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.
“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.