The last time the nation’s capital hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Game the contest was filled with a bevy of future Hall of Famers.
The starting lineup for the visiting National League, which won 9-3, featured such sluggers as Hank Aaron, MVP Willie McCovey and Johnny Bench. The American League starters included leadoff man Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson and Orioles outfielder Frank Robinson.
But it was a local favorite who had one of the memorable moments on July 23, 1969, at RFK Stadium.
Washington Senators slugger and left fielder Frank Howard whose nicknames included “Hondo” and “The Washington Monument” came to the plate in the second and smashed a long homer off National League starter Steve Carlton, a future Hall of Famer.
“The place went nuts, obviously. His eyes were glistening as he rounded third,” long-time Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) broadcaster Phil Wood, who was at the game as a fan, said of Howard.
Howard, who is 81 and now lives in Aldie, Virginia, played for the Senators from 1965-71 and set a team record with 237 homers. He hit 48 homers in 1969, and the 6-foot-7 right-handed slugger hit 10 longballs in 20 at-bats in one stretch 50 years ago.
The Ohio State product was inducted into the Nationals Ring of Honor at Nationals Park in 2016. The only numbers retired by the Nationals belong to Frank Robinson, who managed the team when it moved to Washington in 2005, and the late Jackie Robinson, whose No. 42 is retired by every Major League team. Howard’s name joined them on the faade near the right field foul pole.
“I don’t travel much anymore now that I am retired, but it is a great thrill for me to be on the same team with Jackie and Frank. I had my best years here,” Howard said in a 2016 interview at Nationals Park. “I follow (the Nationals). I am a big fan of theirs. I look back at 53 years of pro baseball, 15 and a half as a player, over 20 years as a coach and manager ... it has been such a fun game. It is a business but it is a fun game.”
Wood, who grew up in Northern Virginia, noted 1969 was the 100th anniversary of professional baseball since the Cincinnati Red Stockings began in 1869. The best living player of each franchise was on hand, including Joe DiMaggio who was deemed the greatest living player in 1969.
“He carried that mantle with him for the rest of his life,” Wood said of The Yankee Clipper, who passed away in 1999.
The last All-Star Game in the nation’s capital nearly wasn’t. The 1969 Midsummer Classic was postponed by rain July 22 and held the next day. “You had to go to the ballpark and stand in long lines to get a ticket,” Wood recalls.
One of the American League reserves in the game was Orioles second baseman Davey Johnson, who managed the Nationals to their first division title in 2012.
The exhibition came a year after the riots in D.C. in 1968 and the shooting deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. The game at RFK Stadium came just days after the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Mark Ahrens, who grew up as a Senators fans in Alexandria, wrote about his experience at the game at www.booksonbaseball.com.
“It was a time of Vietnam-war protests and a society torn by the aftermath of two assassinations,” he wrote. “However 1969, and particularly the summer, was also when Neil Armstrong uttered the famous words ‘one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind’ and young people from all across America descended up a sleepy hamlet in upstate New York for three days of rock-music Woodstock.”
Ahrens went with his father to RFK Stadium July 22, but the game was rained out. His father was able to get off work the next day to attend the day game July 23 among 45,259 fans.
The young boy wasn’t aware of the turbulence of the late 1960s.
“But for a 12-year-old kid blissfully unaware of the larger situation, it was great to live in Washington, D.C. during the summer of 1969. The Washington Senators were actually winning games,” he wrote. “The icing on the top of this magical cake was that D.C. was also hosting the 1969 Major League All-Star Game .... and I was going!”
Nearly 50 years later, many sons and daughters will be with their parents at Nationals Park on July 17 for another All-Star game. Perhaps they will see another Washington outfielder Bryce Harper hit a homer for the home team.