The Black History Spotlight series highlights the impact of some of the most successful black athletes to suit up for a Philadelphia sports team. The second installment of Black History Spotlight shines on The Big Piece, Ryan Howard.
Howard is a mountain of a man at 6’4, 240 lbs, and used his size efficiently throughout his career. After being drafted in the 5th round of the 2001 draft by the Phillies, Howard quickly ascended through the Phillies minor league system. The first baseman was named the Florida State League (Class-A) POY in 2003 before completely obliterating the Double-AA level. In just 107 games, Howard belted 37 home runs, a single-season record for the Reading Phils.
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After a brief stint in Triple-AAA, the young slugger was a September call-up in 2004. Howard finished the 2004 season batting .282 with 2 HRs and 5 RBIs in 19 games. It was a solid start for a promising prospect, but he would truly show his worth in 2005, his first full season at the major league level.
Howard was named the Phillies’ everyday first baseman, on May 15, after Jim Thome’s season was ended prematurely by an elbow injury. The Phillies’ faith in the young slugger was rewarded, as Howard finished the season batting .288 with 63 RBIs and leading major league rookies with 22 home runs. His production kept the Phillies competitive after the loss of their star, Jim Thome, but the team was unfortunately eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the season. The season wasn’t a complete dud, however, as Ryan Howard was named the the NL Rookie of the Year. This was just the beginning of what would be an illustrious career.
Phils Phlashback: 11/7/05–1B Ryan Howard is named National League Rookie of the Year. pic.twitter.com/yOcqXWk721
— Larry Shenk (@ShenkLarry) November 7, 2016
Howard continued to be the Phils’ starting first baseman after Jim Thome was traded to the White Sox in the offseason, and that meant trouble for opposing pitchers and unharmed baseballs around the league. The lefty swinger got off to a hot start, batting .306 with 5 HRs and 12 RBIs the first month of the season. He also showed impressive patience at the plate with a walk in half the games he played.
Howard followed that up with another incredible month and began to really showcase his power. He sent 13 balls screaming over the fences and drove in an absurd 35 RBIs in 29 games. He was a force at the plate and was later selected to his All-Star game. Howard also competed in and won the Home Run Derby that year. He was his usual productive self after the all-star break, but absolutely exploded in August.
The budding star finished the month batting .348 with 14 HRs and 41 RBIs. Those numbers are flat out silly and seem like something out of a video game. The league took notice to his incredible play and Howard was rightly rewarded with the NL Player of the Month award. He continued his dominant play and finished the season on an extremely high note.
Howard hit .385(!) over the final months of the season to go along with another 9 homers, including a 4-4 performance with 3 HRs on September 3rd. The former Missouri State Bear finished the season with a .313 batting average, an MLB leading 58 home runs, and 149 RBIs. Howard won the Babe Ruth Home Run Award, NL Hank Aaron Award, and most notably the NL MVP Award. He became just the second player in MLB history to win the ROY and MVP awards in consecutive seasons, following Cal Ripken Jr. Howard’s 2006 season was simply historic, and although the Phillies missed out on the postseason that year, the league had officially been put on notice- Philly was coming.
— 🇺🇸Matt Veasey⚾️ (@MatthewVeasey) November 20, 2016
The Phillies made the playoffs for the first time in Howard’s career in 2007, but was quickly swept out by the eventual NL Champion Colorado Rockies. The following season, however, would be one Howard remembers fondly. The lefty slugger led the league in both HRs (48) and RBIs (146) and along with the help of a superstar roster featuring Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, and Brad Lidge the Phillies won the NL East. The Phils absolutely dominated in the postseason, losing only 3 of 14 games, on pace to a World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. Howard was a beast at the final stage, finishing with a .286 batting average and 3 home runs (2 coming in Game 4), and was a huge part of why the Phils were crowned World Series Champs.
Howard would go on to lead Philly to their second consecutive WS trip in 2009 behind his 45 HRs and league leading 141 RBIs. The Yankees topped the Phils in 6 games for the title , and the Phils haven’t been to the series since. Howard’s legacy, however, had already been spread throughout the City of Brotherly Love. Howard may have played his last MLB game, but his career numbers speak for themselves and show the impact he’s had on the game.
The powerhouse first baseman ranks 1st in league history in the most HRs in a sophomore season (48), most home runs through the first 1,000 career at-bats (85), fewest games to reach 150 HRs (495), fewest games to 200 HRs (658), fewest games to 250 HRs (855), and most consecutive postseason games with an RBI (8). He ranks 10th in Phillies history in doubles (277), 3rd in RBIs (1194), and 2nd in home runs (382). His career accolades include 3x All-Star, 2005 Rookie of the Year, 2006 Silver Slugger Award Winner, 2006 Home Run Derby Champ, 2006 Hank Aaron Award Winner, 2006 NL MVP, 2x Home Run Leader, 3x RBI Leader, World Series Champion, 2009 NLCS MVP, and the 2015 Roberto Clemente Award Winner. Wooh- that was a mouthful, but it shows just how much of an impact the Big Piece made in Philly.
Howard was a class act on and off the field and the Roberto Clemente Award highlights that. His foundation, the Ryan Howard Big Piece Foundation, promotes academic and athletic developments in students. When he was informed he was up for consideration for the honorable award Howard had this to say:
“I want children to believe in themselves,” Howard said. “I want to help them dream big. Kids need to realize and believe that they can grow up to become whoever they want to be. It’s about becoming the best version of yourself and sometimes all you need is just that one break or that one opportunity to make dreams become a reality. I want to help provide those opportunities for kids.”
I’ve looked up to Howard since I was a kid and he’s been a huge influence to me, and others throughout Philly, on how to attack whatever you do with a positive attitude and a drive to be the best. Howard and I sharing the same hometown (the one and only Saint Louis, MO) and him playing for my beloved Phillies is probably why I selfishly hope he retires so that the Phils will be the only MLB team he ever suited up for. Any team, however, would be lucky to have such an outstanding man and player on their team. I’m thankful for the memories he created as a Phillie and the legacy he’s created in Philly, regardless of where he ends his career, and I’m sure the City of Brotherly Love agrees.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports