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A Uni Watch Look at Frank Howard

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I was eight years old in 1972. It was the first year that I followed the baseball season from beginning to end, and it was also the first year that I bought and collected baseball cards. I remember when I first saw that year’s Topps card for Frank Howard (shown above). I thought, “Hmmm, he looks like an old man.”

Part of it was his faraway gaze, part of it was the wrinkles in his brow, and part of it was the way the photo made him seem oddly toothless. But the big thing was his eyeglasses. They didn’t seem right for his face, and they especially didn’t seem right for a baseball player’s face. To my young mind, it all made him seem very middle-aged. I figured Frank Howard must be the oldest player in baseball.

Later that same year, I was at a friend’s house. This friend had some baseball cards from the previous year, including this one:

“Oh!” I thought, “I know that player. It’s the old guy!” With his pinched expression and, again, those glasses, he looked old enough to be the other two guys’ father. I didn’t know it then, but the MLB centennial patch on Howard’s sleeve indicates that the photo of him was taken in 1969. He turned 33 that year. Hard to fathom.

A few years later, I learned that Frank Howard had been the National League Rookie of the Year in 1960. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. How could Frank Howard ever have been a rookie?

As you may have heard by now, Frank Howard died yesterday. He was, of course, one of the most tremendous sluggers of his generation, and was famously enormous — six-foot-seven. Happily, he made good use of his prodigious vertical stature by cuffing his pants up high and really showing off those stirrups to their best advantage, both as a player and as a coach:

As you can see in those shots, Howard looked great in a classic uniform but a bit out of place in a more modern uni. Here, for example, is a photo of him from his final season as a player, 1973, wearing the Tigers’ pullover jersey:

He just doesn’t look right in a pullover, right? Also — and I don’t mean to harp on this but it continues to amaze me — he looks about 58 years old there. (He was actually 36.)

My favorite thing about Howard is that he’s in the small fraternity of players whose home runs were marked by commemorative seats. When he played for the Senators from 1965 through 1971, several seats at the team’s ballpark were painted white to mark the spots where his titanic home runs landed. Here are two examples:

You have to be a serious slugger to get that treatment!

Howard wasn’t a Hall of Famer, but he was a four-time All-Star and twice led the American League in homers (1968 and 1970, with 44 dingers each year). The Nats honored his role in DC baseball history with a statue outside their ballpark (although longtime Uni Watch reader/contributor William Yurasko has noted that it includes a uni error). He briefly interim-managed my favorite team during a low point in their history (the second half of 1983), and I recall him as a class act during that abbreviated stint. He seems to have been widely beloved as a teammate and a coach — a proverbial gentle giant. R.I.P.



Can of the Day

I’m not sure what “Perfect for Ultrasonic Use” means, but that’s just one of the many pleasures to be found here. Magnificent!

Comments (27)

    Howard was in the spirits business during off-season and retirement. In 2006, I got a bottle of Maker’s Mark signed by him.

    Four years ago last night, I toasted to the Nats World Series victory with that bourbon. Last night, I toasted Frank Howard with that same bourbon.

    I was at that 2006 bottle signing – that might even be my shoulder in the foreground of the photo on the YFW article in the link – and my impression is that as much as young Hondo had the affect of an older man, older Howard carried himself with the spry vigor of a younger man. Among the most loquacious, graceful, and generous-to-fans ex-players I’ve ever met. And every story he told seemed to have included at least a mild dig at himself. Though most autographs of his I’ve seen include a stat, like RBIs or HRs or whatever. He was ever proud of what he achieved on the field.

    Frank Howard joked that the repainted white seats at RFK were for his homers and the yellow seats were for all his strikeouts.

    Young fans genuinely puzzle over statements like this. I’ve had to explain to a few that humility was once an admired trait in sports.

    I grew up half way between Baltimore and DC. I was/am an Oriole fan, but many of my friends were Senator fans and Frank Howard was a hero to most of them.

