Two DC legends are tied on the city’s home run list as Washington Nationals slugger Ryan Zimmerman meets Washington Senators icon Frank Howard.
The 237th homer of the face of the Nats matches Frank Howard, the face of the expansion Washington Senators. No player in the 84 seasons of modern Major League Baseball played in the district had hit more until now.
As important as Zimmerman remains in separating the Nats from their days in Montreal as the Expos, Howard was the first star to lend the Senators legitimacy.
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A compromise situation after the Griffith family abandoned Washington for the supposed greener pastures of Bloomington, Minnesota, the new Senators struggled on the field and at the gate. After the 1964 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers wanted pitcher Claude Osteen while the Sens eyed the slugger Howard. On December 4, the two were part of seven-player deal and $100,000 transfer to the west coast.
The man known as “Hondo” was massive. At 6’7 and 255, he swung as if he had a toothpick in his hands. Balls flew far off his bat. One traveled so much, there remains a seat painted white in the upper decks of old RFK Stadium measuring a titanic blast.
The first for the Washington faithful came in front of a paid crowd of 3,717 on April 28, 1965. In the ninth inning of a loss to the Baltimore Orioles, Howard took Robin Roberts deep. They would lose the game 6-3 and finish the season 70-92.
His last in DC came on the Senators final day, September 30, 1971. In a game the Senators would eventually forfeit, Howard started the sixth with a blast off New York Yankees starter Mike Kekich. As happened too often with the team, they lost 7-5.
In between, Howard had three straight years clearing 40 home runs with a career-high 48 in 1969. Surprisingly, it did not lead the league as old friend Harmon Killebrew slugged 49 for the Minnesota Twins.
A big year for Washington, the Senators hosted the All-Star Game, brought in Ted Williams to manage and finished at .500 their only time. Howard was the straw stirring the drink.
Zimmerman and Howard played the same role. Zimmerman was the first player drafted after the move south. Although not the physical presence of Howard, it was his ability to hit home runs that drew notice. Fans connected with him.
Although the Nats have been a success story on and off the field, the growing pains of establishing a new team in an old market matches Howard from 50 years ago. Both did well.
It is fitting, as Zimmerman breaks the tie, that Howard holds the record. A larger-than-life figure still loved in DC.