Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why Frank Howard Belongs In the Hall of Fame

There is a lot of discussion these days on how to evaluate current players eligible for the Hall of Fame. Guys like Fred McGriff and Jeff Bagwell are finding that being offensive players in an offensive age doesn't guarantee instant Hall of Fame access. And this isn't the first time for that scenario. The late 1920s to the mid-1930s was an offensive era. For example, the average batting average in baseball in 1930 was .296! And the Hall of Fame is flooded with players from that era. But what about other eras in baseball when offenses were way down? For example, the famous "Year of the Pitcher" in 1968 produced an average offensive slash line of: 237/.299/.340. From 1963 to 1972, the average MLB batting average rose to .250 or higher twice. It was during that time that Frank Howard played the bulk of his career.

Let's start with the "Year of the Pitcher." You've already seen the ugly slash line across baseball. That year, Frank Howard's slash line was: .274/.338/.552. If you want to look at those numbers another way, let's put them as how much they were above league average: +37/+39/+212. He hit 44 homers that year, ten more than the next highest guy. Howard drove in 106 and added 28 doubles. And he had NO protection in his batting order as the Senators finished in last place that year. No other teammate hit more than 13 doubles or 20 homers.

Okay, one year doesn't a career make. Let's go to the next year, 1969. League offense was a little better that year. They lowered the mounds to generate more offense. But the league slash line was still: .248/.320/.369. Howard produced the following slash line that year: .296/.402/.574. He hit 48 homers, drove in 111 and scored 111. Howard also walked 102 times that season. This was a great season, especially in light of the times. He came in fourth in MVP voting. Harmon Killebrew had his best season that season, Reggie Jackson was outstanding and the also overlooked Boog Powell had his best season.

Then there was 1970. In 1970, Howard walked 132 times, the most in his career. He hit 44 more homers, drove in 126 and had a .962 OPS when the league average was .711. He came in fifth in MVP voting that year despite playing on another lousy team. Boog Powell won it that year. Carl Yaztremski should have though.

From 1963 to 1972, in perhaps one of the modern era's toughest offensive period, Howard hit 299 homers or 29.9 per year. From 1967 through 1969, perhaps the toughest years of all, Howard hit 137 homers. Plus, Howard played the bulk of his career at R.F.K. Stadium in Washington, not an easy park to hit homers. His 382 homers seem larger because of the times he played through. His power was legendary and his best years went under appreciated because of how badly the Senators usually played.

And Howard was huge not just in his numbers. The guy was six foot, seven inches tall and built like a bulldozer. He towered over everyone. We were in awe of him as kids and whenever he was on the field, you could pick him out easier than any other player. Hondo Howard was a lousy fielder. The Fan will grant you that. But he also gets style points as being one of the nicest guys who has ever played the game. Frank Howard is a Hall of Fame player.

If you want to get an idea of how big the guy was, watch this old commercial from YouTube.

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