OBSERVATIONS: ‘Hondo’ Howard Was the ‘Human Washington Monument

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, losing hours and hours of sleep to watch the World Series, but so far it is worth it watching Corey Seager hit baseballs to space stations.

—A REALLY BIG MAN: The first time I met Frank Howard, he leaned down to my level from high above and in a booming voice said, “So glad to meet you.”

I felt as if I was standing next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa with a loud speaker on top.

He was 6-foot-7, but he seemed to be 7-foot-7, baseball’s version of The Hulk. When he played for the Washington Senators, he hit some of the longest (and highest) home runs ever seen in old Griffith Stadium.

He was called, “The Human Washington Monument” and “The Capital Punisher.”

He was analytics before analytics — home run, walk or strikeout. In one short span in 1968, he hit 10 home runs in 20 at bats.

That, though, is not what set the Goliath they called Hondo apart. The term Gentle Giant is overused for big guys who are also are nice to women, children and dogs, but it was invented to describe Howard.

He was the kindest, nicest, most polite, most cooperative baseball player/manager I ever encountered.

In addition to mammoth bome runs, Howard loved massive heaps of food, beer by the barrel and cigars the size of Louisville Sluggers.

Murray Cook, former Cincinnati Reds general manager, worked for the Texas Rangers and vividly remembers Howard. The massive man with the massive heart is one of those Reader’s Digest Unforgettable Characters.

“I remember Frank taking the young Winter League players back to Field 8 in West Palm Beach,” said Cook. “He was hitting them lightning-bolt grounders late in the day. Then he helped our grounds crew cover the field afterwards. That was Hondo — a great person and a national treasure.”

Howard, who was born in Columbus and also played college basketball at Ohio State, passed away Monday at age 87. He was an All-American in both basketball and baseball. The NBA’s Philadelphia Warriors drafted him in the third round, but he chose baseball.

—THE BOOB TUBE: As expected, Game 1 of the World Series drew the lowest TV audience and ratings of all-time — 9.172 million viewers and a 4.6 rating.

Put this in perspective. The Cincinnati Bengals-Los Angeles Rams Monday Night Football game a few weeks ago drew 9 million viewers. And the much-heralded Colorado-Colorado State (Deion Sanders coaching debut at Colorado) drew 9.3 million folks to their TV sets.

And let’s see how many viewers tune in if the Texas-Arizona World Series goes seven games?

—THE NAME GAME: Did you know that this year’s World Series is the first involving two teams named after states (Arizona, Texas) instead of cities? Why aren’t they the Phoenix Diamondbacks and the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers?

The Marlins began as the Florida Marlins, but they wisened up and became the Miami Marlins.

A good trivia question. . .name the six teams that have never won a World Series. Answer: Texas, Tampa Bay, Colorado, Milwaukee, San Diego and Seattle. And the Mariners are the only franchise never to appear in a World Series.

As we all know, the Cincinnati Reds haven’t won nor played in a World Series in 33 years.

—WHAT HANGOVER?: It is no secret that Mickey Mantle loved Chivas Regal as much as he did Louisville Sluggers.

But according to Roger Kahn in his book, ‘Memories of Summer,’ only once did it play a part in his on-field performance.

“He felt so terrible one afternoon, he couldn’t get to the ball park until the fifth inning,” Kahn wrote. “Manager Casey Stengel greeted him with fury. ‘Yer late. Get in there and pinch-hit for me right now.’

“Trembling under a high, bright sky, Mantle took one swing and hit a 425-foot home run. He trotted around the basepaths, trotted into the dugout and said to Stengel, ‘You’ll never know how hard that was.’ Then he retreated to the clubhouse to lie down.”

As President Abraham Lincolns reportedly said when asked about General Ulysses S. Grant’s excessive imbibing, “Find out what brand he drinks and give it to the rest of my generals.”

—COULDN’T WHIFF DiMAG: In 1941, the year he hit in 56 straight games, Joe DiMaggio (The Yankee Clipper, Joltin’ Joe, Mr. Coffee, Mr. Marilyn Monroe) made 620 plate appearances and struck out 13 times.

