Is Howard a Doc Gooden without the drugs?

Except for that $10 million paycheck and the other perks of baseball superstardom, I wouldn't want to be Ryan Howard right now. The poor guy is getting so much advice he nust feel like he has that Orbitz thingee spinning around his head every time that he steps up to the plate.

With the season roughly a quarter over, Howard is batting just .171 with 7 home runs and 19 runs batted in, and he's on a pace right now to shatter the major league single-season record for strikeouts (199), which was established just last Ryan Howard. Last year, Howard overcame the strikeouts and a slow start to also hit 47 homers and with 136 RBIs. This year, the slump has been deeper, and longer. And now even Arlen Specter is giving the guy advice.

So is another big lug, Bill Conlin:

Most of these former line-drive machines correctly state that Howard stands too far off the plate with a stance that is much too open. For the record, he is setting up in just about the same stance he brought to the majors in 2005, when he was rookie of the year. The difference, of course, is what he does with the stance once it unfurls into the various components of a swing.

Charlie Manuel has explained it in a peanut shell. Howard is trying to pull everything. He is trying to hit "an 11-run homer" with every swing. He is swinging so early on everything he no longer lets the ball get deep into the strike zone the way he did during his flaming hot streaks in 2006 and '07.

Lots of folks are saying to just relax about Howard, that he'll turn it around like he did last year. Maybe. I sure hope so. But there's no guarantees in baseball. There are a couple of huge differences, but the start of Howard's career reminds me a little of another "certain Hall of Famer" who isn't, and that's Doc Gooden.

Like Howard, Gooden came up in 1984 for a Mets team that had been very bad for a while, and gave them hope with a Rookie of the Year season that showed flashes of brilliance. Then, for both Howard and Gooden, an incredible second season that delivered on all the promise of the rookie season, and then a strong third year in which there was a bit of a drop-off that was obscured -- in both cases -- by their teams making the post-season for the first time in more than a decade. In Year 4, a meltdown -- and for Gooden, that was followed by a decade of futility in which he was OK in best years and mediocre the rest.

Except there are those two differences. One was character -- Gooden was a troubled drug user, whose fourth season problems were due largely to cocaine, while Howard is a solid guy and good citizen with a supportive family. The other difference is not in Howard's favor; his skill is batting a baseball -- the trickiest feat in all of sports, as much mental as physical. He needs either the world's greatest hitting coach, or to be left alone. Who knows?

All I know is that it became almost painful to watch Gooden once, which is why I worry for Ryan Howard.