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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Frank Howard: Still making a big impression
By DAVE SCHEIBER
Published April 2, 2006
TAMPA - He isn't the tallest man in pinstripes. That distinction belongs to 6-foot-10 pitcher Randy Johnson. But there is still something larger than life about the former slugger nicknamed "Hondo."
At 6-7 and close to his old playing weight of 255 pounds, Frank Howard stands out in a crowd hitting infield practice grounders - just as he once did hitting towering home runs.
He's in his fourth year this spring working as a Yankees special adviser, focusing on player development. On a steamy morning at Legends Field, Howard is swinging the bat nonstop before a game with St. Louis. Though he is hobbled a bit by a bum knee, No. 33 remains a commanding presence during the 90-minute drills before lumbering over to the bench to sip some Gatorade.
"I was telling (Yankees manager) Joe Torre this morning that I'll be 70 years old in August, and I am so grateful to all the people I've been associated with in baseball," he says. "I'm still retained in a position hopefully to make an impression or lend a little emphasis to a situation. My contribution is probably minimal, but I feel a minimal positive contribution is better than none at all."
Howard has made plenty of contributions in his 48 years in baseball, 38 of them in the majors. Avid followers of the Devil Rays will remember that he served as the team's first bench coach, a job he held for two seasons. And baseball fans who lived in the Washington, D.C. area during the second half of the 1960s and early '70s may recall Howard as a Senator with true clout, a Washington monument unto himself.
During one span in May 1968, he went on a legendary tear, hitting 10 homers in 20 at-bats, with at least one round-trip shot in six straight games, tying an American League record. His 10 blasts are still the most hit in a single week.
Before joining the Senators in 1965, Howard played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, signing as an amateur free agent in 1958 after a stellar basketball and baseball career at Ohio State.
He replaced Duke Snider as starting rightfielder, then won the 1960 rookie of the year award batting .268 with 23 home runs. In 1963, he hit .273 with 28 home runs, a season ending with a World Series sweep of the Yankees. Howard got the only two hits off Whitey Ford in the finale, including a homer that helped Sandy Koufax nail down a 2-1 win.
Howard was traded to the Senators in 1964. Playing leftfield, he hit 44 home runs in '68, 48 in '69 (with 111 RBIs and a .296 batting average) and 44 again in '70 as the expansion Senators' all-time greatest player.
Known for tape-measure blasts as well as frequent 100-plus strikeout seasons, the four-time All-Star hit 320 homers between 1962-71, trailing only Hank Aaron's 386, Harmon Killebrew's 386, Willie Mays' 327 and Willie McCovey's 326. After brief stints with Texas and Detroit, he retired after the '73 season with 382 home runs, a batting average of .273 and slugging percentage of .499. "Playing for the Senators was probably the best time of my life," he says.
Howard later managed the San Diego Padres ('81) and New York Mets ('83) and coached for a handful of clubs before joining the Yankees in player development. Today, he lives in northern Virginia with wife, Donna. They have six children ages 34-46 and nine grandchildren.
Howard says his goal is to do what he can to help young players make the parent club. Until last season, he roved among the Yankees' minor-league teams, but now he divides time between Columbus, Ohio, where he helps coach the Triple-A club, and his D.C.-area home evaluating talent.
He still sports the familiar crew cut. And his health is good other than the right knee, which has undergone two surgeries and may have to be replaced in the fall. "The amazing thing is that I have no pain," he said.
Not surprisingly, he still gets stopped in public. "I'm not a guy who lives in the past or who needs it for any sense of ego or self-satisfaction," he said. "But it's nice when somebody comes up to you and says, "Big Frank, how ya doin'?' At my size, there aren't too many places I can go without being recognized. But the fans have really been great to me."