The end was drawn out, but went quick for Ryan Howard and the Phillies. After 13 years, MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards, and two straight days of sleet that, without the World Series win, probably just would have sucked, Howard stepped up to the plate this past October in Citizens Bank Park, swung at the first pitch, and popped out to shortstop, ending a prolific slugging career.
We had so many Ryan Howard memories to unpack, we had to spread them out over 13 posts. Did some of the posts get skipped and never appear? Yes they did. But cheating Howard out of some love is what this town has done best for years.
But even the 37-year-old's retirement from baseball couldn’t be without obstacles. Howard’s deserved escape from the sport would in the end be delayed beyond 2016, it seemed, due to what we're being told is a desire to continue playing baseball indefinitely.
The Phillies never said that Howard was finished as a player. But Howard believes that the ambiguity left some fans confused.
Yes, it turns out that the Phillies' vague farewell ceremony preceding the 2016 season finale, along with the year's retirement market being set by Mark Teixeira in New York, who was drafted the same year and is the same age as Howard, combined to gaslight fans into thinking Howard had hung up his enormous cleats. Instead, the first baseman is looking for the sort of work for which hysterical fans have been volunteering him for years: designated hitter on some powerless American League team.
"Powerless," like, they don't have a lot of hitting power in their lineup; not powerless like, "they'd be powerless to stop him" from barging into the clubhouse and writing his name onto a lineup sheet while holding the bench coach at bay with one arm.
There are teams out there who know if they are going to be giving Howard a call, or who know they are the type of team who would give Howard a call and are still in denial... roster space to burn, a lack of home runs projected for their line up, at least one guy who can hit lefties already somewhere on the bench... the Phillies probably were this team not too long ago, but not anymore! They've zoomed past the initial lineup-card filling phase of rebuilding and have successfully entered the exciting talent lock-up! What a time to be a fan. Everything is going great. Everything's cool. Shut up.
But everyone still loves having their own Howard take. The New York Post, somewhere between copying and pasting Rosenthal's article for FOX Sports onto their web site, put their own little twist on the headline. See if you can tell which headline was written for a national outlet and which headline was scrawled with the twisted fingers of a giant man-rat for the New York market.
Howard doesn't strike me as the "desperate" type. In the interview, he doesn't come across as panicking or even nervous. I can't imagine that even someone with his self-confidence - this is the guy still insisting he could hit lefties way too recently - is putting his stuff in boxes. Besides, he's got enough going on outside of baseball, if things don't shake out: The Big Piece Foundation, the Urban Youth Academy, his work with the Boys & Girls Club, and I assume all of you with children out there have put them to bed with another tale from the world of Little Rhino, the children's book series Howard published with his wife.
So it doesn't seem that likely that a tattered Howard is going door-to-door in the GM community with phrases like "tough times" and "wolf at the door" and "anything helps" on his lips.
And while everyone has moved on, it's not like Howard won't be in the Phillies clubhouse in a figurative sense. Because even though the Phillies could only aggressively shake their heads at the idea of a reunion after getting Howard off the books (that goes for Utley, too, for the record), he will still be a presence in the clubhouse in the form of
Subway sandwich crumbs embedded in the carpet his affect on the careers of the young players who will follow him, like Tommy Joseph:
"Being able to watch him, how he handles the media, how he interacts with his teammates, what he does off the field in the community... there's so much he's been able to do off the field for the community, that's what I took away from him the most is how much he meant to this city..."
Joseph wound up in a pretty interesting spot. We weren't that far removed from Howard's platoon partner (still) being a befuddled Darin Ruf when Joseph's name came back in the picture. His comeback this season from a young product of the Hunter Pence trade suffering through multiple concussions as a catcher to hitting the cover off the ball and morphing into the first baseman heir apparent (at the moment, barring any Maikel Franco defensive positional shifts, whatever) was one of the season's most thrilling narratives. That he had a veteran to ease him into his first big league exposure is an asset not every rookie gets.
I understand Howard wanting to stay in the game he loves, especially if a DH job opens up for him, but Joseph's words are why Howard is not "desperate" and also why he shouldn't be. He seems to have built a full life of philanthropic pursuits, only rarely wanting to unhinge his jaw and devour people whole, that have made him a model to follow. For a team that's harboring a squad of young, impressionable players learning to do their jobs on the highest level, having examples like Howard to follow is a deeply positive influence.
I will always respect, more than anything, the hits Howard withstood playing in this city, and the absence of an expletive-ridden meltdown of his appearing in the paper in response to any of the endless criticism, calls for his head, private dirty laundry in the papers, or garbage thrown at him from the stands. He not only kept his cool, he channeled it into progress for the region around him. That he would not actively want to tear Philadelphia down brick by brick after years of antagonism, and actually choose to spend extra time here and help out, is commendable. Hearing Joseph cite these particulars of Howard's career as his own takeaways is uplifting in a world gone mad.
Now. Let's begin targeting pressure points on Maikel Franco. What are the flaws in his game? How can we, fans on the internet, improve him? Let's put all of out thoughts on a napkin, shove it in a beer bottle, and politely hurl it onto the field between innings.