A few days ago, back in the clean-up spot and dressed like a tomato, Ryan Howard stepped up to the plate. Facing a lefty, people chuckled at his chances, even though that lefty was Drew Pomeranz of the Padres. But he clocked a 2-1 offering into the seats anyways, defying both science and haters all over the sport.
The dinger was a big one, and not just because it was all the offense Vince Velasquez would need to secure the win (Though the Phillies gave him a few more runs anyway). Howard doesn't hit home runs as often as he used to, but he's hit enough by now that when he does, he often climbs another impressive rung on the all-time list. That day against the Padres, he tied Gary Gaetti. Upon hearing the news, everyone nodded, briefly remembering who Gary Gaetti was, while the remote in the Gaetti home was likely thrown at the wall.
But then, the news came down: Howard's next home run would tie him with Joe DiMaggio.
And we all knew what was coming.
I can't wait for angry subhuman Howard-haters to find out he's on a same level as DiMaggio https://t.co/3KKHzDXOyL— Justin Klugh (@justin_klugh) April 14, 2016
For a couple of years, Howard-haters were everywhere. While all of us were and will be frustrated by him at some point, there were a few years the haters' presence was dominant. You had to bulldoze through dense packs of them on Columbus Boulevard.
"HE CAN'T HIT THE BREAKING BALL," they'd explain for the hundredth time, their faces smashed against your windshield. "AND HOW ABOUT THIS - THE GUY CAN'T HIT LEFTIES!"
The stats were there; we could all see them. It was true. MVP Ryan Howard was gone. We could also all see with our eyes Howard flailing at the plate. He became a stock complaint target, an acceptable recipient of hate just because people needed something to whine about. He embodied everything wrong with the team to people who didn't want to learn new information.
But there was never any new reason to dislike Howard. He got married. He had family troubles. He published a children's book series. Eventually, you just got sick of people bitching about him and started to feel bad for him. And that empathy turned back into rooting for him, even when he swung and missed at that same damn breaking ball again and again.
These days, everyone is just waiting Howard out. The whole point of this series is to take some time to focus and reflect on him in what is assumed to be his final year in Philadelphia. But, as we wait, those same haters - a less intense presence now, for sure - are crouching in the bushes, waiting for a reason to raise their insufferable voices and point out that Howard is bad.
We all knew, then, as Howard blasted past Gaetti in the record books, that any sort of comparison to DiMaggio would be exactly the impetus these older-school people needed to rise up and spend an afternoon honking about how Ryan Howard is no Joe DiMaggio.
Which... yeah. He's not.
Their home run totals are the same, until Howard surpasses DiMaggio of course, but one beloved baseball icon abandoned his normally warm demeanor during a broadcast the other night to downplay Howard's accomplishments for some reason.
Here's Vin Scully ethering Ryan Howard during a pitching change. It's the greatest. He's the greatest. pic.twitter.com/faqA8C7KcV— Andy Merritt (@A_Merritt) April 16, 2016
Who was doing this? Who was wandering around Los Angeles, calling out with a bullhorn that Ryan Howard was "replacing" Joe DiMaggio? Anyone? Well, it's L.A., so, probably. But that's not my point.
Nobody thinks Ryan Howard has now "replaced" Joe DiMaggio. I would guess that Ryan Howard doesn't think Ryan Howard has replaced Joe DiMaggio. I mean, if we're talking about the all-time MLB home run list, he unarguably will replace him - you can see, right there, in the #80 all-time slot, that Howard's next home run will put him past DiMaggio and put him four behind human toilet Lance Berkman.
But in the general scheme of things, no. Philadelphia's shirtless bridge men, waving broken-off car antennas at traffic, wouldn't make that claim. I don't know who broke into Scully's booth, yelled that Howard was DiMaggio's replacement, and then ran away, but maybe it's that guy who deserves the on-air rant.
In the later years, baseball has not been kind to Howard. It is frustrating as a fan to watch an unmovable player make a lot of the same mistakes. We're ready to move on from Howard, but one last ride with the Phillies as they begin a rebuilding project sounds tolerable - especially if he keeps hitting home runs. You can't expect fans from other circles to use him as anything but a punchline, but when they do - or when a routinely charismatic, intelligent broadcasting legend goes out of his way to try and take Howard down a peg during a game in which he's not even playing - it