Ryan Howard, the heart of the 2008 Phillies team, has officially retired from baseball.
In a heartfelt letter to Philadelphia he posted on the Players’ Tribune, Howard talked about his journey in baseball, and his journey with Phillies fans. He talks about his first at-bat, his first home run, being with his son at the 2006 Home Run Derby, and of course the 2008 World Series. It’s long, but it’s Howard all over. You can hear him saying those words, and you know exactly what they would sound like coming out of his mouth. Between 99 and 100% of the pieces on the Players’ Tribune are written by PR people with the player’s approval, but this one sounds like Howard dictated it and someone faithfully put all his words and speaking tics onto the page. It’s completely lovely.
We all said goodbye to Howard when he played his last game for the Phillies at the end of 2016. Instead of going through a career retrospective, none of which has changed since his last game for the Phillies was also his last MLB game, here’s the link to “Piece Out,” the series of the best Ryan Howard moments we did in Fall 2016.
It feels appropriate that Howard is retiring now. Shane Victorino officially retired a few months ago. Chase Utley’s playing the last month of his career (though the playoffs are still a possibility). Jimmy Rollins never officially retired, but he’s clearly done with baseball and enjoying raising his two adorable daughters. It remains to be seen whether any of them besides Victorino will decide to retire as Phillies, but there’s no question which franchise they all belong to. And we’ll love them all forever regardless of whether they decide to have a press conference with a ceremonial one-day contract.
When Howard played his last major league game at the end of the 2016 season, many of us reflected that it was going to be weird seeing baseball played at Citizens Bank Park without Howard there. His 12 years in the majors, plus the three years he spent in the minors, spanned the entirety of the Phillies most recent rise and fall. Less than a year after he departed, the Phillies made an unexpected jump from “sad rebuilder” to “actually interesting” in the last few months of the 2017 season. There’s a whole new crop of players who will (and maybe already have) become brothers. In players like Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Aaron Nola, and Jorge Alfaro, we see the next core.
But we’ll never see anything like that 2008 core again. Even if the team we see before us in 2018 wins a World Series in a few years, it will be completely different. But while there will never be another Ryan Howard, I hope we’ll see someone else like him. Endless positivity, an enormous heart, and a home run swing that could make the baseball gods weep.
Here’s how he ends his Players’ Tribune letter.
All you can hope for in baseball, I think, is a moment of perfection every now and again. You can hope for a few, perfect moments — moments that belong to you, that are yours. And then you can hope for them to matter.
And if it’s cool with everyone reading this … I’m going to feel like my moments did.
Howard’s moments did matter. To hundreds, thousands, millions of Phillies fans, his moments mattered a lot. As some memories fade, and his last few difficult years in Philly get farther away, those moments will be what we remember of him. Players like him, who helped end the long championship drought of a faithful, hungry city, are immortal.
Enjoy retirement, Ryan Howard. We love you.