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Bang! Zoom! Goes the Batting Stance

With thanks to Baseball Primer, I recently discovered the wonder that is Paper of Record, the "World's Largest Searchable Archive of Historical Newspapers" with "[o]ver 21 million images in [its] collection so far." Among American periodicals, by far the one with most exposure featured on Paper of Record is The Sporting News. With a (free) subscription to POR's database, one can search through images of TSN issues dating back to 1886.

That's older than Julio Franco---perhaps even two Julio Francos!

While searching around the archive of old TSN issues, I noticed this little nugget from page 25 of the January 28, 1967 edition:

Howard to Work on New Batting Stance at Camp

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- Frank Howard, sometimes a reluctant dragon, has agreed to a suggestion by Senator Manager Gil Hodges to try a new batting style during spring training.

"I want Frank to spread out and wait on the ball more," Hodges said. "We need power from him and he can supply it, but he'll have to get the ball in the air more frequently."

"We didn't score too many runs last season and one of the reasons was Howard, a disappointment. He has been reluctant in the past to change, but he promised me he'll work on the new batting stance." . . .

This is a fascinating article for many reasons, not the least of which is the characterization of Howard as a "reluctant dragon," a phrase that has gone out of style it would seem. Speaking of going out of style, when was the last time we saw a manager flat-out call a player "a disappointment," without any qualification (injuries, inexperience, personal issues) whatsoever? Today's managers add a lot more nuance than Hodges did forty years and five days ago.

More substantively, what of this new batting stance? As I have stated before, the history of Washington baseball is mainly outside my scope of knowledge. The entire pre-Short Stinks era is before my time, and while I've read up on some of it, I am unaware of quite a bit more. Thus, any assistance from the oldsters out there would be appreciated.

Assuming for the moment Hondo indeed adopted the suggested stance between the 1966-67 seasons, and further assuming no other personal factors changed during that time, I compared his statistics immediately pre- and post-change:

1966 .278/.348/.442, 18-71 .160
1967 .256/.338/.511, 36-89 .255

Hodges wanted more power from Hondo, and he got more power from Hondo. Sacrificing 20 points of batting average, Hondo gained another 100 points in ISO (the difference between the slugging and batting averages), as he doubled his homer output. Furthermore, he upped his power in a season where the American League's power production, on the whole, went way down: the AL's slugging percentage dropped 18 points from 1966 to 1967. If the statistics point to Hondo following orders, Hondo really followed those orders.

It is interesting to note when this article occurred in Howard's career---essentially, as Hondo's power was becoming more and more diminished. A quick look at ISO:

Year ISO
1960 .196
1961 .221
1962 .264
1963 .245
1964 .206
1965 .188
1966 .164

In four seasons, Howard lost 100 points of isolated power. What is more, Howard had transitioned from Dodger Stadium, a very tough park for hitters in the National League, to D.C./RFK Stadium, which played as a pretty neutral AL park according to the stats. (In the interest of full disclosure, the NL of 1962 was a much better hitters' league than the AL of 1966. Nevertheless, I think this difference would merely cancel out the park differences and still leave the impression Howard's power was on the decline.) No matter how much you credit Howard's 1966 batting average of .278, it's hard for a generally immobile corner outfielder to make much of an impact when he hits 18 homers and 19 doubles.

So Howard turned it around in 1967; of course, 1967 was chump change compared to 1968-70, when Hondo launched 44, 48, and 44 homers, with slugging percentages in the mid- to high-.500s. I guess what I'm getting at is the notion that this particular Sporting News article marks the point where Frank Howard fully transformed into Hondo, the boyhood hero of many Washington Nationals fan of today.

If so, it's kind of fun to realize what you can find just searching around an internet database.

* * * *

While my browser is pointed at this particular Sporting News issue, I might as well note this article appearing on page 18:

No Home Team and No Tradition, So Super Bowl Drew Sub-Super Crowd

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Although 45 million watched the Super Bowl via two networks on national television, the Coliseum crowd totaled only 63, 306, consisderably under expectations in a plant seating 93,000. . . .

In addition to no home team and no tradition, the author also cited two other factors for the poor attendance: the rushed nature of the match-up, and poor price scaling, especially for the intermediate-price tickets. Those sold for $10.

Yes, how times change. I'm reasonably certain tomorrow's game could draw Snow White's seven dwarves, and no one would bat an eye.

Speaking of tomorrow's game, I might as well toss around a prediction. I could see Chicago winning this one. The Bears' strength, matriculating the ball down the field on the ground, seems to be one of the Colts' weaknesses, as they've struggled with that whole matriculation aspect. However, it seems the Colts have improved in this area, and more to the point, a Chicago win would require me to take Rex Grossman over Peyton Manning. I could perhaps do that, as the last time an unproven quarterback beat an elite quarterback in the Big Game was only five years ago. But that would also require me to compare Grossman with Tom Brady, and I'm not certain I'm ready to do that, either.

Colts, 23-10. Albert Bentley, MVP!