It doesn’t really seem that long ago. It was, though. I was 23 in 2006. Ryan Howard was three years older. And when I went to that game at Citizens Bank Park, Howard did something I’d never seen in person before: He hit three home runs in a game.
And they were off Tim Hudson, too! Though he was having a bad 2006, Hudson was a star in Oakland previously and had already beaten the Phillies twice that season. Howard hit his 50th, 51st, and 52nd homers of the season off Hudson that day with relative ease. As he stood on the dugout steps after Howard’s third homer, Jimmy Rollins shook his head at the scene. He couldn’t believe it. Up in the 400 level, my friends and I did the same. We were Phillies fans, and this new guy — who was just in his first full year in the majors, having played only 88 games in his Rookie of the Year season in 2005 — looked like he was going to win MVP.
He did. The Phillies made the playoffs the next year, and started a five-season run that was the best in the franchise’s history. The Phillies were baseball’s new powerhouse: Five division titles, two pennants and a World Series win. Howard never had a year like his 2006 MVP season, but he followed that 58-homer season with years of 48, 47 and 45 home runs. In six seasons from 2006 to 2011, Howard gave the Phillies six good-to-great seasons of offensive production. He put up great numbers in the 2008 World Series and was MVP of the 2009 NLCS. He had inflated counting stats thanks to the Phillies’ potent offense and was a mess defensively, but he was a star.
He tore his Achilles coming out of the box in the final at-bat of the Phillies’ disappointing 1-0 loss in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. He was never the same player again, though some said he was figured out in the 2009 World Series against the Yankees. A lot of the other stars of the 2007 to 2011 Phillies had sharp declines along with Howard, but Howard’s decline has been the linchpin, at least in terms of amount of coverage it’s received.
Last Wednesday, the Phillies benched Howard against a tough lefthander. It seemed like a platoon with Darin Ruf was coming, but then came reports the Phillies were looking to trade Howard and willing to pay most of his $60 million contract to do so. Other reports had them ready to release him outright, though general manager Ruben Amaro said the team wasn’t considering cutting him. Amaro said Howard will stay with the club and be a productive player again, but Howard sat again Friday night. Three seasons after losing just 60 games and finishing with the best record in the team’s history, the Phillies are 44-58. Howard’s benching is just the first domino.
Read more »