That’s one strikeout every two weeks.

—QUOTE: From Joe DiMaggio: “Baseball didn’t really get into my blood until I knocked off that 56-game hitting streak. Getting a daily hit became more important to me than eating, drinking or sleeping.” (DiMaggio ate pitchers alive, drove them to drink and put the opponents to sleep.)

—MAYS DIDN’T RATE THEM: Most folks believe that the back-to-the-infield catch Willie Mays made 457 feet from home plate on Cleveland’s Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series was the greatest all-time catch.

When Branch Rickey was general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, he says he witnessed a better Mays catch in Forbes Field.

It was similar to the Wertz catch. Pittsburgh’s Rocky Nelson belted one to deep center, also about 450 feet away. And Mays fled with his back to the infield and made the over the shoulder catch.

One difference. As the ball descended, it was a little to Mays’s right. With no time he stick out his glove, he reached out and caught it bare-handed.

Rickey was so impressed he wrote Mays a note during the game and an usher passed it on to Mays. It read: “That is the finest catch I have seen in 50 years of watching baseball. And it is the finest catch I ever hope to see.”

And Willie’s response? “I don’t rate ‘em, I just catch ‘em.”

—QUOTE: From Negro League superstar Josh Gibson: “When I come to the plate I’m in scoring position.” (Eric Davis used to tell Barry Larkin the same thing.)

—WHAT ELSE IS NEW?: I’ve checked the Cleveland Browns roster forward and backward and I can’t find Murphy.

There has to be somebody named Murphy because the Browns are permanantly infected by Murphy’s Law — Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

They had the Seattle Seahawks dead and buried Sunday afternoon, a 20-17 lead with 2:04 left. They were third-and-three, a clear-cut running play, right?

But, oh no. Coach Kevin Stefanski tried to get cute and called for a pass. P.J. Walker’s pass clunked off a helmet and deflected into a Seattle player’s hands. Interception.

And, of course, the Seahawks covered 52 yards in the final 1:57 for a game-winning touchdown, 24-20.

It is what long-suffering Browns fans have come to expect. They should change P.J. Walker’s name to P.J. Murphy and be done with it.

—JUST A SCAPEGOAT?: How bizarre is this. Before the season began, University of Iowa offensive co-ordinator Brian Ferentz had his contract sliced from $122,000 to $72,000. And athletic director Gary Barta inserted a clause saying the money woulld be re-instated if Iowa won seven games and averaged 25 points a game.

Well, the Hawkeyes are averaging only 232.4 yards per game, last of all FBS teams and 26.4 yards behind the next-to-last teams, and 19.5 points a game.

Barta is gone, but interim AD Beth Goetz announced that Ferentz, a son to head coach Kirk Ferentz and OC for seven years, won’t be retained after this season.

Here’s the kicker. Because of a solid defense, Iowa is 6-2 and in a four-way 3-2 tie for first place in the Big Ten’s West Division. And the Hawkeyes should be 7-1 and 4-1. With 2:06 left in a game with Minnesota, Cooper DeJean returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown and probably a 17-12 win.

But officials ruled that DeJean signaled for a fair catch and nullified the return. Replays showed he did not signal for a fair catch. . .and Iowa lost, 12-10.

Now that wasn’t ‘fair’ at all.

—MORE FROM AL: Readers seem to enjoy the off-the-wall utterings of formr Marquette basketball coach/humorist Al McGuire, so I dug up a few more:

***“If the waitress has dirty ankles, the chili is good.”

***“You can always tell the Catholic schools by the length of the cheerleaders’ skirts.”

***“A waiter brought me a lobster with one claw. I called him over and he told me that they keep the lobsters in a tank and they fight and sometimes they lose a claw. I told him, ‘Then bring me a winner.’”

***“I want my team to have my personality: surly, obnoxious, and arrogant.”

***“I don’t know why people question the academic training of an athlete. Fifty percent of the doctors in this country graduated in the bottom half of their classes.”

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