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Flimsy number retirement policy shouldn’t preclude Phillies from honoring Ryan Howard

On Jan. 25, the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its newest inductees from the 2022 Baseball Writers Association of America ballot. Spoiler alert: Ryan Howard has only three votes in the public reveal and will fall off the ballot. He is unlikely to receive any meaningful consideration in the future with the Today’s Game Committee.

The Phillies should retire Ryan Howard’s No. 6 (Philadelphia Daily News via Icon Sportswire).

Because the Phillies have an unwritten policy of only retiring the numbers of players who were elected to Cooperstown with a Phillies cap, his one-year stint on the BBWAA ballot could mark the end of Howard’s chances of receiving the organization’s highest honor.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Howard doesn’t have the numbers to get into Cooperstown, but that should have no bearing on how the Phillies will eventually choose to honor him. Many believe that the Hall of Fame should consist of players who you can’t tell the story of baseball without. You can’t tell the story of the Phillies without Ryan Howard.

The same applies to Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Cole Hamels should also be included in the discussion when his playing career comes to an end.

The difference between Howard and his counterparts in the infield is that Rollins and Utley have somewhat of a chance to get into the Hall of Fame. Rollins will remain on the ballot for at least one more year with the hope that his candidacy gains more traction as steroid era players gradually fall off. Utley won’t be on the ballot until 2024, but he has the strongest case out of the three.

Teams that dominate divisions for a half decade usually have a strong core of homegrown position players. The present-day Phillies can attest as they have found themselves looking up at the likes of Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman since 2018. Rollins, Utley and Howard laid the foundation for the most successful five-year stretch in the nearly 140 years of Phillies history and they should be regarded among the franchise’s all-time greats.

Howard’s steep post-Achilles injury decline shouldn’t take away from what he accomplished in his prime. From 2006 to 2011, Howard hit 262 home runs. That six-year span alone would put him third on the Phillies all-time home run list. He finished his career with 382 home runs.

Nineteen players, including Howard, have hit between 350 and 400 home runs for one franchise. Nine have had their numbers retired by their team. Among the 10 whose numbers aren’t retired, Gil Hodges and Miguel Cabrera are expected to get their day with the Dodgers and Tigers respectively. Mark McGwire (Athletics), Alex Rodriguez (Yankees) and Ryan Braun (Brewers) were all connected to performance enhancing drugs. The Braves could rethink their stance on Andruw Jones, who could earn election to the Hall of Fame in the coming years. The rest include Dwight Evans (Red Sox), Norm Cash (Tigers) and Juan González (Rangers), who all have a reasonable case for why their team should retire their number.

The Phillies’ current policy was established in the 1990s, according to Matt Gelb of The Athletic. Del Ennis’ family and friends wanted to see the Phillies retire his No. 14. The Phillies said no and cited the informal policy. In 1996, Jim Bunning was elected to the Hall of Fame and his No. 14, which was also worn by Ennis and Pete Rose, was retired in 2001.

Bunning is the only Phillie whose number was retired within the limitations of the Phillies’ established policy. Even though their number retirement ceremonies date back to before the policy was in place, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts had their numbers retired before election to the Hall of Fame. Roy Halladay’s No. 34 was retired in 2021, even though the late Blue Jays and Phillies pitcher went into the Hall of Fame with a blank cap.

The Phillies rightfully made an exception for Dick Allen, who should be in, but is out for a number of inexcusable reasons. Chuck Klein and Grover Cleveland Alexander were all honored years after election, but didn’t have a number to retire. Klein wore numerous numbers as a Phillie while Alexander played before the Phillies issued numbers.

So it’s fair to wonder if the policy is as binding as it seems. John Middleton previously expressed a willingness to be flexible in the future. It might be enough to get Utley or Rollins’ numbers retired if they get close enough in the voting process, but Howard could still fall short.

“In my view, the standards to retiring a player’s jersey need to be stringent, and they are much closer to being in the Hall of Fame than they are to being just on the Wall of Fame,” Middleton told Gelb in 2020. “So I see a pretty big gap between the Wall of Fame and a retired jersey. And essentially in my policy I’ve expressed it in different ways, but I say a player has to be Hall of Fame-worthy — legitimately, credibly Hall of Fame-worthy. It’s not a hope and a whiff.”

No Phillie has worn 26, 11 or 6 since Utley, Rollins and Howard left the team. The Phillies have years to decide how they want to go about honoring some of the franchise’s best players and it’s important that they get it right.


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