Nats: Frank Howard, Edwin Jackson and the number 33

Washington Senators slugger Frank Howard was the last great D.C. baseball player before 2005. He hit 237 home runs for the expansion Senators from 1965-71, still an all-time Washington record. A long-time resident of Loudoun County, Va., Howard is an ambassador for the Loudoun Hounds independent minor league baseball team headquartered about 30 miles west of Nationals Park. He also makes area appearances and is immortalized in sculpture outside of Nationals Park.

Frank Howard, wearing wrong uniform/number combination

In that sculpture (commissioned by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and not the franchise) Howard is seen wearing #33. He had worn #9 (Baseball Reference) upon his arrival in Washington in a trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but out of deference to incoming manager Ted Williams, Howard changed his number in 1969. Howard tends to be most associated with #33 as it coincided with his best seasons and the high-water mark of the expansion Senators (86 wins in 1969).

Since baseball returned to nation’s capital in 2005, the #33 was never issued. That changed this year when journeyman RHP Edwin Jackson, signed with the Nats. Jackson had typically worn #36 or #22 (Baseball Reference) in previous stops, but those numbers are worn by Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, respectively (Washington Nationals roster). There wasn’t much of a fuss about #33 being issued, though it was noted (see the bottom of this Nats Insider post). It seemed that #33 would never be retired for Howard, except that it already was “retired” in a preseason game.

In 1993, D.C. was a few years past from being jilted when the National League expanded two teams the Florida Marlins (now Miami) and the Colorado Rockies. Despite that, exhibition games were regularly played at RFK Stadium. For at least a day or two of the year, I could get on the Orange Line and take it to a major league game. Being a New York Yankees fan (they are still my AL team), I was pleased when I found out they’d be playing their intra-city rivals, the Mets at RFK Stadium. It was scheduled for a Friday afternoon, but my dad took my brother and I out of school (family business) to see it. That morning, I probably read a story in The Post about previewing the game:

Yankees, Mets Enliven RFK: Baseball returns to Washington, Albeit Briefly

Today, in pregame ceremonies, Yankees first base coach Frank Howard, the slugging hero of the Senators, will be honored by having his uniform — No. 33, Size XXXL — retired. He also will be presented with a stadium chair, presumably, one not dented by any of the 237 home runs Hondo hit for the Washington team.

The pregame ceremony turned out to be the highlight of the day, as the game was called due to sloppy field conditions after heavy rains.

The only happy face in the stadium yesterday belong to Yankees first base coach Frank Howad, the former Washington Senators slugger who was honored in a ceremony to retire his No. 33.

I remember the photograph of Howard, sitting in his road gray “NEW YORK” uniform holding up the jersey. The picture wasn’t included in the scan of the newspaper that I used to research this post, but the caption was: “Frank Howard, no (sic) first base coach with the Yankees, holds his No. 33 Senators jersey which was retired in ceremony at RFK Stadium.”

If I recall correctly, the master of ceremonies indicated that #33 would hang for the rafters at RFK. Years later, when I went back to RFK for the first time (1996 HFStival) since that cancelled exhibition game, I looked around the stadium and did not see it. I think it is reasonable to determined it was never posted. As an aside, #33 is also retired by the Washington Redskins for Sammy Baugh, the only officially retired number that franchise honors. That was never specifically displayed either.

After Howard’s ceremony, the game was called after over 9,000 tickets out of 16,000 sold had already entered. There were no refunds. We had already ordered lunch though, hot dogs and a big bucket of french fries. Also noteworthy, heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe cancelled his scheduled honorary first pitch in solidarity with a Jesse Jackson protest against major league baseball over minority hiring.

In the present, Edwin Jackson has already started three games for the Nats (two duds, one complete game shutout) wearing #33. I don’t have any thing against Jackson (at least when he’s pitching well, right?) but he shouldn’t have been allowed to wear that number. Howard remains outside of the organization, though according to a September 28, 2011 Thom Loverro column in The Wash. Examiner, Howard wanted to be a part of the Nationals in some way. During the first several years the Nats were involved, Howard had a “lifetime contract” with the Yankees as a scout, but after George Steinbrenner died, Howard and the Yankees parted, apparently amicably. Back then, I advocated that Howard be brought on board, but to date that hasn’t happened and even the unofficial number retirement is no longer observed.

Loverro speculated that money had been a factor keeping the slugger and team from formalizing a relationship:

Several years ago, there were negotiations to bring Howard on board in some role. But sources with knowledge of the negotiations said the Lerners wanted MASN — Peter Angelos’ network — to help foot the bill. That failed to materialize, and the team didn’t come up with whatever pocket change it would have taken to hire Howard.

Really? I’m all for making Angelos spend as much money on the Nats as possible as punishment for his misdeeds, but in that circumstance that’s just nuts. I have a tough time imaging that Howard’s asking price is particularly steep too.

The Nats administration certainly does not owe Howard anything financially, nor do they need to uphold a number retirement done unofficially by a exhibition game promoter almost 20 years ago. Howard may not even care about his number. However, there are fans who care about the number and want to see Howard recognized by the current team, especially in light of the recognition given some Montreal Expos players — men who never played in Washington. The Lerner family and team president Andy Feffer would serve Nats fans well and do their business good by embracing the history of D.C. baseball and in particular the men who played it. Retiring #33 at the next opportunity would be a strong step in that direction.

HISTORICAL SOURCES

Shapiro, Leonard. “Yankees, Mets Enliven RFK: Baseball Returns to Washington, Albeit Briefly.” Washington Post 2 April 1993: C1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers

Shapiro, Leonard. “Wet Field Halts Mets-Yankees Exhibition.” Washington Post 3 April 1993: D3. ProQuest Historical Newspapers

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6 thoughts on “Nats: Frank Howard, Edwin Jackson and the number 33”

  1. I don’t think I agree with retiring Hondo’s number. Retiring a number should be reserved for the true superstars of a franchise — or in special situations (usually involving a tragedy). Unfortunately, the Senators didn’t have any true superstars.

    Howard should be placed in the Ring of Honor with Cronin & Walter Johnson, etc. But there’s no need to retire his number. Cronin’s #4 hasn’t been retired (Corey Patterson was the last to wear it), and he was a Hall of Famer — and is on the Ring of Honor.

  2. So, you want to avoid Yvon Labre syndrome?

    Most of the great Senators changed their numbers regularly. The greatest didn’t even have one.

  3. I had to look up Yvon Labre on Wikipedia, but yes that’s the case.

    I see retiring someone’s number as saying, “Nobody will ever come up to the standards that you set while wearing this uniform.” I grew up a Giants fan, so I see the retiring of the numbers of people like Mays, Marichal,& McCovey in that light.

  4. The only real precedent for retiring a number of someone because of what he did in that city rather than for that franchise is the Brewers retiring Hank Aaron’s number. Aaron did play two seasons for the Brewers but the real reason his number was retired was what he did for the Milwaukee Braves.

  5. The Mets were going to do it for Willie Mays apparently, but didn’t do it before Joan Whitney Payson died. I wouldn’t be shocked if they try to do it one of these days, though Mays may not care.

  6. With the Wilpon’s seeing their Mets as the reincarnation of the Brooklyn Dodgers I don’t see that happening.

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