The Big Piece, the Big Man, the Big Fella, Big Brown, Big Smooth. There’s seems to be an underlying message in the array of nicknames used for the Phillies BIG slugger Ryan Howard. So whatever the name of choice there is no denying the impact that Howard has had on the Phillie since he was named NL Rookie of the Year in 2005. Amazingly enough he still gets hated on for his lack of “Big” play ability. Of course his strikeouts always the drink of choice for those guzzling some haterade. But the Big Man is a beast, point-blank-period! He has put up Hall of Fame numbers that only juice heads could fathom reaching. That’s why Howard belongs in the talk of Best Athlete in Philly and finds himself at # 6 in our countdown.
It’s hard not to trace your thoughts back to Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS. Watching Howard frozen in time with the bat sitting on his shoulder. SWING! Every baseball player who’s ever played the game knows that you CANNOT strike out looking. It is the cardinal sin of baseball. As gut wrenching of a feeling as it was for every phan, it hit the slugger even harder.
"It took me a little while to let it go," Howard said on the eve of a new season in Clearwater. "I had a sick feeling in my stomach."
I’m not going to bore you with the drawn out list of strikeout numbers that every critic will spit out to tell you that Ryan Howard is overrated or that Howard isn’t as good as his power numbers suggest. Quite frankly it’s a waste of time and I’m not going to hate on one of the greatest power hitters in team history. Do we forget Michael Jack Schmidt and his 548 homeruns? Michael Jack would either hit the ball a mile or he would strike out. Sound familiar? Ryan Howard hit one into Ashburn Alley, how can you not admire that kind of power!?!
A two-time All-Star, three-time NL RBI leader, two-time NL home run leader, 2005 NL Rookie of the Year, 2006 NL MVP, 2009 NLCS MVP, 50 home run club, World Series Champion. Still worried about strikeouts?
Howard has hit it into parts of CBP that Tiger Woods couldn’t imagine reaching with a golf club. Howard is the fastest player to reach both the 100 and 200 home run milestones in Major League Baseball history. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 5th round of the 2001 draft it didn’t take Howard long to move his way up the minor league ladder. He set the single-season home run record for the Reading Phillies in 2004. The only thing slowing down Howard’s rise to the big leagues was Phillies slugger Jim Thome. After Thome was sidelined with an elbow injury in 2005 Howard got the call and wasted no time. He led all Major League rookies with 22 home runs, while driving in 63 RBIs in just 88 games. Howard was crowned NL Rookie of the Year, Thome was traded in the off-season, and the rest was history.
In his MVP year of 2006, only his first full season in the bigs, Howard broke the Phillies single-season home run record with 58 home runs. He hit .313, had a .659 SLG, 1.084 OPS, while driving in 149 runs. Numbers that are down right mind numbing, who cares about strikeouts with power numbers like that! Through 2009 Howard never dipped below 45 home runs or 136 RBI’s in a season. 2010 proved to be a down year for the Phillies slugger due to a bum ankle but he still managed to drive in 108 runs and hit 31 home runs.
Howard’s strong work ethic is something that is a part of his DNA. He is dedicated every off season to improving his conditioning and his game. He is surprisingly agile for a big man and his defense improves every year. With his long arms and quick wrists he is capable of hitting the ball to all parts of the field and not just out of the park. Although the strikeouts are often brought up Howard is a smart hitter and is a terror with runners in scoring position. He goes into beast mode come September and tees off on opposing pitchers like its batting practice.
It’s no accident that he has become one of the most prominent sluggers in all of baseball. Determined to get the bitter taste of 2010 out of his mouth, Howard was hard at work not even a week after Game 6.
In order for the Phillies offense to thrive this year Howard has to stay healthy and put up the power numbers he is unquestionably capable of putting up. Howard has moved his stance closer to the plate much to the delight of skipper Charlie Manuel. With a closer stance, a healthy ankle, and a chip on his shoulder Howard is out to prove himself, again, to all the haters.
In a game desperate for post-steroid power hitting stars Howard has become that guy. He brings energy and a loveable personality to a team that is built around character guys. He is well respected and loved in the clubhouse. He is also one of the most accessible players on the team despite being one of their biggest stars. You will often see Howard taking the time to sign autographs before games. You can’t help but love a star like that.
With Howard signed through 2016 he will continue to be a staple in Philadelphia. Like wiz to a cheese steak, Big Smooth is to the Phillies. I predict Howard’s BIG bat will lead this Phillies team to another parade down Broad Street come November.