The LAD have had eleven ROY winners and Frank Hondo Howard was the 1st
At 6’7 Frank Howard was a behemoth among baseball players, particularly in 1958 when the Dodgers signed him out of Ohio State University. Howard would actually join the Dodgers for a brief time in 1958 in Sept after hitting for an OPS of 1.067 in the minor leagues. Howard would again join the team briefly in 1959 in June and Sept but didn’t hit much in either appearance.
Before we get too far into the story of Frank take a listen to this great interview after his playing days were over. Actually, this interview is 30 minutes long so you might want to wait until after reading the rest of the article.
Headed into 1960 the Dodgers had a boatload of outfielders, an interesting combination of old and young. The roster boasted of 21-year-old Tommie Davis who would play a lot of CF in 1960. Down on the farm, the Dodgers had 21-year-old Ron Fairly, 20-year-old Willie Davis, and 23-year-old Frank Howard. HOF Duke Snider and longtime Brooklyn Dodger great Carl Furillo were still on the team but by May, Furillo had retired and the Dodgers had a spot on the team. Frank Howard came up and unlike his brief stints in 58 and 59, Frank hit from the get go. He originally played some LF but would eventually settle into being the starting RF.
Frank Howard would hit 23 home runs, put up an OPS of 107 and win the ROY award fairly handily. If you look at the voting results you can see he beat out future HOF Ron Santo, and that Tommie Davis actually had the highest WAR of anyone who received a vote. I never got to see the gifted Tommy Davis play but he must have been something. He could play 3rd, CF, LF, and RF. He was the best hitter the LAD fans would see in the 1960’s but once he broke his leg in 1965 he would never be the same. He would always be able to hit but I have to think that the 1960-1964 version of Tommy Davis was something to behold. I kind of think of Tommy Davis breaking his leg in 1965 much like Matt Kemp running into that wall in Coors in the middle of another MVP type season, but having never seen the healthy Tommy Davis this is just conjecture.
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That 107 OPS by Frank Howard was the lowest he’d have in his career until he was 35 years old.
Frank Howard is one of the most amazing and least celebrated Dodgers. He had a huge impact on the early LAD and with Tommy Davis gave the Dodgers a dynamite offensive duo from 1960 – 1964. His career is full of many sideline stories.
- He was the first celebrated LAD rookie, winning the first of eleven LAD NL ROY awards.
- He was later traded in one of the largest trades in LAD history, and the piece the Dodgers received (Claude Osteen) would go onto pitch one of the important games in LAD World Series history setting the stage for Sandy Koufax and his incomparable 1965 game seven.
- With the Washington Senators, he would later lead the Major Leagues in Home runs in 1968 with 44
- With the Washington Senators, he would hit 48 home runs in 1969 but lose the major league title to HOF Harmon Killebrew who slugged 49
- With the Washington Senators, he would lead the AL in home runs in 1970 with 44
- With the Washington Senators, he would hit 136 home runs between 1968 -1970. The next closest was HOF Willie McCovey with 120. In a three-year span, Frank Hondo Howard would hit 16 more home runs than anyone in baseball including the best players in the history of the game. Willie McCovey 120, Hank Aaron – 111, Harmon Killebrew 107, and Carl Yazstremski 103.
- At 6’7 no one in major league history has ever hit as many home runs his size. 382 home runs.
- Hit a home run in the last All-Star game played in DC, a 450 foot blast
- Hit 24 home runs into the upper deck at Washington’s Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. Those seats were painted and you had to be there to understand just how far those blasts were.
- Once hit a home run one handed while playing for the Tigers
The pitcher threw some sort of offspeed breaking pitch which fooled Howard badly. Howard’s left hand came off of the bat as he swung, but he nonetheless proceeded to hit the ball one-handed… INTO THE LOWER DECK OF TIGER STADIUM.
Howard hit the first “mammoth” home run at Dodger Stadium during the 1963 World Series. Howard’s blast in Game 4 off left-hander Whitey Ford was the only home run to land on the Loge Level in the first 40 years of the stadium from 1962-2001.
As a kid growing up I have several of my own Frank Howard memories. One involves Vin Scully who would talk about Frank Howard and had this one story I’ll always remember. Vin said that Howard had a fantastic right arm but during one year, every time he struck out he would go back to the dugout and sit down. What no one knew was that he was taking his elbow and slam it into the concrete behind his back. Over time that hurt his arm and the great arm he once had was no more.
I was lucky enough to watch Frank Howard when he was at the peak of his career for the Senators. He was my first baseball hero and I’ll never forget seeing him make Robert F Kennedy stadium look small. He was large, he sweated like crazy in the Virginia humidity, it would just pour off him as though someone was constantly pouring water on him. He did something you don’t see. He would kneel in the on-deck circle, and I can just imagine what the pitcher thought looking over at Frank and seeing him lurking on one knee.
The years I saw Frank was right after Ted Williams had become the manager. To show the impact that Ted had on Frank you only need to look at two things. In 1968 Frank Howard hit 44 home runs but walked only 54 times. Ted Williams became the manager in 1969 and Frank Howard would hit 48 home runs, but his walks jumped from 54 to 102 in 69 and to an amazing 132 in 1970. Frank Howard was a great home run hitter before Ted Williams, but he became a brilliant offensive powerhouse after Ted Williams became his manager. Hond’s brilliance was brief but for three years he was just about the best hitter in baseball at a time when some of the best hitters that baseball ever saw were all competing in their prime.
His Hondo nickname came from his roommate Chuck Essegian
Washington Senator fans say goodbye to Frank Howard and after three standing ovations, Frank Howard goes deep.