Friday, March 23, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #14 Ryan Howard

I really need to pick up the pace on this list to make the goal of completing it by opening day. Onward and upward, hopefully with a little more speed.

If it isn't already obvious, I have a soft spot in my heart for power hitting first baseman wearing a red pin striped uniforms. As a Phils fan, it is hard not to compare the career's of Ryan Howard and Dick Allen. Both deliver awe inspiring power and collected Rookie of Year, All Star, HR champ, RBI champ, and MVP awards. Also, unfortunately both have carried the burden of unrealistic expectations and somehow developed into targets of unhappy fans.

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Ryan Howard's Dad (Ron) is a big baseball fan. His childhood hero was none other than... Dick Allen. Ron Howard saw DA play in person on several occasions and never forgot a towering homer that Allen hit in 1970 at Busch Stadium, his single season with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ryan was the youngest (and smallest) of Ron's four boys and shared that love of baseball with his dad. In Little League he started displaying the awesome power we have come to know and love. In one game, he launched a blast that cleared the fence and a parking lot behind it before smashing into a restaurant. He played well in high school, but didn't draw the attention of scouts or big time college coaches. He walked on at Southwest Missouri State and played well enough to eventually earn a scholarship and in 2001 he was drafted by the Phillies in the fifth round following his junior season.

His march to the big leagues was slow, primarily because the Phils already had Jim Thome entrenched at first base. When he finally got his opportunity to play, he made the most of it capturing the Rookie of the Year and NL MVP in consecutive seasons (2005 & 2006). When Ryan Howard hit his 100th homer in his 325th game in the majors (June 27, 2007) he became the quickest player to reach the 100-home run mark in history. Like Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard in 8 season has already established himself as the best Phillies first baseman ever.

I will admit, I get frustrated watching Ryan struggle against lefty's and it kills me to see him strike out so much. It is maddening to see him try to muscle the ball through the over-shift most clubs deploy against him. But when Ryan is in the zone, there isn't a better power hitter in the game. I can always tell when Ryan is getting hot, because you will see him drive outside pitches to left field rather the roll over them trying to pull.

The Phils need Ryan Howard to get healthy and play at his typical level if they want to win a sixth straight division title.


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