Meeting Big Frank Howard – no, not that one, the other one

If you haven’t caught Jesse Dougherty’s recent piece on the memory of a moonshot home run by the legendary Senators slugger Frank Howard in the Washington Post, by all means do read it. It’s the wonderful tale of a home run Howard hit against the Seattle Pilots, allegedly a 600-footer. A fan had contacted Dougherty to help him verify a childhood memory.

Supposedly, the ball sailed out of Sick’s Stadium over the center field seats, and the fan who witnessed it as a kid had been doing some math and studying old photos to make his own rough estimate of the ball’s distance half a century later.

Did the old Senators slugger, Frank Howard, hit baseball’s longest home run?

Dougherty comes to no real conclusion about how far the dinger went, even after talking to Howard, several former teammates, and consulting press accounts of the event. (They all estimated it to be well under 600-feet, and leaving the park at a variety of points.)

In other words, Dougherty’s piece, a young reporter’s honestly made investigation and nicely written article, seems an unintentional meditation on the unknowability of the past.

To which I’ll make a contribution, which both verifies and calls into question matters Dougherty touches on. This is based on an evening I spent with Frank Howard 12-15 years ago, when he and a friend of mine were working sales appearances at bars for a well-known distiller of whiskies.

My friend Joe, a fellow who died far too young, had asked if I wanted to “go drinking” with the player once known as The Capitol Punisher. As a long-time baseball fan, I said, “Of course.” (At the time I was still teaching, and counted myself lucky to have sold a couple of baseball pieces years before to an obscure publication.)

For those unfamiliar with the marketing technique described here, what you have to mix is a working class, American-Irish bar; a little gloom, a definite beery smell, and a little laughter. Everybody in the group gathered around the guest star tries at least one of whatever is being pushed, and people get to ask a childhood “hero” some baseball questions.

I recall thinking at the time something like – so, this is what a big star from the ’60s is doing in his early 70s.

One guy asked most of the questions, some annoying, but that at least gave Howard enough things to focus on and discuss since, as Dougherty suggests, Frank Howard is not a natural blowhard. On the other hand, the Post writer describes Howard at one point as “allergic to self-praise,” and that doesn’t quite ring true either.

The fellow I met was a confident guy. He had been an NL Rookie of the Year. He had hit a lot of long MLB home runs, and at 6-foot-7, he likely turned heads simply walking into any crowded room. At one point that evening, Howard was assuring a pretty barmaid that “some things that take me a little longer now I used to do all night long.”

In the Me Too era, I’ll let that one just sit there, except to say that the remark appeared to be more for the consumption of those listening to his stories than an actual overture to a much younger woman.

As Dougherty reports, Howard’s favorite home run was off Whitey Ford in the ’63 World Series. Consider this verification that he has likely been saying that for decades. He told us too.

Could he have hit a ball 600 feet? Frank Howard believes he did, and he told us he hit more than one that far. He meant it.