    I believe they painted the seats blue where Mike Epstein’s upperdeckers landed in DC/RFK Stadium.

    Frank Howard was the winningest manager of the 1983 Mets:

    George Bamberger: 16 wins
    Frank Howard: 52 Wins

    *Thus what stats have become, find the language and facts to make them bettee! :)

    Per Wiki:

    Ultrasonic cleaners are used to clean many different types of objects, including industrial parts, jewelry, scientific samples, lenses and other optical parts, watches, dental and surgical instruments, tools, coins, fountain pens, golf clubs, fishing reels, window blinds, firearm components, car fuel injectors, musical instruments, gramophone records, industrial machined parts, and electronic equipment, optical lenses, etc. They are used in many jewelry workshops, watchmakers’ establishments, electronic repair workshops, and scientific labs.

    “He just doesn’t look right in a pullover, right?”
    Especially when he’s wearing Mickey Lolich’s:
    RIP Hondo.

    My Frank Howard story is brief: I stood near him once on the field at Milwaukee County Stadium, when he was a coach for the Yankees. I remember being struck by what an enormous human being he was.

    In a Sports Illustrated piece on the Green Bay Packers late in the 1960 NFL season, it’s mentioned that Howard had played (in 1958) for the Green Bay Bluejays, the Dodgers’ affiliate in the Class B Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. The SI writer, illustrating the single-mindednedness of Green Bay toward the Packers, quotes an anonymous local regarding Howard: “What a wretched waste of pass-catching talent.” The quote always leads me to picture him as a tight end in the ’60s NFL, making Ron Kramer, Mike Ditka and John Mackey look small in comparison.

    My first time reading about Frank Howard was seeing him as a Mets coach in the mid ’90s, and later realizing he was one of Buck Showalter’s coaches in 1993. Paul, I had tried to find a picture from the 1993 Yankees yearbook of Howard wearing a white Yankees hat (I remember you had posted about that being something Buck tried to implement when he was manager but I couldn’t find my copy of that yearbook) but I remember he wore those same glasses. I think I had a similar reaction to seeing Howard wearing those glasses during his playing career and not glasses he started wearing after he retired.

    Lastly I had no idea how tall Howard really was when I was little, I somehow never noticed his height probably because he was either seated on the bench or crouched in the coaches box.

    Howard was also a basketball player at Ohio State, made some All-America teams. Here’s a photo of him in action.


    Remarkable man, remarkable athlete. I never heard of him but he strikes me as a gentle giant indeed. Nice tribute, this article.
    The can has plenty of nice things. My favorite is the Space Age Formula…

    I remember my father, who disliked many players he had met over the years, loved Frank Howard. He was a great guy for sure. RIP Hondo.

    I’m a few years older than Paul, and when I got into the game in the late ’60s, I thought Howard’s specs WERE baseball players’ style.

    Beside Howard, there were:
    Horace Clark link
    Julian Javier link
    Dick Allen link
    Ryne Duren link

    Dick Allen’s picture in the White Sox powder blues accented with red (and not blue or black) is awesome.

    I remember him as a coach for the Brewers hitting tremendously high pop ups straight up for the catcher when taking infield. Super cool.

    Paul, didn’t you write a while back about how professional athletes in earlier eras (particularly the 50s and ’60s) frequently looked considerably older than they actually were? Frank, Howard certainly seems to have fit that bill during his playing days.

    When he was the Yankees hitting coach, I remember hearing that he was relentlessly positive. He somehow convinced alvaro espinosa to hit .282 one year, so he must have been doing something right!

    I recall that when he was a coach with the Mets in the 80’s the intra-squad games would be played between The Jumbo Franks (coached by Howard) and The Small Freys (coached by Jim Frey) – good times

    I think the good folks at Uni Watch just helped me prove my point! Stirrups look great on old time uniforms, but look absolutely horrible if you are wearing a MLB uniform in 2023.

    And I’ll say it once again: black shoes made all the difference. What an underrated component to that great classic look those plain black shoes were.

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