Crash Landing: Keeping An Eye On Ryan Howard and the Big Picture

I remember at some point last winter I declared that I was done writing about Ryan Howard only to go on to write about him often this season. This won’t even be my last post about him this year as I’m certain to want to use the occasion of his final game in red pinstripes as an opportunity to look back on a legendary career. Today, though, I want to talk about his most recent… controversy? Can you even call it that? How about this… his most recent news-making quote.

Yesterday, manager Pete Mackanin had this to say about first base playing time for the rest of the season as quoted by Bob Ford of The Inquirer:

“I think it makes sense to see Joseph as much as possible,” Mackanin said. “I don’t want to happen to him what happened to [Darin] Ruf, where he didn’t have opportunities to get at-bats.”Name of the source

This makes perfect sense, right? A healthy Tommy Joseph playing in the major leagues for an extended period of time as been one of the more unexpected developments in the 2016 season. Not only has he been playing, but he’s hit 17 home runs in just 277 plate appearances. He may or may not be able to carve out a career as a major league regular, but he just turned 25 and the Phillies have every reason to want to get as much information as possible before the end of the season about what kind of player they think Joseph is and what his future may bring in Philadelphia.

At this point, I’d say it’s extraordinarily counterintuitive that on the same day Mackanin expressed this desire to see more of Joseph that the team recalled Darin Ruf from Triple-A. Ruf, like Joseph is a right-handed first-base-only bat (who maddeningly will play in the outfield from time-to-time anyway). Maximizing Joseph’s playing opportunities necessitates limiting those of Ruf. I can only assume that Ruf can’t be expected to get much playing time at first base over the last month of the season.

But I said up front that this is about Ryan Howard. An increase in Joseph’s playing time naturally will decrease Howard’s playing time. Asked about this declaration from Mackanin, Howard had this to say, as reported by Ford again:

“You’re talking about an evaluation process of where you’ve gotten to see players this year play. And you’ll have another opportunity to see those same players play again next year and I won’t be here,” Howard said before Wednesday’s game against the Nationals. “So, for me, I just want to play. I don’t necessarily think it’s right or fair, considering this is my last month here, but it is interesting.”Name of the source

Well, sure. That’s true. Howard wants playing time to prove to the other 29 teams (or really, the 15 American League teams) that he’s worth a contract next season. The Phillies will still have Joseph around next year so is there anything they can truly learn about him or any skills he can gain over the last few weeks of the season? Seems unlikely. Go on, Mr. Howard.

“The manager shouldn’t have to answer the question in the media. I think that’s something that you talk to your players about. That’s one thing. Having to answer that question as far as the evaluation process, for me it’s tough. I’m not going to sit here and lie. I’ve got one more month here and I just want to play and finish out playing,” Howard said. “So, it’s like I’m just trying to do my time, finish out this last month, and try to keep playing somewhere else.”Name of the source

Those first two sentences sure are on point. It never ceases to amaze me when major league players learn about their fates from the media. It happens naturally enough: Mackanin was asked about Joseph and gave an honest answer about why he thinks he’ll try to get Joseph more playing time in September. But it’s inevitable that the question then immediately gets turned around to Howard. Should Mackanin have had this conversation with Howard before essentially telling the media that Howard’s playing time would decrease? Probably. It created discord where none needed to be, but it’s easy to see how it happened.

Alright, keep going, Ryan.

“[This] has been an ongoing process the last three years,” Howard said. “They were doing the same thing with Ruffie. It has nothing to do with Tommy. It has nothing to do with Darin. It has everything to do with the process. I’m just trying to play and go somewhere else and play. I think there comes a time when there needs to be more dialogue and more of an understanding of, ‘Why now?’ Now, when you’ve got three weeks left in the season? Why now? I’m going out and hitting and playing better and all of sudden it’s another wrinkle.”Name of the source

Ah, there’s the money quote: “Why now?” It sure does sound stupid out of context. Why now? Because Joseph may have a future with the Phillies and Howard doesn’t, duh. But to Howard, it’s cutting playing time when he’s performing the best he has in years and this is arguably a critical time for the future of his career.

Why now? Can these final weeks change anything for Joseph? Can they change anything for Howard? I don’t know. What I do know is this: baseball players want to play. Ryan Howard became one of the most significant players in Phillies history because he has the drive to want to play and win. The quote that he’s getting mocked for currently is a direct result of the same internal mindset that led him to the career Philadelphia fans loved to watch at its peak. It’s a non-story that needlessly poisons what is already a depressingly fractured relationship between Howard, the Phillies, and the fans. I believe posterity will treat Howard’s Phillies career fondly. I believe he’ll be embraced with open arms at his eventual Wall of Fame induction. And I desperately hope that he’ll get the ovation he so richly deserves in his final game at Citizens Bank Park this season. Writers have to write and Howard’s quote gave them something to write about. Hell, it gave this writer something to write about just now, too. Hopefully, though, this is not an indicator of how Howard’s final month in Philadelphia will play out.

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  1. Major Malfunction

    September 01, 2016 01:07 PM

    Bum deal for him, but its business. Giving him ABs does nothing for the team nor help evaluate future talent. While he wants to showcase whatever talent he thinks he has left, I don’t think any team is looking at his 76AB “break out” in the 2nd half of the season and think its worth obtaining him for any cost. We know that by trade deadlline and waivers the last couple of years even with the Phillies offering to eat the contract.

