It’s not a full-blown rebuild.
For all the congratulations and pats on the back being bestowed upon the Phillies for finally, thankfully, mercifully, moving on from their hero-worshipping of a championship core that had long since faded into the rearview mirror of contention, or even competency, one slap-in-the-face reality remains, a constant reminder of a glorious past colliding with a ramshackle present.
Put it this way, until first baseman Ryan Howard is gone – completely gone, out of sight, out of mind gone – this flipping the switch and focusing on the future stuff being professed as the new organizational mission is an absolute farce.
As long as the primary power force behind a brilliant five- to six-year run that had the Phillies among Major League Baseball’s elite hangs around, eating up a spot in the lineup, a large portion of the team’s payroll and an even bigger part of the hearts and minds in people forever hoping that this game, this at-bat, this pitch will be the one that serves as a lightning-bolt resurrection of greatness – either for a split-second moment or some extended term – the club really, truly, isn’t moving forward.
Or moving at all.
Sorry, but it’s true.
That link, as cosmetic and mere contractual happenstance as it may be, keeps the process of a legit rebuild stuck in stand-by mode, trapped in that purgatory where emotional proclamations of “remember when he did that” and “we owe him this” become the norm that override the practical revelation that he’s done.
Been done. A long time now.
Frankly, the “give him another chance” with this month, this series, this potential run-producing situation wish lists needed to be discarded two, three, four years ago.
But he’s here, he’s in the lineup … hence, we get the whiny fallout silliness over a move in Monday’s home opener that saw manager Pete Mackanin have backup first baseman Darin Ruf pinch hit for Howard in a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the bottom of the sixth. The Phillies trailed right then by one, and the visiting San Diego Padres opted to switch pitchers – from righty to lefty.
Howard is horrendous against lefties and Ruf is pretty good. Howard also is a defensive liability at this point and Ruf is anything but.
The scenario screamed for a change, and Mackanin made it. Now he’s getting killed for it by those unable to let go of the past, who feel the team should be forever indebted to Howard for all he did what in baseball relativity would be a lifetime ago.
Enough already. It’s time to grow up and move on from the memories. The Phillies owe Howard nothing. Not a damn thing. The $150 million-plus they have provided him that will finance his family for generations was more than enough compensation, both to his wallet and ego. They’ve also provided him with countless opportunities to rewrite the script of a fading star to boot.
At some point, you know, a party’s over … and, not for nothing, but this one came to a screeching, injury-hastened halt back in 2012, when it was clear Howard’s health, age and skills were not going to be working on some cohesive plane anymore.
Just so happens Ruf appeared on the scene for a cup of coffee that year, batted .333 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 12 games, giving a glimpse of what may be at first should Howard depart … and he’s been in and mostly out of the lineup ever since, all at the mercy of the Phillies coddling a no-longer star and his excuse-making followers, while told by a blinders-wearing consensus that he’s had an endless supply of opportunities to prove himself.
It’s that mindset which has guided the Phillies to where they are right now, years away from respectability with a roster filled by unknowns and a fan base stuck in the past, believing that Howard would have done something more than Ruf’s sac fly in the aforementioned scenario and not struck out … and, even if he had, no biggie, because, after all, he deserved that chance to be a hero again, if only for one early-April afternoon.
Rebuild be damned. Yet again. For another day, week, month, year.
- Jack Kerwin | email@example.com
TALE OF THE TAPE
Since 2012, Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf have handled 1B duties for the Phillies. Here is a breakdown of their offensive numbers now dating back to then:
(Based on 534 at-bats)
.232 batting average, 24 HRs, 61 runs scored, 92 RBIs
(Based on 534 at-bats)
.244 batting average, 26 HRs, 67 runs scored, 71 RBIs