It happens to all of them, even the greatest. And even though it’s sad to see Ryan Howard get benched, it’s even sadder watching him swing a bat, especially with men on base.
The end of Howard’s career with the Phillies is near. Everybody knows that, including Howard. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin finally did the inevitable this week as he benched the former slugger for “three to four games,’’ a stretch on the bench that could last even longer if his soon-to-be successor at first base swings a hot bat in the next week.
Even if he doesn’t, it’s obviously time to write Tommy Joseph’s name into the lineup every day and relegate Howard to the roles of elder statesman and occasional pinch-hitter. Let him earn those final multi-millions with some dignity, instead of flailing away at another low breaking ball or high fastball.
If the Phillies aren’t going to play Joseph every day then they should let him go back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley where he can get four at-bats on a daily basis and stay sharp and confident. This is an important time in Joseph’s career and the Phillies have to make sure they realize that Joseph’s development is the important issue here, not Howard’s impending, albeit forced, retirement.
Of course, nobody should feel sorry for Ryan Howard. He’s richer than Midas and even though he’s an old athlete, he’s still a young man, with many years ahead of him to enjoy all of that money. Plus, he’ll still have his memories of dramatic home runs and exciting playoff victories and, best of all, the parade down Broad Street after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series.
Another reason why fans shouldn’t feel sorry for Howard is the fact that he created this situation for himself, simply because he failed to adjust as he got older, which is something all great athletes have to do at some point in their careers. Howard never learned to lay off that curve ball in the dirt and – worst of all – he never learned how to deal with the defensive shifts every team throws at him. The opposing team simply plays everybody on the right side of the infield and Howard, time and time again, simply hits the ball right where they were – and, as we all know, the secret to batting success is hittin’ ‘em where they ain’t.
Despite the shift he sees every game, how many times have you seen Ryan Howard hit the ball to the left side of the infield, where there is usually just one defender? The answer: almost never. He doesn’t even try, and that was excusable when he was hitting home runs at a fairly regular rate, but those days are over, because you can’t hit the ball over the fence if you can’t hit the ball at all, and Howard’s batting average of .154 is the lowest in the National League.
Still, what should seem like an east decision isn’t, simply because Howard will go down as one of the Phillies’ all-time greats and certainly the best first baseman in club history. But even the best can’t beat Father Time, and if it can happen to Willie Mays and Johnny Unitas, it can certainly happen to Ryan Howard.
The good news is that when it’s all over, Howard will be remembered for the home runs, not the strike outs. He’ll be remembered as a dynamic member of one of the best teams in Phillies history, not an over-the-hill member of one of their worst.