Years before anyone heard of Frank Howard, another ballplayer came to mind whenever the name "Hondo" came up. Right after World War II, the baseball world was abuzz with stories of Clint Hartung, the "Hondo Hurricane" from Hondo, Texas.
Hartung had impressed every scout who had seen him play service ball, going 25-0 as a pitcher and batting .567. Just before he was discharged, he signed with the New York Giants for $35,000, then an enormous sum for an unproven player, and made his debut in 1947. The Giants saw him first as a pitcher but thought his bat was solid enough that he would be able to play the field or pinch hit on days he wasn't pitching.
In the end, Hartung's career wasn't quite what everyone expected. As a pitcher, he split 58 career decisions evenly with a 5.02 ERA. After 1950, the Giants made him exclusively a position player, but he had trouble with the breaking ball and was done in the big leagues after 1952, hitting .238 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI in 196 games.
The Hartung saga brings us to Micah Owings and his quest to make the 2013 Nationals. Owings, a 6-foot-5 right-hander, made his debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007. In the six seasons since breaking in, he won 32 and lost 33 with an ERA of 4.86 -- remarkably similar career numbers to Hartung. During that rookie season with the Diamondbacks, Owings won the Silver Slugger Award for pitchers, batting .333 with four home runs and 15 RBI. All in all, 12 of his 20 hits were for extra bases. He maintained his offensive prowess throughout the succeeding years, and his resume shows a .283 career average, with nine home runs, a slugging percentage of .502 and an OPS of .813 in 205 at-bats.
Any question why Owings might want to switch positions at age 30?
It's a tough battle for Owings, though it can't hurt that Nats general manager Mike Rizzo was Arizona's scouting director when he was drafted out of Georgia Tech in 2005. He's trying to make the club as a bench player who can play first base and the outfield and hit with some power from the right side of the plate. Tyler Moore filled that role last year and did so with distinction, hitting 10 home runs with 29 RBI in 156 at-bats.
The 26-year-old Moore, however, is considered a potential everyday player and was called up last year because of a need on the big league club. He still has minor league options remaining, and it may be difficult to find him as many at-bats in 2013. Might the club be thinking Tyler would be better off playing every day in Syracuse and let Owings take that role in 2013? Though manager Davey Johnson said Wednesday that Owings likely won't make the Opening Day roster, things may change in the early weeks of the season.
Owings has hit a ton this spring. Whether he gets the chance to make anyone forget Clint Hartung is in someone else's hands.
Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.