Over my time watching the Phillies (around three years, give or take), Ryan Howard has always been my favourite hitter. Despite generally being more fond of pitchers and strongly admiring Cole Hamels, a certain place in my heart has always been held by ‘The Big Piece’.
Whether its the fact that baseball fans have a tendency to idolise home-run hitters and the long ball, or whether it is simply the suaveness of his trot around the bases, but Howard is a ball player like nobody else has seen here in Philadelphia. His unparalleled power in this generation of Phillies hitters is on that will live on in legacy, and the way he has helped bring an entertaining brand of baseball to Philly has been nothing short of inspirational.
Sure, his troubles at the plate this year have been well documented, and the frustration behind his lack of production reduced him to a platoon role temporarily, but Ryan is still a key power bat that carries a constant threat. For example, twice this year there has been instances where the opposition has walked Chase Utley to get to Ryan Howard, and both times The Big Piece has come through with a walk-off hit.
Statistically, Howard is one of the best hitters that has played in baseball over the last decade. Over his 11-year MLB career, Ryan possesses a .266 average over 1297 games, including a staggering 1040 RBIs and 329 home runs, as well as a .355 OBP and .529 SLG. An amazing 4793 at-bats and 5531 plate appearance later, Ryan has established himself as one of baseball’s finest sluggers of the modern generation, and has produced some statistically fantastic seasons at the plate.
In 2006 for example, at the age of 26, Ryan really set about demolishing the major leagues after fantastic 2004 and 2005 seasons where he went .282/.333/.564 and .288/.356/.567 respectively. Setting the tone by clobbering 58 home runs in the ’06 season, Howard would also drive in a league-leading 149 RBIs, as well as 25 doubles over 159 games. It was the first season which really demonstrated his versatility, and Phillies fans really began to feel that ‘The Big Piece’ was a real gem of a first baseman.
2008 was another phenomenal year, not just for Howard but for the Phillies as an organization, with the World Series title being earn in a season where Ryan hit just .251, but managed an NL leading 48 home runs, 146 RBIs and played 162 games.
Rookie of the month winner in September 2005 to 2006 Major League player of the year, Ryan Howard has an impressive list of accolades that serves only as statistical recognition of his achievements as a player. 6 player of the week and 4 player of the month titles, twice the NL home run leader, 3 times the NL RBI leader, and the 2006 NL MVP all to his name, but it doesn’t stop there. First in runs created in 2006 with 169, 3 times the yearly leader in ABs per homer and the current active leader, leader of times on base in ’06, twice the putouts leader as first baseman, most games played in 2008, leader in total bases in 2006 again, the list goes on.
It is a startling decoration and array of awards and honors that simply underpin rather than fully encapsulate what Ryan Howard is all about. Its the long ball, his clutch, and an eye for going yard that excites even the most traditionalist of baseball fans.
When it comes to home runs, it is tough to find an active player with a better range of power statistics than Ryan Howard. He has gone yard against 26 of 29 opposing MLB teams, including 40 times against the Mets and 46 times against the Braves. He has taken 221 different pitchers yard (including 8 times against Chris Volstad and 7 times against Tim Hudson) across 24 major league ballparks. 170 Citizens Bank Park home runs to his name since that first home run on September 11th 2004, when he took Bartolome Fortunato deep with a two-run shot to make it a 6-5 game.
4 walk-off home runs, 37 game-tying shots and 126 go ahead bombs, it isn’t hard to find montages on YouTube of Ryan Howard’s greatest moments. He may be slumping this year, hitting just .223, which is a whole 43 point below his MLB career average, in addition to his .308 OBP and .380 SLG, 48 points and a huge 149 points respectively below his career majors totals.
An age dominated by mass media has created mass opinion and lots of followers, or sheep if you will, and this has been one of the causes of people jumping off the Howard love bandwagon and on to the more critical one. Its hard to find a balancing act in baseball, regardless of what you have done for the team and the emotional moments of success that you have blessed the city with.
One thing is for sure, while his production may decline, my love for Ryan Howard as my first true favourite player will never dwindle or fade, and one can only hope his legacy lives on.