Marlins star resembles legendary slugger in ability to mash titanic taters
By Terence Moore
Sixteen players have more home runs than the 19 of Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, but none of those other Major Leaguers rips their shots toward the other side of the solar system with regularity.
Just this week, Stanton homered in four consecutive at-bats at Citi Field, including a rocket into the second deck. There also was his 494-foot homer four years ago to dead center field in the friendly Colorado air of Coors Field.
But in Los Angeles, nobody ever would tag Dodger Stadium as a hitter's park. In 2015, Stanton become only the fourth player to jack a ball out of the Dodgers' 54-year-old home, with a 467-foot blast to left.
This is the stuff of Frank Howard, who was so iconic at 6-foot-8 and 275 pounds as a power hitter for 16 years through 1973, that he had three nicknames, especially during the height of his career with the Washington Senators: Hondo, The Washington Monument and The Capital Punisher.
Did I say Stanton hit 450-something-foot blasts? Well, Howard once sent a ball 500 feet from home plate to the upper bleachers in left of RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. That actually was ho-hum stuff, because one of his homers at old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh traveled an estimated 560 feet.
Not that Howard was impressed by any of that. I'm talking about then and now.
"It's just that I don't like to live in the past," said Howard, 79, over the phone from his home outside of Washington, in Northern Virginia, where he remembers his moon shots only when asked about them. "No, when I was a player, I never thought about how far I was hitting the ball. I really didn't. I learned the following from a good friend of mine, Johnny Unitas [the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback], bless his soul. He used to say, 'Whatever talent, whatever acumen, whatever heart, whatever ability we have -- or don't have -- you don't have to tell people. They'll know it.' "
What folks know about Stanton is that he resembles Howard in his prime, which brings us to this: Whenever these types of players leave the on-deck circle, they cause others to clam up and move toward the edge of their seat. You know, no matter what. Who cared that Howard was heading toward a so-so lifetime batting average of .273 or that Stanton had to hit like crazy during the past few weeks just to push his mark for the season to .231?
With one swing, a Howard or a Stanton can shock gravity.
"I've never seen him play in person, and I've never met the young man, but I'll tell you this about [Stanton]: That kind of talent comes along every 25, 35, 45 years in baseball," said Howard, who spent much of his post-playing career as everything from a coach with the Brewers to a manager with the Padres and the Mets to a player development instructor with the Yankees. "I don't debate it with my peers, because I have too much respect and admiration for them. But I hear every now and then, 'Well, they don't make them like they used to.' You know what my reply is? 'You're right. They don't. They make them bigger, faster, stronger and a helluva lot smarter than what we were back in the day.'
"You look at Stanton at 26, and he hasn't even reached his prime. Most big league hitters don't do that until they're 28, 30, 31 years old. Now my point is, here's a young man, who for the next 10 years is going to hit who knows how many home runs. Again, not ever having seen the guy [in person], I can only venture to say that this young man is going to be something special."
Stanton already is. Courtesy of his glove and arm as well as his bat, he owns three trips to the All-Star Game during his seven Major League seasons. He isn't tiny at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, but he is smaller than Howard was as a player. Even so, Stanton keeps producing legendary blasts. He has 32 homers over 450 feet, and only three teams have more than that since he joined the Marlins.
Elsewhere, the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera also is a master of monster shots, including two this season. All-everything player Mike Trout of the Angels was near Stanton territory in 2014, when he slammed a pitch 489 feet at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium.
Stanton resembles Howard. Since the modest old-timer prefers not to talk much about himself along these lines, I wondered if he would expound on other sluggers from his generation.
Let's just say he's still somewhere praising them.
"Oh, God. You've got Willie Stargell. You've got Willie McCovey. You've got Harmon Killebrew," Howard said. "Then you had five-tool players like Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron was the best hitter I ever saw, and you had Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente.
"But going back to the sluggers, how about David Kingman? He'd hit a fastball as far as anybody who ever lived. Don't think he didn't slam a couple of 500 footers, and I didn't see Mickey Mantle in his prime when I went over to the American League [from the Dodgers to the Senators before the 1965 season], but he hit a couple of them over 500 feet."
That said, none of them was The Capital Punisher, my favorite description of Howard's offensive game. Before he won the AL home run title in 1970, he did so in 1968, when he unleashed one of the most amazing power shows ever. He ripped 10 homers in 20 at-bats along the way to a record 13 blasts in 16 games. Albert Belle tied the mark in 1995, but Howard was there first.
Which makes Howard peerless in a bunch of ways regarding a player's ability to create fear in an opponent.
"OK, you talk about fear, well, I got intimidated about 1,500 times when I walked back to the dugout with a 37-inch, 36-ounce Louisville Slugger after being humiliated after striking out," Howard said, chuckling, who actually fanned just 1,460 times. "It got so painful at times that I wanted to go to the opposing dugout with a little white flag and say, 'Can you cut me a little slack?' But what I'm trying to say is that I've had my run in the sun, and it's really about these young people today. Boy, can they play. They're worth the price of admission."
Especially if you're paying to see Stanton, known as "G."
I like "Capital Punisher" better.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.