RFK – Home Runs and the Capital Punisher

I’m old enough to remember the Washington Senators.

Version 2.0 that is… in fact my first little league team was named the “Senators.” I also remember black and white TV and non-divisional play, but I digress.

One year into the Washington Nationals life the giant playing area of RFK Stadium still claims its victims as the Reds completed their first 2 games there without a home run, catcher David Ross finally broke that streak in the 3rdwith an upper deck blast off Ramon Ortiz (the former RH batting tee for the 2005 Reds.)

Last season RFK logged a HR Factor of 76 for Right-handers and 99 for Left-handers, overall the park clocked in at a low 87, essentially 87% less runs are scored at RFK than at the average park in the National League. This red flag was first uttered aloud by Jose Guillen last June when he suggested the fences be moved in.

Currently the park is setup in this manner.

Dimensions:
Left field: 335 ft.; left-center: 380 ft.; center field: 408 ft.; right-center: 380 ft.; right field: 335 ft.; backstop: 60 ft. Immense foul areas and vast alleys add to the extra base hits that aren’t home runs.

Last year the Nationals had 46 home runs at home and visitors had 66, their road numbers were 71 and 74.

Prior to last year the stadium was best known (to me at least) as one of the last true sites of a true baseball riot, as fans angered at the Senators planned move to Texas stormed the field with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of the final home game, forcing the umpires to forfeit the game at the end of the 1971 season. This moment was lamented in long time Post writer Shirley Povich (yes he’s Maury’s dad):

Then a swarm of young kids, squirts who wouldn’t know what it had meant to have a big league team all these years, or what it would mean to lose one, flooded the field…. one young rebel from the stands grabbed first base and ran off with it… the Senators were finished, even if the game wasn’t.

The moment in that game that I always gravitate towards is the Howard home run and the reaction it caused in the stands.

From The Sporting News:

“Men and woman cried and then Hondo cried, Washington fans had booed the big guy, but they loved him and he shared the affection.” It was Utopia, Howard later said of his homer, It’s the biggest thrill I ever had and anything else will be anticlimactic, I’ll take it to my grave.”

It was the only time that Howard ever tipped his cap in RFK.

RFK was also known to me as the place that Frank Howard slugged mightily and received the Adam Dunn treatment.

Howard as a player was very similar to Adam Dunn, a 6’7 power hitter with the ability to take a walk and strike out. Both were big time college sports participants, with Howard staking his claim as a stud forward on Ohio States basketball teams in the mid 1950’s.

Currently Howard ranks second in MLB history for at bats for outfielders 6’6 or taller, Dunn should pass Dave Kingman for slot number four later this season

AT BATS                         AB       OBA      SLG      HT
1    Dave Winfield              9464     .025     .084   6'6"
2    Frank Howard               5941     .031     .121   6'7"
3    Darryl Strawberry          4756     .027     .115   6'6"
4    Dave Kingman               2537    -.024     .131   6'6"
5    Adam Dunn                  2271     .043     .088   6'6"
6    Billy Ashley                594    -.033    -.021   6'7"
7    Dick Hall                   390    -.067    -.140   6'6"
8    Richie Sexson               324    -.035     .015   6'6"
9    Walt Bond                   249    -.011     .058   6'7"
10   Val Pascucci                 62    -.044    -.147   6'6"

Like Frank, Dunn hears it about the strikeouts and lower batting average and much like Howard Dunn displays power that most times dwarfs the other players in the league. When Howard was in DC he was called “The Capital Punisher” and by the looks of his batting numbers in the pitching rich 1960’s Frank was something else.

My fan experience with Howard outside of the baseball card and the newspaper came to me in 1972 the Tigers acquired Howard for their lasp gasp at the pennant with the core of the 1968 championship team, I was a Tigers fan way back then and ate slept and breathed Tiger baseball, late in the season during the old guys run at the AL East title I was enamored by Howards legend as well as his obvious size.

However I had no idea about career curves and the aging pattern of the big leaguer, but never the less there he was standing with Norm, Willie and Al and I thought it was just dandy.

YEAR    H    2B  3B  HR    AVG   SLG  OBA   OPS
1965     149  22   6  21   .289  .477  .358  .835
1966     137  19   4  18   .278  .442  .348  .790
1967     133  20   2  36   .256  .511  .338  .849
1968     164  28   3  44   .274  .552  .338  .890
1969     175  17   2  48   .296  .574  .402  .976
1970     160  15   1  44   .283  .546  .416  .962
1971     153  25   2  26   .279  .474  .367  .840
================================================
TOTALS  1071 146  20 237  .279  .513  .369  .882
LG       915 140  24  93  .250  .377  .321  .698
POS      967 148  25 124  .260  .413  .336  .749

What’s become more impressive to me about Howards stint in DC is the percentage of home runs he represented to his team while playing in RFK, a vast circular park once termed as having the look of a waffle thats center stuck to the middle as it was being removed form the griddle. Back then RFK played slightly more as a pitchers park than most stadiums, but not as extreme as last year. However Howard hit 30% or more of the Senators home runs at home for 4 straight years and 27.5% for seven years he called RFK home.

YEAR 	HR	FH	%	PF
65	62	5	8%	102
66	62	13	21%	96
67	57	19	33%	104
68	53	18	34%	94
69	77	27	35%	96
70	77	24	31%	97
71	10	34	29%	94

Unfortunately for Howard he also struck out in bunches and it was endlessly hearing about that part of the his game from coaches, other playersand the fans… boy did he hear it from the fans. This is a major reason why he had never tipped his cap until that September evening in 1971. Little did any of them know as they ripped up the field that they wouldn’t get the chance to cheer a home run or boo a strike out for over 30 years.

1965-1971 AL Vs League
STRIKEOUTS                      SO       HR      RC/G
1    Frank Howard                854      144     2.31
2    Bobby Knoop                 708      -29     -.80
3    Reggie Jackson              655       78     2.09
4    George Scott                630       27     0.25
5    Boog Powell                 629       97     2.04
6    Jim Fregosi                 613      -13     0.56
7    Harmon Killebrew            612      158     3.17
8    Willie Horton               605       99     1.56
9    Ken McMullen                597       24     -.04
10   Rico Petrocelli             594       71     1.03
2001-2006 NL
STRIKEOUTS                      SO       HR      RC/G
1    Pat Burrell                 747       55     0.86
2    Adam Dunn                   733       85     2.14
3    Jim Edmonds                 686       93     3.62
4    Andruw Jones                661       89     0.65
5    Derrek Lee                  658       66     2.06
6    Brad Wilkerson              656       10     0.79
T7   Bobby Abreu                 630       34     2.92
T7   Jeromy Burnitz              630       58     0.16
9    Jose Hernandez              611       16     -.51
10   Geoff Jenkins               590       37     0.75

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