On April 30th, the night after he’d hit a walk-off home run to beat the Indians, Ryan Howard got booed at Citizens Bank Park.
It came after a strikeout, his 1,754th as a Phillie. I’m not sure Howard even heard it, since boos have been the white noise accompanying him at home games for, how long now? Five seasons? Certainly since he returned from shredding his Achilles in that final out against the Cardinals in the 2011 NLDS.
This is Howard’s last go-around in town, probably his final season in the majors. Two years from now, they’ll hold 10-year reunion for that championship team. We’ll watch Brad Lidge’s slider fall into Chooch’s glove on the scoreboard and scream ourselves hoarse as the graying heroes return. Utley and Rollins and Burrell and Victorino.
And Howard. Because by then, we won’t be living through this painful, seemingly eternal decline of an overpaid poor-fielding first baseman who never learned to ignore the low, outside curveball. By then we’ll recognize him among the greatest ever to play for the Phillies – a slugger who averaged 133 RBIs a season over six years. A three-time All Star and five-time top-10 finisher in the MVP voting.
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We’re just not there yet.
I learned years ago not to tell fans how to react. In 2009, I proposed a three-year ban on booing to honor the Phillies championship. I nearly got heckled off the air. I appreciate that all fans have the right to exercise their lungs as they see fit. I am not here to scold.
But maybe we can look at Ryan Howard in a different light. As the clock ticks down, perhaps it’s time to give him the appreciate sendoff that star players get in their final season. Something midway between a Julius Erving God-of-the-Game Tour and a Mike Quick Golf-Bag Goodbye seems appropriate.
It would be different if Howard were stealing time from a hungry youngster. But Darren Ruf, now 29, is hitting .167 with zero home runs this season. Prospect Tommy Joseph, finally concussion-free, is pasting the ball in Triple-A, but still struggling to field the position.
Yes, Howard is scuffling himself, hitting under the Mendoza Line and crushed by WAR and RAA and any modern statistical metric you can find. He strikes out in one third of his plate appearances. But he still leads this largely powerless team in home runs. He and Maikel Franco are the only long-ball threats.
Howard’s bloated salary is now irrelevant to the future of the Phils. The calls to trade him to the AL or just cut him loose are meaningless. And, trust me, he is not preventing the 2016 Phils from reaching the playoffs.
Boo if you like, but I’ll cheer Ryan Howard during his closing days – for the 58-homer season and the 2009 NLCS MVP Award and the franchise home run count topped only by Mike Schmidt.
Why not just let the Big Piece play it out in peace?