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 Baseball-Reference.com, 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:
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 Pujols, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Dom DiMaggio, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Home Run Baker, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Nate Colbert, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays