Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Just Can't Get Enough...Howard

Something I should have mentioned when I threw up the link to the Ryan Howard Cystal Ball projection - mapping a statistical future for a guy is a tricky thing to do, but adding the element of where he’ll be playing makes it a real crapshoot. The places where Howard winds up in the projection (Toronto, Detroit, and Washington) are mainly thrown in to spice it up and make it feel more real. The neat thing is that the projection is very open-ended in this way and it allows the reader to make guesses as to why Howard goes the places he goes. Predictably enough, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Ryan Howard has a great run as a Phillie becoming one of the most popular players in club history and a four time All-Star. However, Phillies management can’t reach a deal with the big slugger and he is dealt to reigning World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays for a couple of young arms. Howard doesn’t deliver quite what the Jays needed him to and they fall short in the ALCS against the Angels (I’m not imaginative enough to come up with a city name for them).

Even with the disappointing end to their season, the Blue Jays make a big push to retain Howard’s services, but the 81-81 Detroit Tigers throw down a 5-year, $90 million deal to put their young squad over the top. Offers by the Blue Jays and Howard’s hometown St. Louis Cardinals are considered, but eventually turned aside. Ryan is hailed as the missing link on a Tigers team featuring the best staff in the game. Their so-called “Tres Tigres” of Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, and Joel Zumaya are the envy of every team in baseball and nothing short of a pennant in 2011 is considered good enough.

Howard begins his Tigers career with a titanic blast right on out of Comerica Park – he is the first one to knock a ball completely out of a ballpark in Detroit since they tore down Tiger Stadium. Astute baseball fans begin to notice the ever so slight decline in Howard’s bat speed while pretty much everybody else notices the not so slight increase around his waistline. Howard has a personally successful first two seasons in Detroit, but the team fails short of its goals both seasons. Howard has a series of nagging injuries in 2013 season, but still maintains enough of his power swing to keep balls flying out of Comerica. The Tigers still haven’t gotten past the first round of the playoffs though.

Talk radio callers in Detroit quickly fall out of love with the big slugger. Some even want to push him aside for a younger, cheaper former 10th round pick who has put up good numbers in all levels of minor league play. The only thing stopping the Tigers is the not so small issue of the $18 million owed to Howard in 2014 and the staggering $20 million owed in 2015. Howard responds to the criticism by showing up in Spring Training in 2014 in the best shape in years. “It is going to be a big year for Tigers fans,” he proclaims.

Howard manages to stay healthy over the course of the season, but has his worst year as a pro. He lasts only 52 games with Detroit in 2015 before they bite the bullet and release Howard – freeing up first base for their hot shot prospect Julio Franco Jr. (some claim that it is, in fact, still Julio Sr. who gets the promotion). Howard signs with the struggling Portland Nationals franchise (yeah they moved and, yeah, they didn’t change their name – LA Lakers/Utah Jazz kind of thing) and sees a brief spike in his numbers to close the year. But the end is near and Howard hangs them up in May of 2016.

His career is celebrated in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia as he earns his plaque on the Phillies Wall of Fame. Good friend and 6-time Phillies All-Star (and still getting key pinch at bats in 2016) Chase Utley says a few words about his former teammate at the ceremony. Utley goes on to win the game later in the evening with an RBI ground rule double in the 10th inning and Phillies fans go home happy. The only lingering question as the fans strap on their jetpacks or pile into their hovercrafts is whether Howard will some day return to Kalas and Ashburn Memorial Park to see his number 6 immortalized.


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