Frank Howard spent seven seasons mashing home runs as a corner outfielder and the best player on Washington’s major league baseball team. The towering slugger amassed 237 homers for the Senators, a total that remains the most in Washington baseball history.
Five decades later, Howard was at Nationals Park getting inducted into the Nationals’ Ring of Honor Friday evening. He told reporters that he would have “put a few dents” in the seats at Nationals Park if he was 25 years old. He also had some high praise for a young corner outfielder collecting home runs at a rate higher than any Washington baseball player since his days: Bryce Harper.
“He’s got four-and-a-half, five years in the big leagues; he hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface,” the 80-year-old Howard said before the Nationals faced the Rockies. “His next 10 years should be dynamite years, they really should be.”
Howard said he met Harper about five years ago, having never seen him play. He later ran into Bob Boone, the Nationals’ assistant general manager, in Harrisburg, Pa.
“He said, ‘Frank, this guy’s going to be very, very special,’ ” Howard said. “When Bob Boone tells you he’s going to be special, you know he’s going to be special.”
Howard lives in western Loudon County. He said he follows Harper and the Nationals with a periodic update from the newspaper and supports the club, which is enjoying more success than his Senators teams ever did; the Senators never won more than 86 games during his Washington career. Now, Washington’s club is a World Series contender.
“It’d be great for the area, and we got great fans here,” Howard said. “Great fans here, and to give them a world-championship ballclub would be a real thrill.”
Nationals Manager Dusty Baker joined and spoke at the on-field pregame ceremony honoring Howard, who was a part of Baker’s childhood. When Baker and his brother played in the backyard, they pretended they were their Dodgers heroes. Baker’s favorite was Tommy Davis, and his brother’s favorite was Howard, who began his career in Los Angeles.
“He’s the most pleasant gentle giant of a man that I know,” Baker said. “Now, I’d hate to upset him because as a kid his name was Big Frank Howard or Hondo.”
The Nationals presented Howard, who was in a wheelchair for the ceremony but stood up for the national anthem, with a signed bat and a framed photo. He took questions and joked with Baker, and his name was unveiled on the third deck by the right-field foul pole, joining Jackie and Frank Robinson.
“Listen, I’m not one to live in the past but I’ll tell you what, anytime you have a chance to be on their team, Frank and Jackie Robinson’s team, is a real thrill for me,” Howard said. “It really is. And it’s nice when somebody says, ‘Welcome to our ring of honor.’ ”