Over an eight-year span, former Philadelphia Phillies star Ryan Howard was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He came onto the scene as the Rookie of the Year in 2005, despite only playing in 88 games per Baseball Reference. In his second season he was an All-Star, the MVP, and took home a silver slugger, but those days are long gone and “Big Piece” has officially hung up his cleats and called it a career.
Howard was possibly the most dominant hitter in baseball between 2006 and 2011. He was mashing homeruns at a historic rate, and driving in runs by the bushel, averaging 44 homers and 133 ribbies per season over that stretch per ESPN. Howard was a premiere offensive weapon, whose consistency made him so feared. He consistently played, missing very few games each year. When he made contact, it was solid, and he was always a threat to take the game over on any AB. He was solid enough to earn four top 5 positions in MVP voting over that stretch, winning once.
All indicators were that Howard was going to be a once-in-a-generation player. Sure, he struck out a lot, but he also plated runs at a breakneck rate. Everything was going well, with the Phillies in the 2011 NLDS, until he tore his Achilles on the final play of the game, and he never got back to where he was again. Howard spent the next two years playing half-seasons while foot, knee, and Achilles injuries plagued him. By the time he was healthy enough to play a full season in 2014, he wasn’t the same hitter as before the injuries.
He averaged about 24 homers a year, and he was still driving in runs, albeit fewer each season as his playing time decreased. He became more of an all-or-nothing-type hitter, akin to Dave Kingman in the ’70s and ’80s. His plate appearances were primarily strikeouts, with enough homers peppered in to keep him in the lineup. He struck out so much, in part because he couldn’t shift his weight as quickly as he did prior to injuries, so pitchers challenged him at the plate more, and they often won.
Howard signed a minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves last year, which lasted briefly. The Braves saw what the Phillies did when they parted ways; Howard couldn’t turn on a ball anymore. His mobility at first base was limited. At 37, he wasn’t worth the risk. The Rockies gave him a minor league deal as well, but he never made it back to the show. He spent this year working out a little, waiting to see if a call might come from a GM somewhere in baseball looking for a bat for hire. The call never came.
In a very low key manner, Howard posted a letter on the Player’s Tribune website, thanking the Phillies organization and the fans for making his time in Philadelphia special. For a player who hit 382 career homers, driving in 1194 runs, it seemed anticlimactic to many fans. People wondered why the Phillies didn’t have a day to honor him, or some splashy spread in the news. The simple reason was because Howard exited the game the way he played the game, which was on his terms.
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