Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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 Hondo took a swing through Arlington last week and touched base with some old jock buddies.

The legendary Washington Senators slugger Frank Howard gave the keynote speech at the Better Sports Club of Arlington’s annual awards banquet.

For many with memories of his larger-than-most power frame taking the field at D.C. Stadium (renamed RFK in 1969), it was a treat to shoot the breeze with such a courtly and unassuming gent.

At 75, Howard, who lives with his wife in Loudoun County, appeared to have lost a bit of that famous six-foot-seven-inch height as he arrived early at Knight of Columbus sporting a black golf shirt.

He signed autographs at a display of his old baseball cards, the backs of which detail the stellar career: Named four times to the All-Star team, Howard hit career 382 homeruns and led the American league twice in homers and in total bases.

The Columbus, Ohio, native made All-American in basketball and baseball at Ohio State. Drafted by the NBA, he opted for baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It paid off. In 1960, he was National League Rookie of the Year (a feat Howard seems to relish—he includes it in his autograph).

In 1965, he moved to Washington to star for the hapless Senators (“first in war, first in peace, last in the American League”). He retired in 1973, continuing to coach and manage.

I asked Howard if that celebrated seat in RFK’s centerfield upper deck was still painted yellow to mark a long blast from the hitter known as “the Washington Monument.” Howard said it was now painted over, recalling telling fellow All-Star Frank Robinson, “If you can’t hit it to the upper deck, you don’t belong in this league.”

Did he spend time in Arlington back in the glory days? “The only places I saw were ballparks and motels.”

Yet Howard has friends galore in my hometown. He rattled off the names of Jack Bell, local dentist, and George Varoutsos, Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Judge, both present.

As I watched, Howard enjoyed a surprise reunion with Bobby Lee, the owner of Mister Days cafe in Clarendon who in the 1960s ran a D.C.bar called Gino’s at Southeast Pennsylvania and Alabama avenues. It was a hangout for Washington Senators, including Howard, who lived with Eddie Brinkman, the shortstop, in a group house in Suitland, Md.

Inside the banquet hall, the Arlington establishment was out in force: County Board Chair Mary Hynes; Sheriff Beth Arthur; Chamber of Commerce President Rich Doud; and former Georgetown University basketball coach Craig Esherick, who chairs the Arlington Sports Commission.

Howard was introduced by Washington Nationals broadcaster Byron Kerr as the “capital punisher.”

Standing before a row of tall trophies ready for presenting to county youth, Howard was self-deprecating. “It’s not the first standing ovation I’ve received,” he joked, describing being heckled during a double header at Boston’s Fenway Park by 34,000 Red Sox fans. “Go to work for a living,” they shouted, as Howard proceeded to strike out seven times.

“The United States is the greatest country in the world,” he said, praising our different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. “These future leaders of America are a heckof a lot smarter than we were.”

He ended with a mandatory needling of the late New York Yankees moneybags George Steinbrenner. 

 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at [email protected]

 

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