The end of an era is upon us.
In 2005, Ryan Howard burst on the major league scene, as he powered his way to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year in just a half-season. One year later, he had one of the greatest seasons in franchise history. A season where Howard earned himself a team-record after belting 58 homers, along with 149 RBIs, in addition to winning the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player award. He was the big bat, or “Big Piece,” as Charlie Manuel labeled him, in the middle of the lineup for a club that won five NL East titles, two NL pennants and a World Series over a five-year run of success that ended on that October night in 2011, when Howard himself fell to the ground in pain and clutched his left ankle as his Achilles tendon exploded on the final swing of the season.
As Howard fell to the ground on that October night in 2011, it came to symbolize the end of the great Phillies’ run . The “Big Piece” had become injured, thus taking down the mighty Phillies team which had been on a reign of dominance for many seasons prior to that night.
Though the Phillies won a club-record 102 games that year, but did not make it out of the first round of the playoffs and haven’t been back since.
In April of 2010, a year and a half before Howard would have been a free agent, the Phillies gave him a five-year, $125 million contract extension. The idea was to lock up a key, productive player and gain a cost of security.However, many critics said the Phillies acted too early, and they were proven right when Howard blew out his Achilles before the extension even officially kicked in.
Regardless of the criticisms, Phillies’ owner, John Middleton took the time to rattle off some of Howard’s accomplishments: The top 10 finishes in the MVP voting, including the win, the fastest player to 100 and 250 home runs in baseball history …
“This guy was a truly terrific player,” he said. “Over the past 10 years, there’s been a strategic move on the part of teams to identify young talent and lock it up early. Ryan’s contract was just that. We were trying to identify young talent and lock it up before it hit free agency. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And in large part, it didn’t work out because he had that crippling injury in 2011.”
In 2009, Howard was still healthy. In fact, he hit 45 homers and led the NL with 141 RBIs that year. He was the MVP of the NLCS but struggled badly in the World Series against the Yankees, going 4 for 23 with 13 strikeouts.
When asked if the “I want my (bleeping) trophy back” story was true,” Middleton simply stated, “Completely true” with a laugh. Middleton continued, saying, “We have to go back to that night. Losing the World Series is excruciatingly painful. As great as they have to be to get to the World Series, when you lose, it’s just crushing. It really is. I don’t know any other word for it.
“So I went into the locker room, obviously very emotional, and there’s tons of media around, and I’m trying to talk to each player quietly and privately. I’m trying to thank them for their contribution to the year. I’m trying to get them focused for the offseason and 2010 because I thought we had a great opportunity in 2010. And I look around, and I see Ryan kind of sitting in front of his locker, slumped over with his head in his hands.
“This is my opportunity to go up to Ryan and talk to him without anyone around so I did that. I knelt down beside him and we were talking about the season, the postseason, just a very emotional moment for the two of us and it became more emotional as we talked.
“And at the end, I said, ‘Ryan, I want my … trophy back.’”
Presently, the Phillies are still looking to get that trophy back, and Ryan Howard will not be on the team when they finally do.
But, he was a big reason they got one in the first place, and in the city of brotherly love, and in a town that loves winners, it will never be forgotten, as he takes his final cuts and heads out the door.
Photo: Matthew Straubmuller (via: Flickr)