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Howie Kendrick and a Place in Baseball History

November 1st, 2019 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

It was getting late for Howard “Howie” Joseph Kendrick.

He had a solid career. Of course he did. No one lasts 14 years in Major League Baseball without being solid. Solid enough to be paid $65 million over those 14 seasons. Good enough to have played in an All-Star Game in 2011 and received an MVP vote in 2014.

But it would not be unkind or unfair to suggest that Howie Kendrick — at 36 and in the twilight of his career — had never done something truly memorable in his baseball career. Nothing that would make a batch of baseball fans stand up and say, “Howie Kendrick? Of course I remember Howie Kendrick!”

When the Washington Nationals needed that extra something in the 2019 World Series … Howie Kendrick was one of the men who supplied it.

He hit a grand slam to beat the Dodgers in the final game of the National League Division Series, then topped that with a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh inning of Game 7 to provide the Nationals with the decisive runs in what ended as a 6-2 victory, and the Nationals champions for the first time.

Many baseball fans in Southern California are well aware of Howie Kendrick. He played most of his career with the Angels (nine seasons) or Dodgers (two). He was a guy who usually was in the lineup, but he probably never was the best guy in that lineup, whether in Anaheim, Los Angeles, Philadelphia or Washington.

He reached the big leagues in 2006, and when he was going good, in his youth, he often elicited the following sentence from scouts or broadcasters:

“This guy is going to win a batting championship some day.”

That never happened, but he currently has a .294 career batting average, which is nothing to sneeze at. In his youth he played a decent second base and had gap power, back when not everyone was upper-cutting every swing. He was good in the clubhouse. A cheerful guy. Good people.

I had a conversation with him a long time ago, ahead of the 2005 season, when he was 21. He was going to open the year with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes of the Class A California League, where he would hit .384 with a .421 on-baseball percentage. That day we talked, in a hotel meeting room, he talked about his aspirations. The Show, of course and getting there soon. He was pleasant, modest, thoughtful. After that, I knew I would remember him, but it would be for the time I interviewed him as a rising star.

By the end of the 2004 season it was clear he would play in the majors, and he was out there for some good-but-not-great Angels teams, and for a couple of NL West-champion Dodgers clubs.

If we want to be brutally honest, over the course of a season Howie Kendrick was not going to fuel winning streaks or turn things around by himself. He was a solid (that word again) guy who could also play left field and first base. Bottom line? He settled into a career that saw him maybe one step up from a utility man.

And that was where he stood when the Nationals got into the playoffs this fall.

Kendrick played first base and struggled a bit against elite pitching, right until that slam at Dodger Stadium. And then the two-run, opposite-field homer against the Astros, a bullet that banged off the foul pole with what had to be the most beautiful “clang” Washington fans have ever heard.

Remember, no Washington team had won a World Series since 1924. Two Washington franchises had pulled up stakes and moved — the first to Minneapolis to become the Twins, the second to Texas to become the Rangers.

These Nationals used to be the Montreal Expos. Neither of those teams had done much of anything, not until the fall of 2019, when the Nationals charged to the finish line, ousted the Milwaukee Brewers, the Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals to reach the World Series, where Howie Kendrick did the sort of thing that fans do not forget. “Yeah, Howie Kendrick’s home run!”

If he never plays another game — and he is a free agent who will be 37 next season — well, late in his career he finally has punched his ticket to a sort of immortality, at least with Washington fans.

He was part of the remarkable run by a team that started 19-31 … and ended with a championship victory in Houston aided dramatically by Kendrick’s rocket off the foul pole.

Congratulations, Howie Kendrick. When Angels and Dodgers fans have to rack their brains to recall that man named Howie … he will still be recognized and feted by fans in the nation’s capital.

Nationals followers will never forget you. Howie. Super sub? Utility man? In Washington, you will always be a star.


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