What Fans Forget About Ryan Howard
By Matt Veasey
There are quite a few fans in the Philadelphia area who seem to have forgotten just how great Ryan Howard was to the Phillies in the last decade. Or, if they do remember, simply don’t realize or remember some of the details.
Let’s take a couple of minutes to remember.
First, the on-field accomplishments. Ryan Howard was the 2005 National League Rookie of the Year in a season in which he played the entire month of April, and then again from mid-May through the entire month of June, in the minor leagues. He announced his presence with authority, drilling 22 homers and driving in 63 runs in just 348 plate appearances.
He followed that up with his first full MLB season in 2006. The result: a slash line of .313/.425/.659, with a franchise-record 58 homeruns and 149 RBI. For that first-year effort, he is named the National League Most Valuable Player, wins the NL Silver Slugger at 1st base, and is an NL All-Star for the first time.
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In 2007, pitchers and scouts begin to make adjustments on him. He responds with a 47-homer, 136 RBI campaign. While his average drops to what will become a more career-like .268, his on-base percentage remains at a lofty .392 and his slugging of .584 remains among the best in the game. He finishes 5th in NL MVP voting.
Now comes 2008, and 48 more homers, 146 more RBI, and he is ‘The Big Piece’ in the heart of the order as the Phillies win just the 2nd World Series title in the 126-year history of the franchise to that point. He finishes as the runner-up in NL MVP voting.
Howard became ‘The Big Piece’ in helping lead Phils to ’08 world championship.
In 2009, its back to the World Series, thanks in no small part to Howard’s 45 homers, 141 RBI and a greatly improved .279/.360/.571 slash line. He is an NL All-Star for the 2nd time, finishes 3rd in the NL MVP balloting, and is the Most Valuable Player of the NLCS.
Now comes his 2010, when some say he began to slip. Let’s put “slip” in perspective during the PED-testing era when power was drastically reduced from the game: his 3rd NL All-Star appearance in a season with 31 homers, 108 RBI, a .276/.353/.505 slash.
Not too shabby by any standard, except perhaps the very lofty one he set for himself over those first five seasons. Oh, and let’s remember, he turned 30 years old that year.
In 2011, the Phillies behind the ‘Four Aces’ rotation win a franchise-record 102 games and the club’s 5th consecutive NL East crown. But that team could also still hit. At 31 years of age, Howard bangs another 33 homers, knocks in 116 runs, and finishes 10th in the NL MVP voting. He may be slipping as he ages, but he’s again, for a 7th consecutive season, one of the most feared sluggers in the game.
We all know what happened at the very end of that disappointing 2011 playoff. The horrific injury on the final out of the NLDS. The ankle injury takes away much of his power over the next two seasons, years in which he goes from 32 to 33 years of age.
We also know that the Phillies, looking at that 7-year history of dominance, reward him with a massive contract guaranteed for the next 6 seasons. His injury happens before the contract can even kick into effect. While a decline could be foreseen by anyone, the massive decline caused by the injury could not.
Howard bounces back to some extent, with a 2014 season in which he again seems completely healthy. Of course, now he was 34 years of age. Still, he cranks 23 homers and knocks in 95 runs for a team that has virtually nothing around to support him.
Phillies fans got to enjoy 7 seasons, from 2005-2011, of absolute dominance in the middle of the team batting order from Ryan Howard. They gave him standing ovations. They oohed and ahhed over his massive homerun blasts into the furthest reaches of Citizens Bank Park. They wore his red #6 shirsey all over the ballpark every spring, summer, and fall.
Is it possible that everyone has suddenly forgotten all of that, or has completely lost all appreciation for it?
Some are resentful of the contract situation. Let’s take another look at that past, on those terms. When he was winning Rookie of the Year in 2005, Howard was being paid the major league minimum salary. His 2006 NL MVP campaign? Howard made $355,000 for it. How about that ’07 follow-up, a top-5 MVP season and the club’s first in the playoffs? Howard made $900,000 for that one.
So the Phillies, and we fans, got three huge seasons from Howard for the grand total of about $1.5 million dollars. He won $10 million in 2008 and then $15 in 2009 in record arbitration awards, but in viewing his numbers, he was still a bargain. And remember this as well: Howard’s earning were repressed by the team keeping him in the minors in 2004, when he was clearly ready, because they still had Jim Thome.
The fact of the matter is, yes, the devastating injury that stole his 2012 and 2013 production was an incredible drain on the team. But it was also a freak occurrence that neither he nor the team could see coming. And the fact of the matter is, he also earned that money all the way back in the previous decade.
You can dislike Ryan Howard for whatever your personal reasons may be, but to me they are irrelevant. Howard is one of the most important players in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise. He is the 2nd-greatest slugger in team history, and it’s greatest 1st baseman. Let’s try to appreciate that legacy before the next time we decide to boo him.