Any player/Any era: Frank Howard

What he did: I mentioned Howard a few months back in a column on Harmon Killebrew. Both were 1960s sluggers whose batting averages suffered because their career peaks occurred while pitchers dominated. Killebrew got into Cooperstown, on his fourth try with the writers, because despite his .256 career batting average, he smacked 573 home runs (back when that meant something.) Howard was an afterthought on the writers ballot, his .273 clip and 382 homers good for 1.4 percent of the vote his only year eligible, 1979. But if he’d played 30 years earlier than he did, Howard might have been a Hall of Famer, too.

Era he might have thrived in: Howard joins Killebrew and Jimmy Wynn as another player who would have triumphed in the 1930s. Like Wynn, Howard was a Hall of Famer in everything except his era.

Why: In the Killebrew column, I ran his numbers through the stat converter on, seeing how he’d do playing every year of his career on the 1936 Indians. I found Killebrew would have 687 home runs and a .300 batting average. Doing the same for Howard, he comes out with 469 home runs and a .325 batting average. It’d make him the poor man’s Foxx, who hit .325 with 534 home runs. Foxx needed seven years on the Cooperstown ballot before being enshrined in 1951, but this was mainly because he was inducted in the early days of Hall voting, when the ballot was packed with greats. In other words, I think Howard gets in with the writers, too.

We can take this one step further. Howard and Foxx have similar career trajectories, each debuting young and sitting the bench their first few years before blossoming. We can take Howard’s career, 1958 to 1973, and superimpose it onto the first 16 seasons of Foxx’s, 1925 to 1940. It’s not unreasonable to assume Howard would have played a few more years in this scenario, since he’d be over draft age and in his late 30s as younger players would start leaving for World War II. Foxx got in a few extra seasons this way, and while the results weren’t pretty, it added to his totals. He even pitched a little in 1945. Perhaps Howard would reach 500 home runs, too, finishing out in these years.

Of course, the major benefit for Howard is that his best seasons, 1968 through 1970 are transported to the 1935 Philadelphia Athletics and 1936-37 Boston Red Sox. Here’s how his numbers would look for those years:

1935 A’s (’68) 150 615 115 202 34 4 54 154 66 134 .328 .397 .660
1936 Red Sox (’69) 153 613 164 217 21 2 59 164 126 91 .354 .467 .684
1937 Red Sox (’70) 153 573 118 187 17 1 51 165 154 119 .326 .467 .627

This is opposed to his actual totals of:

1968 Senators 158 598 79 164 28 3 44 106 54 141 .274 .338 .552
1969 Senators 161 592 111 175 17 2 48 111 102 96 .296 .402 .574
1970 Senators 161 566 90 160 15 1 44 126 132 125 .283 .416 .546

The huge boost in stats mostly has to do with the fact that Howard would be hitting in one of these greatest times for hitters instead of one of the worst (1968 might have been the worst year for hitters since the Deadball Era, so bleak that the height of the pitchers mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 the following year.) My guess is Howard would have held his own with the likes of Earl Averill, Hank Greenberg, and Chuck Klein. One can only wonder if those men would have fallen short of Cooperstown playing in Howard’s actual era.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert PujolsBarry Bonds, Bob CaruthersDom DiMaggioFritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run Baker, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

7 Replies to “Any player/Any era: Frank Howard”

  1. RE: “Foxx needed seven years on the Cooperstown ballot before being enshrined in 1951”

    Foxx retired in 1945 and wasn’t eligible for the HOF until five years later — 1950.

  2. I remember seeing Frank Howard as a kid, He just seemed like he could reach out with his bat and touch the pitcher. What a powerful man. He was very mild mannered, but on one occasion was so upset about striking out he actually crushed his batting helmut with just one of his hands! Imagine if Ted Williams had coached Howard from the beginning! He might have put up some great numbers sooner.

    Killebrew albeit smaller than Howard was one of those players like Mickey Mantle that just took your breath away when the swung at a ball– even when they missed lol.

    As for the Foxx comparisons to “Hondo” Howard the whole system of rating the various players from era to era is fascinating. I do think that a complete ballplayer, “Double X” would be even more of a stand-out when you consider his excellence and flexibility as a fielder. Were it not for HOF’er Mickey Cochrane already being a fixture for Philly, Foxx might have become known as the greatest all-round catcher ever.

    But there are some very important items that are often overlooked should really propel Foxx into a separate pantheon that put him well above “Killer” and “Hondo” and more on the level of Mays and Mantle.

    Firstly, Foxx was used much like Jackie Robinson and Pete Rose as a credible player you could plug in in the outfield, third base, catcher or his main position at First base with great excellence. Ultimately amazing was Foxx’s great speed. Much like Mantle, Foxx despite his large and muscular frame, he could run like a deer like Mantle and was a very smart baserunner ala Mays. Connie Mack would often use Foxx as a pinch runner when he was out of the line-up.

    Imagine a great power hitter with great speed, baseball smarts, could hit for a high average and play a variety of positions very well. It is like a super-star who is also your team’s utility man and pinch runner all in one.

    Howard and Killebrew, both great players I loved to see, were still far more one dimensional in their skills as opposed to Foxx who merely because of his massive size would be perceived today by most fans as a lumbering power hitter.

    Plus, in his own time Jimmie Foxx had tremendous competition for the spotlight having the Babe as early competitiion for home run, RBI and slugging perc. titles as well a fellow first basemen Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg.

    Also memories don’t last as the generation’s fade in sports so we often lose sight of really how skilled various players were in ways that go beyond stats. Foxx loses out in this regard in a big way. Were he playing after 1950 he might have been known as Mantle’s twin and a possible contender for greatest all-round player, which consideration he still deserves.

  3. Frank Howard should have received serious Hall of Fame consideration. He was as good as or better than those who played in the 60’s and got in or came close to getting in. MLB and/or Bob Costas should do a biography show on Hondo. That was a great story on Don Zimmer last year. Young fans and old fans alike would enjoy a similar one about Frank. Howard also spent 50 years in baseball and has certainly earned such recognition. He may have hit 600 home runs if he started his career anywhere but the spacious Dodger ballpark or had ANYONE hitting behind him in Washington. He was a class act to boot.

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