Frank Howard Would Be Open to Working for the Nats

Frank Howard, a four-time all-star in 16 major league seasons, hit 237 of his 382 career home runs as a member of the Washington Senators.
Frank Howard, a four-time all-star in 16 major league seasons, hit 237 of his 382 career home runs as a member of the Washington Senators. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 5, 2008

As the Washington Nationals ponder their options in a free agent market that is beginning to show signs of heating up after a cold November, another sort of free agent has all but fallen into their laps. He is 72 years old, would cost a fraction of what a young superstar first baseman might and answers to the nicknames "Hondo" or "Capital Punisher."

Frank Howard, the former Washington Senators star and the most prominent living figure in the District's baseball history, was let go last month from his job as a scout and special instructor by the New York Yankees and said he is open to the notion of joining the Nationals in some capacity.

"If they were interested," Howard said from his home in Northern Virginia, "I would be delighted to talk to them."

Both Nationals President Stan Kasten and General Manager Jim Bowden declined to speak about Howard's situation, although Kasten said he was aware of Howard's departure from the Yankees and said he has spoken to him in the past.

Howard, known for his 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame and his tape-measure home runs, signed a lifetime contract with longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in 2000 that allowed Howard to work as a hitting instructor and scout on a flexible schedule. Since the Nationals' debut in Washington in 2005, he has been a semi-regular fixture at their games, scouting visiting teams for the Yankees.

However, with Steinbrenner in failing health and with sons Hal and Hank now running the franchise, Yankees officials approached Howard this offseason about ending the arrangement, and Howard agreed.

"I love Mr. Steinbrenner, inside and out," he said. "But the boys want to create their own identity, and I fully understand that. . . . But I'd love to stay in baseball, especially since next year will be my 50th in the game."

A marriage between the Nationals and Howard would appear to be a natural. The team maintains almost no tangible ties to Washington's baseball past -- its official history includes the 36 seasons the franchise spent in Montreal, but not the two incarnations of the Senators that played here from 1901 to 1971 -- and could score a public-relations coup by bringing the popular Howard into its fold.

Howard was a four-time all-star for the expansion Senators and hit 237 of his 382 career home runs in a Washington uniform. Since retiring in 1975, he has worked as a coach, manager and scout for the Padres, Mets, Brewers, Mariners, Yankees and Rays.

Nationals Notes: The Nationals' front-office contingent, led by Bowden, leaves tomorrow for Las Vegas, where baseball's winter meetings begin on Monday. The team is seeking a power-hitting first baseman and pitching depth in its rotation and bullpen. They are believed to be mulling a major offer to free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, and could also have interest in Adam Dunn if prices fall. . . .

Barry Larkin's contract as a special assistant to the general manager has ended, and Larkin said yesterday he is considering opportunities with other organizations, including the Cincinnati Reds, with whom he spent his entire 19-year playing career. The Nationals' Web site no longer lists him among the team's front-office personnel.

Bowden is "letting me decide on what I want to do," Larkin said. "I'm looking at some opportunities, but we've had open lines of communication [with the Nationals], and [a return] hasn't been ruled out." . . .

The team named former Washington Redskins strength coach John Philbin as its strength and conditioning coach, and Elizabeth Wheeler as its physical therapist.

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