Ryan Howard was very close to joining former teammate Uggie Urbina today. After a shouting match with Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, Howard threw down his glove and approached the Sox bench and if he and Beckett would have tussled, the pitcher would have surely been ripped limb-from-limb. Ryan Howard looked mad, real mad.
The confrontation began when Howard hit a long fly ball to center – as he tends to do – and he stopped for a moment to watch it. Howard claims he lost sight of the ball and was trying to pinpoint its location, but a second later he would have easily found it in the glove of the Red Sox centerfielder. The putout was aided by a strong wind blowing in and probably otherwise would have been Howard’s eleventh homer of spring. But that didn’t matter to Josh Beckett who promptly chastised Howard’s antics as he jogged back to the dugout. Beckett went on to retire the side, but upon his return to the bench, he continued to jar with Howard as Ryan took his position at first. The shouting intensified, and the angry Ryno slowly approached the Red Sox dugout, dropping his glove like a Broad Street Bully in the process. If you saw the game, you would have noticed how enraged the 25-year old was and that he eventually had to be partly restrained by his teammates – who at this point had cleared the bench and bullpen.
According to Beckett, "I kind of wanted to make a point — that you look like a jackass whenever you hit a ball like that and you’re out." He’s right, although everyone likes to admire Ryan Howard’s home runs if you happen to be Ryan Howard, you should be running the bases; even if you can’t find the ball, no one will ever fault you for dropping your bat and hustling down to first. The youngster has to learn this if he wants to avoid the fan-unfriendly reputation this practice carries (see Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey, Jr.). While it certainly isn’t habitual, it has happened before, despite these two quotes.
From Jayson Stark: But as someone who has watched a lot of Ryan Howard, I don’t recall that he’d ever done any previous Reggie Jackson look-at-me acts after hitting any previous bombs, whether they landed on the warning track or in some South Philadelphian’s family room. So something just didn’t compute here.
From Beckett: He didn’t do that last year, when he won [NL] Rookie of the Year and hit a bunch of home runs … so I don’t know. I guess you get one year in the big leagues and things just change.
Last season, quite publicly, Howard was caught admiring a drive to deep center that was eventually caught at the warning track. As Howard is set to begin his first full season in the big leagues, he would do well to simply run to first and avoid any problems like those which occurred today.
This is where the praise comes in though, because we know that if there is ever a problem, Ryan Howard will solve it. Phillies pitchers should rest easy knowing that Howard is only a few yards from intercepting any potential mound chargers. Yet, the best lesson learned today can be found in the intensity shown today by Howard. From what we have seen of the young first baseman so far, he certainly fits some bipolar characteristics. On the one hand he can swat Ruthian blasts with a flick of the wrist, while on the other, as Jayson Stark notes, he has the reputation of a gentle giant. Today’s between-inning performance showed that there is a bridge connecting the two sides of Ryan Howard. He is not simply a gentle giant; rather, brewing within him is the competitive fire required by those who intend to lead a team to post-season success. Not that Ryan Howard needed a coming out party, but today he gave notice that he means business and hopefully the rest of the club got the memo. Remember in 1993 when Tommy Greene plunked a Dodger during Spring Training and sparked a bench clearing brawl all because he was afraid of the wrath of Dave Hollins if he didn’t? It’s kinda like that.