16 /
replaced by Stump Merrill on May 23

Further Reading[edit]

  • Thomas Boswell: "All of Us Bear the Marks of the Lash", in How Life Imitates the World Series, Penguin Books, New York, 1982, pp. 102-103.
  • Thomas Boswell: "Sometimes I Think He's Too Good for the Game", in How Life Imitates the World Series, Penguin Books, New York, 1982, pp. 184-188.
  • Frank Howard (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, September 1970, pp. 39-41.[1]
  • Bill Ladson: "Remembering MLB's greatest homer binge: 'Capital Punisher' Howard drilled 10 dingers in 20 at-bats in 1968",, May 17, 2018. [2]

Related Sites[edit]