Q&A with Frank Howard
Former Senators slugger discusses career in Washington
The Nationals are planning to unveil a statue of Frank Howard in Center Field Plaza at Nationals Park this coming season. The honor is well deserved because Howard was one of the best position players to play for the Washington Senators.
During his seven years in Washington, the man affectionately known as "the Capital Punisher" hit .279 and averaged 33 home runs and 95 RBIs. He represented the Senators in three All-Star Games and finished in the top five in the American League MVP voting twice.
Howard's coming-out party came in 1968. That year, he hit 10 home runs in 20 at-bats from May 12-18. For the season Howard hit 44 home runs and drove in 106 runs.
MLB.com caught up Howard on Thursday morning to talk about his career in Washington.
MLB.com: What was your reaction after learning that the Nationals are planning to build a statue of yourself on Center Field Plaza in Nationals Park?
Frank Howard: It's an honor. I had some fun years in Washington. To have someone accord you that accolade, it's flattering.
MLB.com: What was it like playing in Washington during the 1960s and early '70s?
Howard: I had my best years here. It was an organization -- with all due respect to the players I played with -- that didn't have enough depth of talent to compete with good ballclubs. But it was a fun club to be on. It was a fun bunch of guys.
I know the one year under Ted Williams [in 1969], we finished 12 games over .500. In Washington at that time, it was like winning the World Series. We all had career years as a result, but -- with all due respect to the pitching staff that we had -- if we had a Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton or Bob Gibson, we might have made a run at everybody that year.
Now Joe Coleman went to Detroit and was a 20-game winner twice. He was a young pitcher in Washington. If he had been three or four years older in Washington, there is no question he would have been the No. 1 pitcher on our staff.
MLB.com: The Senators didn't have a lot of winning seasons while you were there.
Howard: But the effort was there. The hard-nosed hustling approach was there. We were just short a player or two. That's all.
MLB.com: Why did you have more success with the Senators than you did with the Dodgers?
Howard: I got more playing time. Instead of getting 400 at-bats, I got 550 at-bats. Your production should go up. In Los Angeles, I was more like a fourth outfielder. I drove in my share of runs, but you get into a position where you get another 150 at-bats, certainly, your production should go up.
To be totally honest, had I made some adjustments -- hitting-wise -- earlier in my career, instead of just going up there [swinging at everything], I would have had better years out there. When people look back on their careers, they say they wouldn't change a thing. I would have. I would have made the adjustments. I would have given myself the chance to put up big numbers.
MLB.com: You were more selective in Washington. Is that what you are saying?
Howard: My three managers in Washington -- Gil Hodges, Williams and Jim Lemon -- really helped me make those adjustments.
Gil had me look at the outer half of the plate and hit to the right-center-field power alleys. Jim would get me a little close to the plate were I could take that real tough pitch -- low and away -- and have a chance to make contact with it. Ted took an undisciplined hitter and made my contact zone a little smaller. He got me to lay off some bad breaking balls in the dirt and some borderline high fastballs. As a result, my bases on balls increased under him. But more importantly, I got more 2-0, 3-1 counts. They were hitter's counts in my favor.
All three of those men knew exactly what they were doing. I just felt from a hitting standpoint, Ted was probably light years ahead of anybody in the history of baseball.
MLB.com: 1968 was your coming-out party. From May 12-18, you hit 10 home runs in 20 at-bats. Talk about that incredible week that you had.
Howard: You like to have more streaks like that. It was just one of things where the right type of power pitchers were going against me. My balance at the plate was good. I was seeing the ball well. I wasn't committing too early into the pitch. Everything was just going my way.
MLB.com: You are arguably the most popular baseball player to play in Washington.
Howard: I don't know about that. I tell you what: The people in the greater Washington, D.C., area -- Maryland, Virginia and the district itself -- treated me great on and off the field.
MLB.com: Would you like to work for the Nationals some day?
Howard: I think it would be intriguing. I don't know if any jobs are open, but it would be very intriguing. It might be a nice thing. The prodigal son has returned.
MLB.com: Have you heard from the Nationals at all?
Howard: I've had a brief conversation with them and I really don't know what their thoughts are. I'm in limbo right now. Any way that it works out for me -- whether it's with them or somebody else -- it's going to be great.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.