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Commentary: An Open Letter To Ryan Howard

I wrestled with posting this today because of its tone. Also, I know I’ve been pretty hard on Howard this season, but my below thoughts should hopefully illustrate my reasons.

To Mr. Howard,

I’m calling you Mr. Howard because you plead to be treated as if you are a veteran. Who am I to argue? At 28 you have lifted off as one of baseball’s most beastly sluggers — a man feared by many pitchers and managers. Four-hundred fifty-six games. One-hundred thirty-nine home runs. Mammoth. Monstrous. Mountainous. A Rookie of the Year. A Most Valuable Player. Those numbers and accolades describe a veteran, a man who is clearly near the top of his class.

But I’m mad. I’m angry. Steamed. That’s what a .183 batting average on May 21 will do to a man. That’s what 68 strikeouts will do to a man. I know you’re battling, too. Likely, you’re frustrated, unable to see any truth past that low-riding helmet brim. No. All you see are fastballs, when they’re all really sliders and curves that fall flat off the outside corner. You’re swinging wildly, reaching terribly at anything you can glimpse. It’s all washed out, isn’t it? And you hate it — you want to see clearly, want to find that ball and mash it into the gap or over the short fence. So I can recognize your state of mind, but I won’t appreciate it. I won’t take it for much.

No, I’m steamed.

Mr. Howard, you waltzed into an arbitration hearing sporting a glossy suit and golden smile, all while shielding your eyes from the glare. More than likely it was a ruse — you couldn’t see the truth then, either. You waited for the decision and came out smiling. Oh, it’s all business. Sure. Baseball is a business. It’s a business millions of fans follow with fervency. It’s a business that has we followers red marking calendars and writing obsessive blogs such as this. It’s a business that gives thousands others regular full-time jobs so they can watching you. Make no mistake — you are a freak of nature, a fantastic hitter at your best. But you’re making this business and everyone revolving around it look terribly bad.

The Phillies had to pony $10 million to you because of your groundbreaking swings. You set standards as you waltzed out of the arbitration hearing. Analysts, beat writers and we puny bloggers hypothesized many more millions in your future — millions unreachable to a small-minded, big-market team such as the Phillies. It seemed almost absolute that you were trotting to larger stages, bluer fences, more cameras, hotter nights.

And on May 21 you sit at .183 with 68 strikeouts.

You see what these numbers will do to a man, to all the men and women who vigorously track your progress, track their favorite team’s progress. Some of them — families, fairweather fans who enjoy the sunshine and the easiness of a crisp swing — couldn’t care much about your regression; however, we followers have grown tired. We don’t care about the business. We don’t care about arbitration victories — really, we don’t — if you launch balls over fences, strike clean gappers, slice occasional singles and watch a few pitches fall past you. Instead you’re running into invisible walls, bobbling your own head. You’re costing your team every time you run, every time you bobble.

Clearly you can’t see it. You’re blind. You won’t admit it. Maybe it’s the one-hundred thirty-nine home runs. Maybe it’s the pose on the video game box. Maybe it’s suckering the Phillies into handing over $10 million. Whatever the reason for your coying away, your feigned aggravation, I’m completely sick of it. I told you, I’m steamed.

So go away. Not forever, because I know your capabilities. I’ve witnessed them. But it’s not there now and won’t be there for a while — if I know anything, it’ll take a few weeks for you to finally start seeing again. So as you’re blind, as you’re damaging this team’s chances to win games, go away. Take a break. Stop staring intently. Stop shrinking and mouthing off to yourself. Stop sulking away. Stop laughing with opposing players at first base. Stop making us dislike you with each horrible swing. In the end, you won’t get more than that $10 million, and then you’ll feel what we’re feeling.

Heck, maybe you feel it now. Maybe. I hope. Boy I hope you’re steamed, too. Then you’d know what to do.

Sincerely,

Tim Malcolm

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