(This post was written by one of Phillies Nation’s best commenters and a big-time Phillies fan, “The Dipsy.”)
The jaw dropping power. The deluge of strikeouts. All those RBIs. All that horrible plate discipline. His self-effacing good nature. His head-shaking grimaces on his walk back to the dugout. And all that money, too. Exhilarating and maddening and prolific and squandering.
To root for Ryan Howard, which we all do, is to experience both the agony and the ecstasy, each in large doses – and very often within the same game, the same inning, or even the same at bat. That wild swing at a curveball in the dirt will leave one to mutter curses under his breath only to see that same fan rise up exuberantly the next moment when Ryan crushes the next pitch deep into the Philadelphia night.
Ryan Howard was held down for a year-and-a-half while the Phillies figured out what to do with Jim Thome. When he did arrive he became the best power hitter in the game. He hit for average, he hit to the opposite field, he took walks. He was incredible; incredible in a time when offense flourished in baseball, for whatever reason (wink). He won an MVP and led the Phils to a World Series title. He signed a huge contract. The last few years have seen his production tail off as he has morphed from an all around weapon into a one-dimensional power hitter. While his fielding has improved slightly, he is still in the bottom third of defensive first basemen. We all love his personality and charm, but few of us can ignore the fact that he who was once the unstoppable offensive force, is not that anymore.
While still a tremendous power hitter, some fans chide him for his inability to perform at his previous offensive levels, and I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong. A portion of the team’s fandom work themselves into a lather at every horrible at bat (which there are many) or each example of bad fielding. Each miscue is set against a backdrop of his huge salary. Some fans just don’t think he’s worth it…that the pain just outweighs the pleasure.
I have a view. I too have been through the years of cheering and cursing and hand wringing, etc. and I’ve come out the other side. While Ryan Howard is not the hitter he once was, he is still the best power hitter in the game, year in and year out. He does have bad plate discipline and he does swing at everything- but why? Because when there are men on base, and he looks to the on deck circle, one would suspect he realizes that if he doesn’t drive them in that nobody will. And rightly so.
Its the “hit a home run or die trying” theory. He has 73 RBIs this year. He also has a contract calling for him to be paid $25m a year. A lot of people can’t stomach that. I know its too much money but guess what? – Ryan didn’t ask for it, Ruben gave it to him. He gave it to him because it would have been PR suicide not to. Which brings us full circle. For all the things he can’t do, he is this: a fabulous home run hitter and run producer who helps puts butts in the seats, a hard working guy who has never given anyone a moments trouble, and a player with a big heart who wants to win, loves the game, and is adored by the 99% of the fans that don’t bitch about him on call-in shows and fan blogs. And I suspect that’s why Ruben paid him, for those very reasons.
When we get a little angry about why he’s not the player he was or when he can’t catch a throw to first base, remember the saying that goes “don’t let the good be the enemy of the perfect” and know that many other teams in baseball would kill to have Ryan Howard.