I remember reading about Frank Howard as a young boy and and for some reason I had always wanted to meet him. I am unsure as to why I held a fascination with this player I had only seen on television a few times as he was not a superstar by today's definition but there was just something that endeared me to him. Perhaps it was because the man was just plain Big. Nicknamed Hondo by his teammates after the John Wayne character, he stood 6'8" and seemed to tower over just about anyone he came into contact with. The Philadelphia Warriors of the NBA thought enough of him to draft him after he completed his studies at Ohio state University. While known for his size, Frank Howard was known to be a damn good guy and I finally had my chance to find this out as a 12 year old boy at Wrigley Field on early spring day.
My dad made a habit of getting tickets to a few Cubs games each year and as his custom, he came home and surprised me box seat tickets for a game that would mean nothing in the standings, even this early in the year. I was excited because I knew that Frank Howard was now a coach for the Amazin's and I stood a good chance at finally meeting the man who I had hoped to meet for a number of years at that point. The Cubs and Mets were not good teams in the mid 70's and the attendance in the stands reflected the team's frustrations. There were no crowds to fight and certainly no traffic around Wrigley like we see at games now so arriving at the park was quite easy. At that time games started at 1:15 pm with gates opening at 11:15, allowing for easy access to autographs for most fans. I took my usual post at the end of the visitors dugout, nearest home plate as this is where the players would walk by on their way to the batting cage. One by one the Mets came and went with no sign of the big man. Finally, I worked up the courage to ask another coach if Mr. Howard was down in the dugout and the coach looked at the bench and said "Frank....there is someone here to see you".
In seconds, out from the dugout stepped this monster of a man who, even though I was a big 12 year old for my age I still had to crane my neck up to look at him. Standing in the stands, which are raised at least ten inches above the playing field, I came face to chest with the man I had only read about. I stammered that I had really wanted to meet him and hoped get his autograph. He took my ball, placed a beautiful autograph on it all the while taking time to ask questions about me. I could not believe this Major League baseball player, who had been the National League Rookie of the Year, who played in countless All Star games and had been among the best players of the 60's would stop and take the time to talk to me, a pesky 12 year old like I was the only person around. His reputation as a big man with a personality to match his dimensions was now affirmed in this 12 year old. I do not remember much about that game but after meeting the man I had came to meet, not much more needed to be remembered.
Today's photo shows Frank Howard standing on first base during a time out in the action. To give an idea how large the man truely is, standing next to him is the Killer himself, Harmon Killebrew. When thinking of the Killebrew one nearly almost always thinks of a bigger guy because after all, you need to be big to club as many home runs as he did. Standing on the other side of Hondo is the first base coach for the Washington Senators, Hall of Famer, Nellie Fox. If you notice, even while standing on the base Fox does not even approach the stature of the Capitol Punisher. It is safe to note that the three men included in this photo probably were three of the kindest people one would ever want to meet. The reason why I like this photo so much is that the size differences of the men included in this photo are so evident but the measures of the men and who they were to their fans and baseball show them to be equal in every way.
I hope you enjoy this photo of the day.