In the years leading up to the Philadelphia Phillies winning the World Series in 2008, first baseman Ryan Howard could seem to do no wrong. He won MVP honors in 2006, was the NL home run champion in both 2006 and 2008 and many considered him one of the best power hitters in the game. At a time when the Barry Bonds scandal was exploding all over the news, many saw Howard as a “clean” alternative and his popularity soared not only in Philadelphia but nationally as well.
He was rewarded with a five-year contract extension that would pay him $125 million and would effectively make him a member of the Phillies for the rest of his career if he wanted.
But before that happens, maybe they should ask what the fans want.
According to an informal poll done by a Philadelphia sports radio station, over 60 percent of those who responded said they don’t want Howard to finish his career in a Phillies uniform. It’s a stunning fall from grace for a player who many thought would go down as one of the all-time great members of the franchise, up there along with Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn.
But if we’re being honest, Howard has been a shell of his former self almost since the day he signed that extension. His batting average has been good, but nothing like the numbers he was putting up in 2006 through 2009. In addition, he has fallen victim to a rash of injuries, including a torn Achilles tendon, a sprained ankle and a torn left meniscus that has caused him to miss large chunks of playing time during the last two seasons.
And then there are the strikeouts.
It has been said over the course of Howard’s career that he strikes out too much — that he doesn’t take his time at the plate and wait for a decent pitch that he has a good chance of hitting. But the other side of that argument has always been that when Howard did hit the ball, most of the time it left the ballpark never to return.
That hasn’t been the case the last few years. In 2012 he only managed 14 home runs and in 2013 he could only muster 11. This season he has already matched his output from last year but leads all of baseball with 82 strikeouts. A perfect example can be seen during Wednesday’s game against the San Diego Padres. In the eighth inning the Padres opted to walk Chase Utley with two outs and a man on second in order to pitch to Howard. He promptly struck out, keeping the game scoreless.
That’s not exactly the type of hitting you want to see from a man making $25 million to play baseball this season.
In the span of just a few short years, Howard has gone from hero to zero in the minds of Phillies fans and become a prime example to the rest of MLB of the perils of signing older players to long-term contracts. The Phillies couldn’t trade Howard even if they wanted to, and now both the team and the fans are stuck with him whether they like it or not.