Josh Robert (@JRob215) takes a look at how fans are treating Ryan Howard, and it’s a familiar feeling.
As Ross Gload trotted to first base (seriously, he had no intention of getting to first base until he realized just how far the pitch got away from Yadier Molina) in the eighth inning of Friday night’s NLDS Game 5, one thought that crossed my mind: Shit, Ryan Howard is going to be the last out. Part of me reverted back to the pre-2008 mentality of a Philadelphia sports fan; no matter the expectations, we’re doomed to fail (see: Philadelphia Eagles 2002-2004, and apparently 2011). But the other part me expected Ryan Howard to get the last out because, well, we needed him to.
Losses like this are easier to handle if we’ve got someone to blame.
Ever since Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins on Easter Sunday, 2010 (Andy Reid’s last intelligent move) there’s been a void in the Philadelphia sports scene. McNabb was the accomplished athlete who could do no right. He smiled after incompletions and interceptions, he threw more balls at feet than at hands, his parents had too much to say (more Lindros than Iverson) and he never said the right thing. Right or wrong these are the things people choose to remember about McNabb.
McNabb was the most polarizing figure in Philadelphia sports. People loved him for his ability to win during the regular season and they hated him for his failures in big games. Eventually, Eagles fans needed McNabb to go. He became the poster child for the franchise’s failure to win a Super Bowl (whether or not he really threw up). Even today, despite the rousing ovation he received when he with the Redskins in October 2010, McNabb is chastised on sports talk radio and message boards alike.
There are thousands of Ryan Howard shirseys at every Phillies game. We stand and cheer after every monster home run. But we’re always ready to point out the flaws after a strikeout. His name lights up the lines at sports radio just like Donovan’s did.
McNabb didn’t get what it took to be accepted in Philadelphia and the city loved to take shots at him for it. Other players have failed on the field as McNabb has, but didn’t get the same criticism. Allen Iverson had a Sixers team built around him, he was notorious for being late or a no-show at practices (practice?!), he got into legal problems. On the court he took too many shots, was a bad on the ball defender and would huff and puff if he was removed from the game. Despite all of that, Allen Iverson was loved. He’s still loved. He could do no wrong, because the city saw a guy who was barely 6’0’’ tall, who played his ass off when it mattered, who related to them because he wasn’t wearing a suit, but a throwback jersey, who had sleeves of tattoos and cornrows. He embodied the spirit the city feels it has. McNabb didn’t embody this at all.
Ryan Howard made the last out in Game 5. But in that same ninth inning, Hunter Pence and Chase Utley made outs right before him.
For the Phillies, Chase Utley is our Iverson. When we look at him, we see us. He is a player who will play hurt. He goes all out, so when he gets caught stealing, we forgive him. The guy gets hit more than any other player in the league, because he just wants to get on base. So even though Utley trying to get to third on an infield grounder could have turned the events of the NLDS, we saw as him hustling. But when Ryan Howard swings at a 3-0 pitch, with no outs and no runners on base? That’s him hurting the team and the city.
This is the guy who did exactly what we all did when Brian Wilson threw him a 3-2 pitch in Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS; watched it. This is the guy whose batting average seems to drop 20 points a season, who strikes out more with runners on base than gets a hit. He drives in runs, but Brad Pitt tells us that’s more a product of Utley and Rollins than Howard himself. AND WHY THE HELL IS HE SO FAR AWAY FROM THE PLATE!? And a subtle reminder that has been brought up more and more since Howard tore his Achilles Tendon, he is still owed $125 million over the next five years (or the next 1000 strikeouts).
We’ll throw a tantrum when an outsider says he’s overrated, but we’ll criticize him at every opportunity.
Ryan Howard isn’t trying to hurt the Phillies, or us. Ryan Howard isn’t hurting the Phillies, or us. Neither did McNabb. But when there’s failure, we need someone to blame. Ryan Howard is that guy. The guy who has just enough flaws to be the one to takes all of the heat, even if he doesn’t deserve all of the blame.
A good player that we’ll punish for not being as good as we wish he was.