Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard’s Mixed Legacy is Revealing

Jun 6, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (6) watches on from the dugout during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 6, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (6) watches on from the dugout during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Ryan Howard completed his 13-year Philadelphia Phillies career. He leaves behind a record that’s mixed, which matches the members of the audience who watched him work.

Ryan Howard is the greatest first baseman in Philadelphia Phillies‘ history. Logic makes that statement provable. Personality type splits those who believe that he was unfairly booed, or rightly jeered during the past 13 years. Like many modern professional athletes and other entertainers, Howard’s mixed legacy reveals deep truths about those who label themselves as fans.

Choosing to fund professional sports, though ticket and merchandise purchases, along with television, cable, satellite and streaming sports package subscriptions, does give everyone the ability to offer opinions. But, doing so also allows a response to those collective ideas. Yes, in an age soaked with all forms of interactive media the public has made itself an object of critique.

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Beyond his colleagues, all seasoned baseball observers instantly recognized Howard’s potential for greatness when he set a Philadelphia Double-A record for home runs (37) in a season in 2004. His efforts helped to push an aging (and sometimes injured) Jim Thome off first base in 2005, when Howard won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. The Missouri native then earned the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 2006. The second Golden Era in Phillies baseball began the next season.

The name Charlie Manuel elicits divergent reviews from a Philadelphia fan base that has rightfully earned its challenged place in the sports’ world. The 2008 World Series winning skipper once dubbed Howard as the ‘Big Piece’. ‘Uncle Cholly’, as various detractors refer to Manuel, believes that Howard was the key component in the Phillies’ recent reign atop the NL East. That time period (2007-2011) included five consecutive division titles, two NL pennants, two World Series appearances and one championship trophy.

The Achilles injury Howard suffered at the exact end of the NL Division Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 changed the Phillies’ world. It not only reduced Howard’s potential for the remainder of his career, it also downshifted the dynamic within Philadelphia’s lineup ever since. Teams had already adjusted to Howard’s plate approach by the time. But, there’s no denying that needed surgery and other resulting health issues have restrained number 6’s lower core abilities ever since. Incorporate reduced bat speed, due to the aging process, and the slugger hasn’t been who he once was for a long time.

Philadelphia Phillies
Philadelphia Phillies /

Philadelphia Phillies

From a public perspective standpoint, that Achilles injury also made then-general manager Ruben Amaro, Junior’s April 2010 contract extension offer look terrible. The mouths of Howard’s detractors have been loudly running ever since he signed the $125 million deal that is now ending. Speaking against an injured player, who gutted out 71 games in 2012 and 80 games in 2013, was the opposite of admirable.

All living creatures have ancestors. The relatives of Philadelphia’s boo-birds can be seen on VHS tapes milling in and around Veterans Stadium in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Their chorus of cackles can be heard whenever number 20 is shown striking out. Some vultures still proudly boast that they created Mike Schmidt‘s foul ball nickname that doesn’t bear repeating. That particular four-syllable chant makes its originators look even more shameful as time unfolds.

Schmidt became the greatest Phillies’ player of all-time during a Hall of Fame career that lasted from 1972-1989. People who weren’t in need of hospitalization understood that he was a rare talent. His bare-hand stabs and backhand grabs at third base, along with many smooth swings, equally pleased the senses of normal souls. All others scowled when he lifted one of 548 balls over various fences and routinely exploded in rage when he struck out. Those misguided malcontents produced offspring who were taught to jeer Howard, who, to this point, like Schmidt, has played his entire career in red pinstripes.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so is greatness. Those who don’t begrudge the success of others don’t pick for problems, or invent them. Howard was given a contract extension that was understandably questioned even though he was healthy at the time it was signed. His age in April 2010 (30) and his body type made that gamble risky. Amaro subsequently took it on the chin for that decision. Whether he was forced to secure the then-middle-aged player through 2016 by team ownership remains questionable.

Howard has produced decent power numbers in the second half of this season. So, it’s become plausible to believe that he will appear in spring training next year through non-roster invite, or some modest deal. Whether he makes that team, or sticks, will depend on his health and the competition.

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Until then he’ll have memories of a gathered crowd of appreciative people who cheered him at Citizens Bank Park on the first Sunday in October 2016. It’s likely that some converts, or reverts, were among the ranks of Howard jersey wearers who supported one of the best Phillies of all-time on that day.