NEW YORK -- Frank Howard, who is considered one of the greatest power hitters in the history of the nation's capital, averaged 34 home runs per season during his seven years with the Senators from 1965-71. He was affectionately known as "The Capital Punisher," and, man, did he earn that
NEW YORK -- Frank Howard, who is considered one of the greatest power hitters in the history of the nation's capital, averaged 34 home runs per season during his seven years with the Senators from 1965-71. He was affectionately known as "The Capital Punisher," and, man, did he earn that nickname.
Howard's coming-out party with the Senators occurred 50 years ago, in May 1968. That year, he had a week for the ages, blasting 10 home runs in a stretch of 20 at-bats from May 12-18. It still stands as the most homers hit 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 joked by phone this week. "It was a rare moment for me. Everything fell into place for me. As a hitter, sometimes you get into a groove, where you are reading the pitchers well. You are seeing the ball well."
At 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds, Howard was massive by 1968 standards -- and an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than current big slugger Giancarlo Stanton -- which earned him another nickname: The Washington Monument. Howard's power was second to none at the time; one can only imagine what kind of Statcast™ data he would have generated during his incredible week a half-century ago.
There had been no earlier indication that Howard -- in the midst of his age-31 season -- was about to have a week for the history books. From May 5-11, he had been in a 3-for-23 slump.
The homer barrage started at home on May 12, with home runs in consecutive innings -- the first a solo shot off Detroit's Mickey Lolich in the bottom of the sixth inning, followed by another solo homer the next inning off Fred Lasher. Following an off-day to travel to Fenway Park, he homered twice again, this time off Boston's Ray Culp and Lee Stange. The next day, he got Red Sox starter Jose Santiago.
From there, it was on to a one-game stopover in Cleveland on May 16, when Howard hit two more homers, both off Indians flamethrower Sam McDowell. In Detroit the next day, Howard homered off Tigers starter Joe Sparma, then got Lolich two more times on May 18, completing the incredible week.
Seven days. Ten home runs.
Howard had four multi-homer games during the tear, with eight of the big flies coming on the road. Five were at the expense of the Tigers, who went on to win the World Series that year. The Senators, meanwhile, finished 10th in the American League with a 65-96 record.
"He was such in a zone. The pitchers couldn't get him out," said Hank Allen, a teammate.
According to Allen, Howard owned an old Pontiac station wagon but had been thinking about buying a new car during his home-run binge.
"We were standing in the shower, and I hollered at him, 'Hey, man, good job.' He would say to me every night during that streak, 'Just another down payment on that Cadillac.'"
Howard never bought the Cadillac, Allen said, but the giant slugger ended up having one of the best seasons of his career, hitting .274 with 44 home runs and 106 RBIs. He led the Majors in homers, total bases (330) and slugging percentage (.552) in the "Year of the Pitcher," but he finished eighth in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting.
"Frank is probably the most popular guy -- in any sport -- in the city, and he still is," Allen said. "I don't know anybody who was more humble than him."
The Nationals have made sure that Howard will not be forgotten. Two years ago, they put his name in the Ring of Honor, located on the right-field facade near the foul pole at Nationals Park. Howard's name sits next to those of Jackie Robinson and former Nats manager Frank Robinson. But the modest Howard demurs when told he is the greatest living player in D.C.
"They have a couple of guys down there that are lights out -- Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. They are just phenomenal players."
For one week 50 years ago, however, there was no debate.
Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from '02-16. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.