Saturday, September 20, 2014
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Slugger: Making the case for Ryan Howard as the Phillies best

Ryan Howard
Ryan Howard ERIC MENCHER / Staff Photographer
Ryan Howard Gallery: 2009: Ryan Howard

FOR CHARLIE MANUEL, it's a matter of simple arithmetic.

"I made a statement late last season that people were thinking Ryan Howard had an off year," the Phillies manager said. "And even then, he topped Mike Schmidt's best year. Now, Mike Schmidt is a Hall of Famer and definitely deserves it. He's very worthy of it. But Howard, on an off year, he puts up numbers like that. And that kind of speaks for itself."

Schmitty's best season, at least as measured by power statistics, was 1980 when he hit 48 homers and drove in 121 runs, leading the Phillies to their first world championship.

Last season, Howard hit 48 homers with 146 RBI. Heck, in his first three full seasons in the majors, he averaged more home runs and RBI than Schmidt had in his best season.

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  • Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler, in his 38th year with the team, acknowledges that baseball is a vastly different game than it was when Schmidt played (1972-89).

    "If you take the expansion and you take the smaller parks, you've got to give it to Mike Schmidt. But if you go the other way, you have to say the bullpens are a little bit tougher, with so many lefthanded specialists. Schmitty didn't see that. They didn't have a righthander waiting for him every at-bat," Wheeler pointed out.

    "The bullpens are better now because there's much more specialization. Mike would get to hit off more tired starters than these guys. This guy [Howard] has to hit off a lefthander from the seventh inning on."

    Former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi, now a special assistant to Braves general manager Frank Wren, raves about Howard's ability.

    "There's no question that, offensively, they've never had a player like him," he said. "I mean, the guy hits 50 home runs and drives in over 125 runs. You have to go by decades. How many home runs would Schmidt have hit if he was in the ballpark they're playing in now? But just numbers-wise, I don't think there's anybody close to Howard."

    Added Manuel: "The short period of time he's been in the big leagues, there's nobody who's ever played who has the homers and ribbies that he's had. Yeah, he strikes out a lot. You can criticize him all you want to. But there's definitely some greatness there in the things that he does.

    "You know something? He's got a chance — of course, he's got to stay injury-free and continue – he has a chance to go down as the top slugger in the game."

    COUNTERPOINT

    From Larry Andersen, Phillies broadcaster and former major league pitcher:

    "It's all relative. The game has changed. I would love to see Schmitty hit today with the ballparks, with the strict enforcement of not pitching inside. You can't get knocked down today. I think hitting 500 or 600 home runs then correlates to hitting about a thousand home runs now. It really does. But if you get into the box and you know you might get one at your head, literally, you're not quite as apt to go out and try to hit that outside pitch.

    "The ballparks are smaller. I don't know if the baseballs are harder. With expansion, I don't think there's as much talent. That's not to take anything away from Ryan Howard. But I think Mike Schmidt would have put up phenomenal numbers today."

    THE COMPETITION

    To be considered the Phillies' best slugger, Ryan Howard would be judged against these five:

    1. Mike Schmidt. Hit 548 homers in his career, all for the Phillies, a franchise record. Led NL in homers eight times and slugging percentage five times. Three-time MVP. Hall of Fame.

    2. Dick Allen: His 204 homers as a Phillie ranks only seventh on the list, but he was the type of slugger people stopped whatever they were doing to watch when he came to the plate.

    3. Gavvy Cravath: Almost forgotten now, but led NL in home runs six times in 7years (1913-19) at the end of the dead-ball era.

    4. Chuck Klein: Led NL in home runs in 1929 and 1931 to '33 and slugging percentage from 1931 to '33. Hall of Fame.

    5. Del Ennis: Second only to Schmidt on Phillies list with 259 homers, third in RBI (1,124) and total bases (3,029).

    Honorable mention: Pat Burrell, Greg (The Bull) Luzinski, Jim Thome, Cy Williams

    MIKE SCHMIDT ON RYAN HOWARD

    "Without question Ryan Howard has established himself as the best Phil ever at first base. Never in Phils history, and maybe even baseball history, has a first baseman put 3years of this kind of production back to back to back. For that matter, never has any Phil at any position.

    "Ryan has a Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a ring. Now the only test he needs to pass is that of time. Judgment of individual greatness in baseball starts with consistency and longevity as a package, then numbers, then championships, and finally total game.

    "Ryan's position in history, and he's only begun, will be determined by his will each year to be the best player in the game. This means conditioning, weight control, stretching and flexibility in addition to the normal extra baseball work. There can be no let-up. It takes supreme sacrifice to be the best, and I think Ryan has that kind of desire.

    "Ryan will always be criticized for his strikeouts. They are a byproduct of the tendency of his swing timing to be off, I know from experience. He always draws the toughest matchups and pitches. Remember, he's young and over time he will get better in every area. Aren't we lucky?

    "When Ryan and I talk hitting, we generally focus on swing energy and keeping the hands back. Let me explain: Swing energy is gauged by how much effort a hitter is applying through contact. Hands back means keeping the hands either in the original stance position or pushing them away slightly as the stride foot plants.

    "Never should the hands 'flinch' forward before the swing. Ryan, when not swinging well, will raise his swing energy to 95-100percent and will flinch his hands forward when taking the pitch. When Ryan is swinging well, his energy through the ball is 75-80percent which comes from relaxed arms and creates the quickest swing and highest bat speed. Also, he takes pitches with his hands back in the original hitting position.

    "Now you should be totally confused. Actually, it's simple. If Ryan swings smooth and on balance, everything comes together. And that's what we've talked about."
     

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