Catching up with Frank Howard

It was a pleasure to meet Frank Howard--a Washington, D.C.--baseball icon on Friday afternoon.
It was a pleasure to meet Frank Howard–a Washington, D.C.–baseball icon on Friday afternoon.

Frank Howard was a name at the bottom left corner of the Washington Nationals game notes.  He was obviously important.  The title of the section in the game notes was “Capital Punishers.”  The notes said the hit 237 home runs with the Washington Senators between 1965 and 1971—the most in Washington’s history.  Ryan Zimmerman was second on the list and he trailed Howard by 51 home runs.

Frank Howard's name was unfamiliar to a 23 year old Washington Nationals fan.
Frank Howard’s name was unfamiliar to a 23-year-old Washington Nationals fan.

Howard’s name dropped off the game notes a few weeks ago and his name disappeared from my mind until Monday morning when I discovered a unique Facebook event.

Frank Howard—nicknamed “Hondo,” “The Washington Monument” and “The Capital Punisher”—would be meeting with fans on Friday afternoon and he would be signing autographs on wine bottles at a Costco in Washington.  The event was supposed to promote Major League Baseball licensed wine.  You can read more about MLB’s journey into the wine business here and here.

Between Monday morning and Friday afternoon, I learned to appreciate Hondo’s accomplishments including his 1960 N.L. Rookie of the Year season, his 1963 World Championship and his two home run titles with the Washington Senators.  Hondo’s storied home runs which painted the RFK Stadium bleacher seats white also colored my perception of his career.

Hondo was a friendly and gentle man.  He spoke with fans and Costco shoppers (who didn’t know who he was) about his career with great pride.  The 6-foot-8-inch Washington sports icon was humbled when a fan started listing his nicknames.

“That’s what’s left of him,” he said, gesturing to his frame with a smile, when the fan rattled off Washington Monument from his list of nicknames.

Frank Howard signed a few autographs for me and wished me luck on my graduate school studies.
Frank Howard signed a few autographs for me and wished me luck on my graduate school studies.

Hondo told me he doesn’t go to Nationals games frequently, stating that he did not want to be a distraction to fans.  He beamed, however, with excitement when he discussed a prior speaking engagement at Nationals Park where he taught youth baseball players about the dangers associated with steroid use prior to a home game.  When he does go to games he will sit in a suite with the team’s staff.

I look forward to, hopefully, seeing Hondo back at Nationals Park in a few years.  It would be nice to see him shake hands with Ryan Zimmerman after he hits his 238th home run.

Cheers to you, Hondo.