While a statue of Frank Howard towers over spectators at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., the 6’7” slugger is also a well known figure in New York, where he was a coach for both the Yankees and Mets (serving as a manager for the latter in 1983). On Saturday, the 78-year-old Howard returned to New York as a guest at the JP Sports Long Island National Card Show at Hofstra University, signing autographs for a few hundred fans that waited patiently to greet one of the most feared power hitters in baseball history.
Reflecting on his return to New York, Howard drummed up a lot of positive memories, including when he played basketball for Ohio State at Madison Square Garden in 1956. He set a Garden Festival tournament record with 32 rebounds in one game.
“You know, [playing] in the old Madison Square Garden, the ten years I coached here, six with the Mets, four with the Yankees, [were] really ten of the greatest years of my life,” Howard said on Saturday. “The ball clubs we had really weren’t real strong contending clubs, but they were clubs that were entertaining and fun to watch.”
Howard made his mark in New York as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 1963 World Series when they squared off against the New York Yankees. He hit two monstrous shots off of Whitey Ford in Games 1 and 4 en route to a Dodgers sweep that are still talked about amongst New York baseball fans. He chose to very humbly tip his cap to the Hall of Fame pitcher, rather than relive the glory of his tape-measure blasts.
“Whitey Ford is the professional’s professional,” he said, “he’s the pro’s pro. He’s in the Hall of Fame for one reason: besides having outstanding equipment, [he had] a great baseball mind, a big Yankee heart and fire in his belly every time he went to the mound. That’s the reason why they’re in the Hall of Fame; that kind of talent only comes around every 25-30 years in baseball.”
Caught in the midst of this year’s World Series match-up between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, Howard remarked upon his experiences as a World Series champion. He found tremendous pride in being part of a winning team.
“It’s America, they love winners,” he said. “You’ll get more recognition being on a World Championship club than you will in all of the individual accomplishments that you might set or do. Recognition comes from being on a winner.”
Later in his career, Howard continued in the lineage of his former teammate and manager Gil Hodges, serving as interim manager for the New York Mets in 1983, replacing George Bamberger midway through the season. He recalled Hodges as one of the best baseball men he’s ever met.
“[He] knows the game of baseball from A-to-Z,” he said, “probably the most fundamentally sound, or as fundamentally a sound manager and player that has ever played in the big leagues. The epitome of presence, class, charisma … he would walk into a room and the room would light up.”
Hodges’ candidacy for the Hall of Fame is always a passionate topic, as his combined accomplishments as a player and manager warrant strong consideration from the Veterans Committee. While Howard does not have a Hall of Fame vote, he is certainly in support for his induction.
“That’s up to the writers. … I’m a little biased, but I think he does.”