August 8th, 2012
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was a legitimate monster of the game during the 1960’s. Nicknamed “Hondo,” he stood six feet eight inches tall, weighed close to 300 pounds and handled his tree-trunk sized bat as if it was a toothpick. Howard played both basketball and baseball at Ohio State and was signed by the Dodgers in 1958. During his two plus seasons in LA’s minor league system, he smashed 84 home runs and then became the NL Rookie of the Year in 1960. Five years later the Dodgers traded him to the Senators in the deal that brought pitcher Claude Osteen to Los Angeles.
During the next seven seasons, Hondo became the Senators first legitimate star player. He led the AL in homers in 1968 (44) and again in ’70 (44), when he also captured the AL RBI title with 126. He was a four-time AL All Star and hit some of the longest home runs in MLB history during his years playing in our Nation’s Capital. When the Senators moved to Texas in 1972, Howard’s stats nosedived and he was sold to the Tigers. Two years later he went to Japan but a knee injury prevented him from becoming the new “Godzilla.” He hit 382 big league home runs during his 16 season career back when reaching the 400 mark in that category meant automatic induction into Cooperstown.
He then turned to managing in the minor leagues and eventually got big league jobs skippering both the Padres and Mets. Though he didn’t have winning teams in either city he was considered a real good communicator, especially with the younger players. The Yankees hired him as a hitting coach in the late eighties and he served under both Stump Merrill and Bucky Showalter in that capacity. He was a tireless coach who would be the first person to arrive at the park every day of spring training and the last guy to leave at night. He’d hit fungos to Yankee outfielders for hours and stand by the batting cage just as long, helping young Yankee prospects like Bernie Williams work on weaknesses in their swings. He was widely respected by everyone on the team and his huge physical size made young Yankee prospects think twice about trying to skip out early on practice. He was born in Columbus, OH and turns 76 years old today. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this other one too, and this former Yankee play-by-play announcer.