I’ve been working on this project for about two months now and as would be expected, I’m beginning to play favorites. I grew up a Phillies fan, so any Phillies get bumped to the top of my mental list. The Rays may not have even been a twinkle in Vince Naimoli’s eye in 1972 so they’re not a factor, though there are some players in the 1972 set with Rays connections. One of those players is Frank Howard and as such, one of the early front-runners for my favorite card of the set is his card, #350.
First of all, you just gotta love the simplicity of the pose.
In a previous entry, I detailed a number of stock poses used over and over again by Topps. This particular one belongs in the Pantheon of boring Topps poses of the 1970s.
I can imagine the photographer saying, “OK Frank, now let’s get one with you looking longingly into the sky.”
Frank would respond with, “What’s my inspiration?” to which the photographer would reply, “You’re missing a loved one. You’re wondering where they are, how they are and what they’re doing and you’re looking into the heavens for answers.”
“Got it. How’s this?”
On a much more basic level, I simply like Frank Howard. I met him when he was a coach with the Rays in 1998 & 1999 and he’s among the nicest people you’ll ever come across.
He’s also an extremely large man. His 1972 Topps card lists him at 6’7” and 275 pounds, but most references to him I’ve seen list his height at 6’8″. When I met him he may have slimmed down a bit, but he hadn’t shrunk. He’s just a big dude and a walking definition of the term, Gentle Giant.
He’s also quite a character and I mean that as a compliment. Whenever I saw him at Tropicana Field I always made it a point to say hi to him because I knew he didn’t know my name. Whenever someone he didn’t know would say hi to him he would respond with, “How ‘ya doing champion?”
Frank called EVERYONE champion. Occasionally he would mix in a “champ,” and he once called me, “young champion” but more often than not it was simply, Champion. He had a big booming somewhat gravelly voice and I can still hear him saying it. It was fantastic.
He also wore exactly the same outfit to the ballpark every single day. Tan slacks and a tight tan knit shirt. My guess is that despite the fact that he wore it every day, he only had it on for the time it took him to drive to the ballpark and back.
Howard was a very accomplished athlete. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and went to Ohio State where he was an All-American in baseball and basketball. In a holiday tournament at Madison Square Garden, Howard once grabbed 32 rebounds in a single game. In addition to being drafted to play major league baseball, he also was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors, which means he and Wilt Chamberlain could have potentially been twin towers in the NBA, predating Sampson and Olajuwon by decades.
But Howard chose baseball and quickly established himself as one of the game’s most feared sluggers. In his first stop in the minor leagues he won MVP honors by hitting 37 homers and driving in 119 runs. The performance earned him a September call up to the big leagues with the Dodgers where he homered in his second at bat off Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. A week later in Cincinnati, he hit a foul line drive that struck teammate Duke Snider in the head, knocking him out and ending his season.
Howard got to the big leagues to stay in 1960, hitting .268 with 23 homers and 77 RBI and winning Rookie of the Year honors. He won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1963 and parlayed that into an appearance on the Joey Bishop show.
There’s good old #25 on the far right. He’s tough to miss because he’s a head taller than everyone else on stage.
But perhaps the thing he’s most known for is an incredible run during the 1968 season while a member of the Washington Senators.
Six games, 24 at bats, 10 home runs. Even more remarkable was that it was accomplished in four different cities in seven days. Howard would lead the American League with 44 homers and 340 total bases that season and he finished second in RBI with 106. His display of power with the Senators earned him the nickname of “The Capital Punisher.”
This streak was accomplished while playing first base, but Howard played most of his games in 1968 in LEFT FIELD. Quick, name all the 6’8″ outfielders in the game today…