Normally I defend the passionate Philadelphia sports fan against the hordes of critics who say we’re two cranky, too difficult, and even boo Santa Claus (it only happened once, and the Santa was terrible, so could y’all please stop bringing it up?).
But when it comes to the unwarranted disgust thrown the direction of Phillies third baseman Ryan Howard, I’ve had enough.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for frustration with Howard. The Phillies signed Howard to an absurdly expensive 5 year, $125 million contract extension through 2016, and the slugger has spent the first two years of that contract hobbled with left leg injuries that have cut down his production and his power.
No player has gotten more criticism from fans during the team’s disappointing 2012 and 2013 seasons than Howard, probably because no single weight has held down the team more than Howard’s contract. But the personal invective that’s been directed at Howard is usually reserved in Philadelphia for players who don’t appear to be trying hard or verbally attack the fans or in some way are actually at fault for the problems they’re causing.
In this case, however, the problems aren’t Howard’s fault. Nobody but Phillies management is to blame for giving an aging Howard such a silly contract (what was Howard supposed to do, not take the money?). And Howard’s no more at fault for the injuries that have cut down his production than former staff ace Roy Halladay or second baseman Chase Utley are for theirs.
Speaking of which, when healthy the last few seasons, Howard’s actually been pretty good offensively. He’s never going to post his 2006 MVP numbers again (.313 batting average, 58 home runs, 149 RBI) or improve his eye-popping career 134 OPS+ (OPS is on base percentage plus slugging percentage; OPS+ compares players OPSs with each other, with low numbers being bad, high numbers being good, and 100 as average. 134 is a really nice OPS). But in 2011, the first year he was hampered by leg injuries, Howard still hit 33 home runs with a 126 OPS+. This year, playing with a partially torn meniscus until recently gong on the disabled list, Howard still managed to hit for a 111 OPS+.
Sure, his defensive range, throwing accuracy, and speed are terrible. But a healthy Howard would still be an asset to the Phillies - and the fact that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy isn’t his fault.
This is a man who plays hard every time he’s on the field, works his hardest to get better, and handles himself with professionalism and class. Despite his decline in production, he deserves better than what he’s been getting from Phillies fans.