There is no statue at Nationals Park for Stephen Strasburg — yet.
But there is one on Frank Howard, one of the most beloved players in Washington baseball history.
The statue, unfortunately, has turned out to be the only presence Howard has had at Nationals Park.
“Hondo,” 72, played for the Washington Senators from 1965 to 1971 and the town fell in love with his power and his personality, and it is a love affair that is still alive.
He had been in baseball in some capacity for 50 years, working for seven different teams as a manager or coach since he retired as a player in 1974, including his last job, working for the New York Yankees as a special instructor. But he was let go by the Steinbrenner boys last season, and now finds himself out of the game — remarkably, with no role with the Washington Nationals.
He would still like to be working in baseball. Currently, Howard is working for the Jim Beam company full time.
“I have always been with them as a sales consultant,” Howard said. “It is the first year I haven’t been in baseball for 50 years. I got to thinking, well, maybe it was time. You never know. I still would like to be actively involved in some capacity. One or two things haven’t gone my way in that business, but I’ve had a thousand great things happen and I’ve met a million great people, both in and outside of baseball.”
That’s Howard, the gentle giant, one of those most decent man to ever wear a baseball uniform, and certainly one of the most popular athletes this town has seen, despite the Senators leaving town after the 1971 season and no major league baseball here until the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington in 2005. He is so revered that he is one of three ballplayers honored with statues (albiet very bizarre statues) out in the center field plaza of Nationals Park, the other two being the great Walter Johnson and Negro League legend Josh Gibson.
There was talk during the winter of the Lerner family hiring Howard for some kind of position within the Nationals organization. But that never came to pass, and according to sources familiar with the situation, it was, of course, about money. They tried to work a deal with MASN paying for a portion of his salary in some kind of analyst role, but that never materialized.
“I worked for Stan (team president Stan Kasten) in Atlanta for a couple of years and we have a great relationship,” Howard said. “The Lerner family extended themselves. But nothing ever came out of it. They had some ideas, but nothing concrete ever came out of it. I was up front with them. If it could be worked out, great. If it can’t be worked out, it is all right. Those things happen.”
You get the feeling if Walter Johnson was still alive, the Lerners would balk at paying him to come work for the Nationals.
I will be on The Sports Reporters on ESPN 980 AM Washington today (Wednesday) from 5 to 7 p.m.
To learn more about Thom Loverro, go to www.thomloverro.com