He was Darryl Strawberry’s first major league manager and a short-term bridge between the New York Mets’ dark last-place years of the late 1970s and early 1980s to the glory days under Davey Johnson.
Mets fans remember Frank Howard as the gentle giant who managed the team for the last 116 games of the 1983 season and later served as a larger-than-life coach from 1994-1996. But Howard, who died on Monday at 87, was so much more to baseball.
Bunyanesque in his prowess at the plate, Howard smacked some of baseball’s most prodigious home runs over the course of his 16 seasons in the major leagues. In all, he hit 382 dingers while playing 16 seasons for three organizations.
Howard died at a hospital in Aldie, Va. His death was caused by complications of a stroke, his daughter Catherine Braun told the New York Times.
Standing a towering 6-foot-7 and weighing in the vicinity of 250 pounds across more than a half-century in baseball, Howard began his playing career in Los Angeles, spending seven seasons with the Dodgers. Later, he was a four-time All-Star and two-time American League home run champ with the Washington Senators.
When the Senators moved to Texas and became the Rangers, Howard recorded the Rangers’ first-ever home run, at Arlington Stadium (He also recorded the Senators’ last home run at RFK Stadium).
“He was one of the kindest, most gentle people you would ever want to meet,” Jay Horwitz, vice president of alumni relations and club historian for the Mets, said in a statement. “I think of what a pleasure it was to work with Frank Howard as a coach and manager with the Mets.”
He was one of the kindest, most gentle people you would ever want to meet. I think of what a pleasure it was to work with Frank Howard as a coach and manager with the Mets. https://t.co/y5b1XEi063— Jay Horwitz (@Jay_HorwitzPR) October 31, 2023
“Growing up a baseball fan in Washington D.C., Frank Howard was my hero,” Nationals owner Mark Lerner said in a statement. “The towering home runs he hit into the stands at RFK Stadium gave him the nickname ‘Capital Punisher,’ but I’ll always remember him as a kind and gentle man… The world of baseball has truly lost a giant.”
Howard had 1,119 RBIs and was a career .273 hitter. Four times, he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting, and in 1963 won a World Series with the Dodgers.
We mourn the passing of Frank Howard. https://t.co/GZy1xrehkt— New York Mets (@Mets) October 31, 2023
Howard, who was briefly the San Diego Padres manager in 1981, took the reins as the Mets’ skipper in May 1983 after the team skidded to an awful 16-30 start under second-year manager George Bamberger. He steadied the ship, going 52-64 the rest of the way, but the team still finished in last place in National League East. He was there for Strawberry’s call-up from the minor leagues, for the arrival of Mets great Keith Hernandez and for Dave Kingman’s final months with the Amazin’s.
Davey Johnson replaced him in 1984, and in 1986, New York won its second World Series title.
Former Mets manager Bobby Valentine fondly recalled coaching alongside Howard.
“It was an honor to coach with and coach for Hondo, Frank Howard, when I was a young coach with the Mets,” Valentine said in a social media post.
It was an honor to coach with and coach for Hondo, Frank Howard, when I was a young coach with the Mets. K can hear him saying: “Get yourself a piece of cheese”R.I.P. Big Guy— Bobby Valentine (@BobbyValentine) October 31, 2023
Embed from Getty Images
We remember Frank Howard – @Dodgers 1958-64; Wash. Senators-@Rangers; 1965-72; @tigers 1972-73; Manager – @Padres 1981; @Mets 1983. NL Rookie of the Year (1960); 4x AL All-Star (1968-71); 2x AL HR champ (1968, 1970); led AL in RBI (1970); WS champ w/ #Dodgers (1963). #RestInPeace pic.twitter.com/4WlqL66pGe— Baseball Digest (@BaseballDigest) October 30, 2023