Ryan Howard: Symbol Of Phillies History Of Mistakes
Seven years ago Phillies fans were riding high on a cloud. Their team just won the 2008 World Series, the core of the team was still intact while some argued they upgraded in Left Field. Star players Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins were in the prime of their careers. Some MLB Analysts believed the team was a star pitcher away from being a perennial World Series contender.
But the final at bat of the 2011 NLDS signaled the end for a group that was expected to win multiple World Series Titles. In that at bat, Ryan Howard hit a ground ball up the first base side of the infield and on his way out of the batter's box he came up limping then dropped to the ground halfway to first base.
Ryan Howard, ruptured his left Achilles tendon, would miss 91 games of the 2012 season. But that injury hindsight signaled the end of an era. The Phillies have not made it back to the postseason since Howard's injury in that final NLDS at bat. What added "insult to injury" was that 2011 marked the first season Howard would make 20 million dollars. From 2011 through 2013 Howard was paid 20 million per season, then from 2015 through 2016 Ryan makes 25 million per year.
Since the 2011 postseason injury Howard's only year he played in more than 90 percent of the Phillies games was 2014 when he hit 23 Home Runs and had 95 RBIs. But also in 2014 he had a mediocre .223 Batting Average and led Major League Baseball with 190 Strikeouts.
From 2012 through 2014 the Phillies core stars from their 2008 World Series team all made the most money per season of their careers. Utley, Rollins, and Howard all were getting older but the Phillies organization insisted on surrounding them with more veterans. Raul Ibanez was already seven years older than the Phillies core stars when he arrived in Philadelphia. Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth both left town before times got worse. Phillies fans loved Hunter Pence, but he got shipped out of town after 155 games in Philadelphia. In 2013 Cole Hamels was 29 years old and Jonathan Papelbon was 32.
Remember I spoke earlier about the Phillies potentially being a star pitcher away from perennial contender status? Well they had Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and the home grown lefty Hamels. There were some good times from 2009 through 2011. But age caught up with Lee, Halladay and Oswalt while Cole Hamels was shipped out of town at the age of 31.
Phillies fans were told it was about being loyal to their "Big Three", that this team was doing everything they could to get back to the World Series. But instead it was history repeating itself. Remember the last time the Phillies tried this was the 1980's when they won the World Series and returned in 1983 with the "Wheeze Kids". From 1979 through 1983 the Phillies didn't reload with younger talent, they continued to age their roster. Again, for five years, from 2007 through 2011 the Phillies didn't build for the future, they were building for right now only.
Over 37 years the Phillies have reached the World Series five times, winning two. But what is overlooked is the average age of those teams:
-1980: 30.9 average age of roster
-1983: 32.1 average age of roster
-1993: 29.3 average age of roster
-2008: 30.0 average age of roster
-2009: 31.3 average age of roster
Those rosters had players at the peak or on the downside of their career. Very few of the players were in their mid-20's on those teams. Those that had promising futures the team only kept Von Hayes and Cole Hamels around through the peak of their careers. Players like Lonnie Smith, Curt Schilling, and Shane Victorino returned to the World Series in different uniforms. Of course there's the infamous trade that sent Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg trade to the Cubs in the 1982. Also in 2002 the Phillies traded seven time All-Star Scott Rolen to the Cardinals.
In hindsight, the Phillies front office never really had a "plan for the future" post-World Series success. The last three decades have been littered with bad decisions with players and their futures. So when I see Ryan Howard, I see a player who embodies three decades of bad personnel decisions by the Phillies Front Office.
But there is hope in 2016 with most of the connections to the past 37 years exorcised out of the organization. Watching players like Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Darin Ruf, and Aaron Nola gives Phillies' fans hope that the next decade could be better than the previous three.