BY CHRIS DiFRANCESCO, Columnist
First things first, I am in no way a hater of newly crowned Philadelphia Phillies player of the past decade, Jimmy Rollins. He was a key catalyst in bringing Philadelphia its first championship in 25 years, back in 2008.
However, making the case for super slugger first basemen Ryan Howard is an interesting argument. Howard could go down as the greatest Phillie to ever don the red and white pinstripes if he keeps up his incredible power and success. What Howard has accomplished in the second half of this past decade in historic.
The case has already been made for Rollins. Over the last ten years he led the organizations in games (1,406), at-bats (5,941), runs (945), hits (1,629), doubles (350), triples (95) and stolen bases (326). They are all pretty significant.
Furthermore, don’t let anyone fool you by saying that the guarantees Rollins made about the Phils winning the division and proclaiming them as the ‘team to beat’ didn’t help his case. Rollins can talk, and he obviously can back bets that he makes. That’s all well and good and it definitely worked out for Phillies fans.
What I look for here is impact, what the player meant to the clubhouse, leadership, and stats that helped the team win. Howard represents all of that. Howard has set MLB records in his first four full seasons that only the legendary Babe Ruth can relate.
Let’s go over the numbers:
Home Runs- 198
Runs Batted In(RBI)- 572
Batting Average- .277
Okay, there’s some numbers for all. Remember, these are just over his first four full seasons. In 2005, he played 88 games after being called up and hit 22 home runs and 63 RBIs. He won the N.L. Rookie of the Year in 2005, followed by his dominant MVP season in 2006, Silver Slugger in 2006, Hank Aaron Award (2006), led the NL in home runs (2006, 2008), led the NL in RBI’s (2006, 2008, 2009), and most recently the 2009 NL Championship Series MVP.
What he did to the MLB and Phillies record books was astonishing. He owns these franchise and MLB records:
Franchise: Most home runs in a single season (58), most home runs in a sophomore season (58), intentional walks in one season (37), fewest games to reach 100 homers (325), most grand slams (8), fewest games to reach 200 home runs (658), and consecutive postseason games with an RBI (8).
MLB records: Quickest to 100, 150, and 200 career home runs, at least one RBI in eight consecutive postseason games, and most home runs in first 1,000 at-bats (85).
They are glaring statistical facts. Howard is just as important off the field as he is when he’s dominating on it. Howard has always been said as the silent leader of the locker room. His larger than life presence doesn’t get to his head as he one of the true nice guys in the game of baseball.
I will say again that I take nothing away from what Rollins has contributed over the past decade. But as far as I’m concerned the impact that Howard has had in the game and in the record books over his first four seasons cannot be ignored.
Howard is just entering his prime now at 30, so the number that we have become accustomed to can continue to either rise or stay the same. People can complain all they want about 199 strikeouts; however, when a slugger averages 141 RBI’s in his first four full seasons in baseball, he has to be doing something right.
When picking a player of the decade, there’s certainly going to be debate. But Ryan Howard best exemplifies the characteristics that make a ballplayer great. He’s a joy to a watch, and plays the game right.
And just remember, Phillies fans- you’re lucky enough to have not one or two or three potential Phillie of the decade candidates, but four or five. This truly is the golden era of this franchise, and we are lucky enough to have a phenomenal bunch of talent.