A few nights ago Ryan Howard was being booed by the home crowd at Citizens Bank Park – until he smacked a grand slam home run to give his Philadelphia Phillies a victory over the Houston Astros.
A few years ago Ryan Howard was playing at such a high level that it seemed possible he could complete his career with Hall-of-Fame numbers.
Things are a bit dicey in Philly for Howard, who in some ways seems closer to being dumped by the only Major League team he has ever played for than being elected to the Hall. The mammoth, 6-foot-4, 250-pound first baseman, Frank Thomas-like in size, has been thoroughly devalued as a player over the last few years.
A series of injuries has sent Howard into a spiral. It was not so long ago that he could claim being one of the all-time favorite Phillies. Now if Philadelphia shipped him out of town there might not be a ripple of protest.
This is definitely a circumstance of the mighty falling and make no mistake Howard was as mighty as they come in his 20s. But these days he is playing like an old 34. It would be sweet to see him rebound, regain his power stroke and consistency, and reclaim the adulation he earned before.
If that all has to happen in another town, after a fresh start, so be it, but no one should forget what a force Howard was when he first came up to the big leagues and how feared a batter he was in the middle of the Philadelphia order.
Howard was 24 when he made his Major League debut, playing in 19 games with 42 plate appearances in 2004 that amounted to little more than a cameo. He did not even enter the scene full-blown until 2005 as a 25-year-old, but when the big man got his chance he wielded a big bat. That season, playing in just 88 games, Howard smashed 22 home runs, batted .288 and was voted National League rookie of the year.
That was his warm-up act. In 2006, Howard made the first of his three All-Star teams and turning in a memorable performance he smashed 58 home runs, drove in 149 runs, both league-leading stats, and was chosen NL Most Valuable Player.
Over the next three seasons Howard was probably the best slugger in the game. In consecutive years he belted 47, 48, and 45 homes, twice more leading the NL in four-baggers. In those years he knocked in 136, 146, and 141 runs, also twice more leading the league.
Although his home-run production dropped, Howard still clubbed more than 30 home runs two more years in a row while driving in over 100 runs twice more. However, the 2011 season ended with tremendous disappointment.
On the final play of the National League Division Series when Howard grounded out to seal Philadelphia’s loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, he blew out an Achilles tendon. It looked as if Howard had been shot. The injury was severe, required surgery, and hampered Howard throughout 2012 when he played in only 71 games.
Bad karma has haunted Howard since. The next season he tore the meniscus in a knee and did not play after early July. This season, Howard had notched 18 home runs and 71 RBIs after 109 games, but was batting just .220. The low batting average is irritating fans.
It may be that after two half-lost seasons due to injury Howard is only just now rounding into his top form again. It would be sad to think that age and a suddenly fragile body are catching up to him. Given all that he has done for the Phillies Howard deserves better than to be cast aside. The remaining weeks of the regular season provide a window of opportunity for Howard to show he still has the goods. If he can’t rev up his hitting, the end of his stay in Philadelphia looms.
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