Big Piece, not-so-big piece

Ryan Howard has arguably been the Phillies' non-pitching MVP so far this season. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

Today’s column was one of those rare sports writing achievements – a piece that almost nobody agreed with. Even people who violently disagree with each other were united in their reaction to the column, even if it was for opposite reasons and even if they had no way of knowing it.

That’s the point of this blog post. Sort of.  Sometimes you can anticipate how a column will be received. Heck, you even try to pre-empt the expected counterarguments by addressing them within the column. Every now and then, though, you set one loose into the world and are caught off-guard by the response.

This was one of those columns. That doesn’t mean I regret writing it or think I was wrong, exactly. But it’s important to listen and learn, too, and that’s what I’ve been doing all morning.

The first thing to clear up is that I understand completely how the all-star voting works. I wouldn’t have used the Ryan Howard and Chase Utley numbers to illustrate my point if they came out of the blue. My sense that fans underappreciate Howard has been a long time forming and it’s based on everything – emails, conversations with family and friends and co-workers, comments online and on talk radio. Probably it started a couple years ago, when it was common for people to say things like, “Howard and Rollins have MVP awards, but Chase Utley is really the Phillies’ best player.” Over time, when Howard slumped, it was because he was fatally flawed or washed up; when Utley struggled, it was because he must be injured and not telling anyone.

That impression was borne out by much of today’s reaction. There are emails from readers calling Howard a “fraud,” saying his RBIs all come in meaningless situations or griping about his apparent lack of emotion when he strikes out, etc.  These are the kinds of subjective complaints that people often made about Donovan McNabb, which is what made me draw that comparison.

But there was a lot more support for Howard than I expected. And a lot of those emails were heartfelt and rooted in concern that the column misrepresented Phillies fans as a whole. Lord knows Philadelphia sports fans don’t need more examples for outsiders to use against us. But I also think it’s important and worthwhile to have these conversations amongst ourselves.

Anyway, I learned a bit from those emails and comments today.Looks like I underappreciated how appreciated Howard is. It’s important to be reminded that the air in the pressbox can get a little stale and your perceptions can get a little skewed. As with McNabb and other seemingly underappreciated players, there is a great majority of fans out there who get it and who aren’t necessarily calling talk radio, firing off emails or comments on

I’m lucky to count many of them as readers. When you do hear from them, it’s important to listen. I‘m smart enough to know that, even if it doesn’t always come across that way in the paper.