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Frank Howard, fearsome slugger, Rookie of the Year & Dodgers World Series winner, dies at 87

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MLB Photos Archive Photo by Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images

Frank Howard, the prodigious home run hitter who was the Dodgers’ first Rookie of the Year Award winner in Los Angeles, died Monday morning at age 87.

Howard played a handful of games for the Dodgers in 1958 and 1959 after signing out of Ohio State, but then settled into right field in Los Angeles in 1960. The slugger slammed 23 home runs in 1960 to win National League Rookie of the Year.

In five full seasons with the Dodgers, Howard averaged 24 home runs while hitting .269/.326/.495 with a 125 wRC+ during his time in Los Angeles. That included leading the team with 28 home runs in 1963, matching the total of the two next-highest homer hitters combined. Howard homered off Whitey Ford in the Dodgers’ 2-1 win at Dodger Stadium in Game 4 of the World Series, finishing off a four-game sweep of the Yankees.

The home run was estimated to have traveled 450 feet.

“I’ve hit several balls further than that,” Howard told Bob Myers at the Associated Press after the game.

Howard also doubled off Ford at Yankee Stadium in Game 1, after which former Yankees pitcher Ryne Duren told the Los Angeles Times, “Ford seemed to get rattled after he took his first look at Frank Howard. The big guy’s size overwhelmed him. I think that’s exactly what happened.”

Howard’s stature was one of his most prominent features, towering over most at 6-7 and 270 pounds. But his contributions to baseball were even larger.

“The towering home runs he hit into the stands at RFK Stadium gave him the nickname ‘Capital Punisher,’ but I’ll always remember him as a kind and gentle man,” Nationals owner Mark Lerner said in a statement on Monday. “The world of baseball has truly lost a giant.”

Though he never played or coached for the Nationals, the bulk of Howard’s career exploits happened in Washington D.C., after the Dodgers traded him to the Senators. It was a seven-player trade in the winter of 1964 that was highlighted by Howard and third baseman Ken McMullen going to Washington, and pitcher Claude Osteen solidifying a Dodgers rotation that won the World Series the next season and captured another pennant in 1966.

Howard thrived with the Senators, averaging 34 home runs over the next seven seasons, hitting .279/.369/.513 with a 151 wRC+. He hit at least 44 home runs three years in a row, and led the American League in homers in both 1968 and 1970.

During his seven years with the Senators, Howard hit the fourth-most home runs in the majors, trailing only Henry Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, and Willie McCovey.

After Howard hit a home run over the roof at Tiger Stadium in 1968, his manager Jim Lemon told The Charlotte News, “I’ve never seen a ball hit that hard and you won’t either, unless Howard hits it.”

Howard at times was called Hondo, but the Capital Punisher nickname came when he was in Washington D.C., thanks to a contest in the Washington News. Dick Albright, a Marine gunnery sergeant from Virginia, came up with the name, beating out an estimated 10,000 nickname entrants.

“Since he’s from the capital I think the name describes his threat and his ability to hit the long ball perfectly,” Albright told the UPI. “He must look like capital punishment to pitchers.”

The Senators moved to Texas in 1972, and Howard played the first five months of the season with the Rangers before he was sold to the Tigers that August. Howard played in Detroit through the 1973 season.

In parts of 16 major league seasons, Howard hit .273/.352/.499 with 382 home runs and a 140 wRC+. He made four All-Star teams, all with the Senators.

Howard remained in the game for the next quarter-century as a coach with the Brewers, Mets, Mariners, Yankees, Mets, and Devil Rays. He managed the Padres in 1981, and managed the Mets in 1983.

More on Howard

Mark Langill was remembered at Dodger Insider.

“Despite his size, Howard was known to all as ‘The Gentle Giant,’” the Mets said in a statement. “He was known throughout the organization as one of the most kind and generous individuals.”

“Frank Howard was a bigger than life personality who was very popular with his teammates and the fans in Washington and Texas,” the Rangers said in a statement.

From JR Radcliffe in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Journal sports writer Mike Gonring wrote during the 1976 spring training, “If Sir Edmund Hillery had seen Howard, he probably would have stuck a piton in him and tried to climb.”

“The first day, he was yelling instructions at us and the stadium was shaking,” Gonring quoted one player as saying.

Richard Goldstein’s obituary of Howard in the New York Times.

Dave Barker, who played basketball with Howard at Ohio State, told the Columbus Post Dispatch:

“When we were playing on the road,” Barker said, “we’d have our pregame meal at 4 o’clock. Frank would get there at 3:30 and he be on his third meal before everyone else showed up. He used to fill up those stainless steel salad bowls with food. He had an appetite, but he needed the calories, because he went all out, all the time. I’m not kidding you. All out, every practice, every game.”

Dave McKenna at Defector said of Howard, “Whenever you think about the expansion Senators, who fled D.C. for Texas in 1971, Howard’s always the first and often the only guy to come up.”

Bill Ladson at recounted when Howard his 10 home runs in a 20-at-bat stretch in 1968, setting a record for most home runs in a week. “I wish I had more weeks like that; I might have made a couple of bucks in the game of baseball,” Howard quipped in 2018.