In a shocking development, a group of sportswriters went out to a bar in Pasadena, Calif., the other night. This isn't the start of a joke.
We were sitting there having burgers and beers when the discussion turned to Ryan Howard. That's when things got weird - which is saying something when you're on the road with that crew. Weird is pretty much the default position.
One of the scribes - someone I like and respect - said there are a "gazillion" first basemen he'd rather have than Howard. Actually, I might be misrepresenting his position. He might have said there are a "gajillion" first basemen he would take over Howard. Either way, he used one of those made-up words meant to signal he's not all that big on the big man.
Most of us laughed, thinking the drinks had taken hold of his good sense. But it underscored how grossly unappreciated Howard remains by some, despite the amazing season and postseason he's had. Here was a writer who has watched countless baseball games this year and still didn't see what should be painfully obvious by now - that Howard is one of the best first basemen in the game, not to mention one of the all-time great Phillies in the club's long, if-not-so- storied, history.
The sad thing is, this scribe isn't alone. While the Phillies were out in L.A., I got texts from two friends/fans. One criticized Howard for striking out too much, the other joked that he's great with the bat so maybe he should try hitting the ball to Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins since he's not so hot at making the throw to second base.
These are petty, pointless criticisms when measured against everything the man has achieved. Against the Dodgers in this NLCS, Howard has three hits (including a double and a home run) and three RBIs. The homer was especially impressive - an opposite-field shot that cleared the left-field wall at Dodger Stadium without any trouble. If not for the Phillies' bullpen's ineffable implosion and Utley's Chuck Knoblauch-like throwing issues, that dinger might have been the winning run and pushed the Fightin's to a two-games-to-none lead in the NLCS.
"I think I just tried to react to the pitch," Howard said of his solo shot. "The plan was to try to hit the ball. I guess if that was the plan, it worked."
That's been the plan all postseason, one he has executed consistently and well. So well, in fact, that Howard is now the all-time RBI leader in Phillies postseason history. And yet, there are those of us who continue to take him for granted.
We've gotten really good at that over the years in Philly - undervaluing stars. Too often we fail to appreciate talent while it's playing right in front of us. Mike Schmidt. Charles Barkley. Donovan McNabb.
So many athletes have passed through town, only to be picked apart instead of praised. Howard has made out better than the other three so far in terms of appreciation, but it still amazes me that some people can't give him the credit he clearly deserves.
It's like Joni Mitchell said (what, you don't rock her on your iPod?): "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."
Just when you think the fantasy football season is headed downhill so fast there's no stopping it from crashing into a metaphorical tree, you figure out how to turn and cut your speed a little. All of a sudden things don't look so scary after all, and the race continues.
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselbeck.
RB: Cedric Benson, Rashard Mendenhall, Knowshon Moreno.
WR: DeSean Jackson, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards.
TE: Brent Celek, Heath Miller, Greg Olsen.
QB: Joe Flacco, Brett Favre, Kyle Orton.
RB: Michael Bush, Julius Jones, Jamal Lewis.
WR: Terrell Owens, Percy Harvin, Derrick Mason.
TE: Visanthe Shiancoe, Ben Watson, Zach Miller.
(Home team in caps)
Last week: 4-2
Giants +3 over SAINTS: Gambling rule No. 1: Good teams getting points are solid investments. Gambling rule No. 2: Never wager money against anyone named "Tulsa." Learned the last one the hard way.
Texans +41/2 over BENGALS: I don't care who's selling it or how hard, I'm still not buying the Bengals.
VIKINGS -3 over Ravens: Purple-on-purple crime is such a shame.
FALCONS -31/2 over Bears: First time I ever had a fried Twinkie was in Atlanta. It's every bit as good as it sounds. Someone needs to start frying Tastykakes so we don't cede any more culinary ground to the South.
Chiefs +61/2 over REDSKINS: Washington has played a team without a win in each week this season - and yet the 'Skins have just two wins. No wonder D.C. is waiting for Jim Zorn to get kicked to the curb.
Eagles -14 over RAIDERS: One of these days Al Davis will wake up from his football coma and stop running his once-proud franchise into the ground. Until then, I'll take the Birds.
Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or email@example.com