    Regardless, he’s still got his head in the clouds if he thinks these 76 ABs are worth a team penciling him in as part time DH next year. Really, what team can afford a roster slot for a part time DH? And if they do entertain that, I think Howard better get ready to be offered at best a minor league deal with an invite to camp.

    Even so, I scratch my head and wonder WTF would you call up Ruf for if you just said you are going to play Joseph almost exclusively over Howard? Say what you want about Ruf as a starter, but for sure, he’s terrible as a pinch hitter or sub over his career (.117/.158/.160). Call a guy up from AAA to be a RH PH against LH pitchers which will probably make the other manager make a pitching change once you put Ruf in?

    Did the ghost of RAJ suddenly pay a visit?

    • Francisco (FC)

      September 01, 2016 05:23 PM

      Did the ghost of RAJ suddenly pay a visit?

      Did RAJ keel over and die in the 1B Coach box recently and nobody reported it?

    • Eddie

      September 01, 2016 05:32 PM

      September call-ups must be guys on the 40-man roster, so it’s not like they can choose from their whole farm system. They want Alfaro and Quinn in Reading for the AA playoffs. Sweeney has done nothing to earn the promotion. Any other promotion would have required waiving someone.

    • Major Malfunction

      September 02, 2016 05:11 PM

      Call ups done and line up for tonight has Ruf in LF and Howard at 1B. Everything we thought we knew has now changed!

      • Romus

        September 02, 2016 06:12 PM

        If it is any consolation…the Phillies trail the Angels by one game now, who have the 9th pick. They could climb up to the 6th overall if things fall their way with the Angels, A’s, Brewers and Rays

  2. Peter

    September 01, 2016 01:53 PM

    Really strange in light of the comments about Goeddel. They have seen much more of Joseph than they have of Goedell, Howard is a hometown hero, Paredes is on a one year deal.

    • Chris S

      September 01, 2016 03:52 PM

      This. Goedell was playing well in May and got benched when Asche came back and he hasn’t have consistent playing time since. Goedell is at least an interesting puzzle piece to the Phillies future, and I really wish he would have played more this summer.

  3. Romus

    September 01, 2016 04:03 PM

    Surely Ryan doesn’t think this last month of the season…..less than 30 games, is going to be an audition to change other GM’s perspective on him going forward for 2017. These last 5 years on his resume is very telling to GM around the league.
    To his credit, he wants to play next season and good luck to him.

    • Bob

      September 01, 2016 04:21 PM

      Unfortunately, I do think that Ryan believes that other GMs will look at his short sample size limited to mostly RHP and think that he can still play. No player wants to admit that it’s over and he’s in denial, which is to be expected. The Phillies let this play out way too long. They should’ve released Howard over the offseason or done what the Yankees did with Arod. Keeping him on this team has made no sense. It’s been negative for both parties.

    • Eddie

      September 01, 2016 05:22 PM

      I suspect part of him is in denial … and the part of him that isn’t knows that there is an excellent chance this will be his last month ever as a ballplayer. Can’t blame a guy for wanting to go out on his feet instead of his butt.

  4. Eddie

    September 01, 2016 05:17 PM

    “The quote that he’s getting mocked for currently is a direct result of the same internal mindset that led him to the career Philadelphia fans loved to watch at its peak.”

    This, x100. People seem to expect players to be insanely competitive when it comes to running out ground balls in the 9th inning of a 12-1 game, but then completely blase about getting benched.

    OTOH, it’s yet another reminder that Crash Davis was right: “Cliches are your friends.”

  5. Jerry Spradlin

    September 02, 2016 11:50 AM

    One of those times when everybody is right- I would expect any player to be upset about losing playing time. But I also expect that when September rolls around and your team is out of the postseason hunt, you play the 25 year old who could have a future with the team, as opposed to the 37 year old who does not.

    Good point by the other commenter who notes this is why not playing Goodell makes no sense. The only thing I can think of with Goodell is Mackanin knows he is going to play every day next year at Lehigh Valley, so what he does in September is moot. Still, I ‘d like to see him a lot more than Paredes or Asche.

  6. GB

    September 06, 2016 09:09 AM

    Howard accuses Mackanin of talking out of school thru the media instead of directly to him….and then does the same exact thing!

    Howard is not entitled to anything. He has been paid very handsomely in both money and playing time during his tenure, but has NOT performed for at least the last 3 years.

    He is in denial and always has been. The Phillies should have worked something out with him long ago to release him so he can get on another team that will give him a chance and so the Phillies can move on with their future. He does NOT deserve special treatment IMO. We traded Hamels, Utley, Rollins et al. and both parties (player and team) plus the fans knew why and respected the process. There was no bad blood.

    No player is above the team. Why does Howard deserve a farewell tour when none of the other stars of that era got one? Because he is untradeable? Pretty much and because the Phillies are deathly afraid of the possible bad PR even though I highly doubt there would be any. Us fans are not idiots. We know when a player is cooked and the team needs to rebuild. We are on board.

  7. Sammdogg

    September 07, 2016 05:07 PM

    If Howard is showing sentiment towards his time in Philadelphia and the fans, then I am sympathetic. If it’s about next year’s money, I am cold as he had a chance to negotiate a buyout and show his stuff elsewhere. He chose to keep the regular paycheck, knowing things could play out this way.

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