With the start of spring training, Phillies’ slugger emeritus Ryan Howard took questions from the Philadelphia sports media on Tuesday. Given that this will certainly be Howard’s last spring training in Clearwater as a player, and in light of a fairly peculiar set of accusations from Al-Jezeera over the winter, the desire for the media to speak with Howard seemed reasonable. However, Howard was defensive and bristled at the line of questioning:
“Last year was a tough year,” Howard said. “Last year was a tough year. I wasn’t happy with the media. I was always happy with my team. I wasn’t happy with the media last year…
…The way I felt with everything that I’ve done here in Philadelphia, I just felt I was being portrayed as something worse,” Howard said. “To be honest with you guys, I felt like I was being portrayed as the bad guy. That’s why I didn’t talk to you all last year. I didn’t have a problem at all with my teammates.”
Later in the press conference, he defended his performance.
“The track record speaks for itself,” he said. “I’ve always been a guy that’s been a team player. And I’m always going to be a competitor. I always want to be able to go out there and it doesn’t matter righty or lefty, I know I can get the job done. I know all the talk over the past few years, this and that. I’m not going to focus on that. For me, it’s taking advantage of the opportunities when I get to go out there and play…
“..Check the numbers, check the track record. I know I can hit lefties. There’s been talk in the media and all this kind of stuff over the past three years about not hitting lefties and whatever. It’s about just going out there and doing it…
“..I think there was one year that I had, what, the most RBIs and home runs against lefties? That was what, two years ago? I think people forget that.
Actually, the record does speak for itself Ryan, and you just haven’t been a valuable major-league hitter over the last few years. For three of the past four years, Ryan Howard has been a well-below average hitter in the big leagues. As a matter of fact, these statistics are so clear, that one would think a rational human being has to feel or know they haven’t been effective.
Just as you are beginning to wonder what planet Howard has been living on, you get a clue as to his thinking from this statement:
“As far as last year? There’s nothing you can do about it. Last year is last year. This is a fresh year. Just as last year was bad, this year I can go out and hit .300 against lefties. Then what do you say? If I was able to go out and hit .300 against lefties this year. Then what?”
One of the reasons why Ryan Howard was one of the greatest sluggers in baseball from 2005 through 2011 was the supreme belief in his abilities and his ability to forget his failures. Remember, even in his prime, at peak oppo-boppo, Howard would strike out 199 times in a season. For most of us, failing that many times at whatever the task was would shatter our confidence. But not Howard — or any other elite athlete for that matter.
In order to be the top 1% of the human race in any endeavor, whether it’s on a playing field or in a corporate boardroom or a research lab, you have to have an unwavering faith in your abilities and the probability that you will succeed. While Howard’s defensiveness may seem odd to us as fans, we can’t forget that this is a characteristic ubiquitous to all people who perform at an elite level.
If you think Ryan Howard’s at-bats are tough to watch now, just imagine what would happen if he was telling all of us, “Yeah, lefties… I just don’t have an answer for those guys.”
Understatement: What an odd offseason for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Since head coach Chip Kelly was given control of personnel at the end of last season, he has drastically altered the roster. He traded away Lesean McCoy, the franchise’ all-time leading rusher and declined to go the extra mile to retain free agent Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles’ 2014 leading receiver. Also gone are Todd Herremans, a staple on the offensive line and Trent Cole, a staple on the defensive line. First-string quarterback Nick Foles was traded, along with a draft pick for oft-injured, former No. 1 pick Sam Bradford.
In their place, are a host of free agents that fit Kelly’s preferences more closely both in terms of style of play and attitude. Each transaction, be it a release or a trade or a signing, when judged on their own, are either logical or defensible or maybe even savvy. Examined in total and Kelly begins to look like a mad scientist rather than a guru or genius.
All the while, Pro-Bowl offensive guard Evan Mathis and his agent Drew “Next Question” Rosenhaus have felt for at least two years that Mathis was drastically underpaid. They made so much noise that they were given permission by the Eagles to seek out a trade. In other words, look, if you can find something better, more power to you. Kelly has consistently denied that Rosenhaus or a team have come to him with any trade offer whatsoever. The Eagles had all the leverage and they were playing it exactly that way, as they should.
But then, after Mathis failed to participate in voluntary practices last week, Kelly decided to release Mathis. No draft picks in return, no player to be named later in return. Just out and out released him. Again, the Eagles had all the leverage.
So now, the offensive line, which was already the oldest in the league in terms of the age of the starters and was already quite thin after it was ignored in the draft and free agency is now even thinner and less talented. And it wasn’t a matter of re-allocating resources the way much of the offeseason could be described since this was a release, not a trade.
If you are someone who values value, then this offseason just got even more peculiar. If you are someone who likes to leverage leverage, this season got even more peculiar.
For those of you scoring at home, that is now two very good professional football players who were released by Chip Kelly with nothing in return. Coaches are certainly entitled to want players that have the types of the attitudes that they think are important and as we all know, there’s no “i” in team. But consistently giving away very good players is counterproductive no matter how much you value teamwork.
Shane Victorino received a standing ovation from the crowd at Citizens Bank Park on Opening Day.
Several days ago, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. had a rather candid conversation with the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner. Amaro’s tone lacked the usual dosage of smugness and evidenced some inward analysis had gone on.
“You identify, and fans identify, with players like Rollins, Utley and Howard, who are arguably the best players at their positions in the history of our franchise,” Amaro said. “It’s hard to cut them loose. And yet, sometimes, you have to have that mentality like, you know what, maybe we were a little too loyal, maybe we were thinking that we could squeeze some more blood out of the stone.
“But that’s also a good learning experience for me. Maybe we’ve got to do things a little differently, and think about doing that shift a little earlier.”
While it is nice to see Amaro take the time to do a post mortem on the 2012-2014 Phillies, it’s troubling that he’s still missing the mark — and so is anyone else who exhales a sigh of relief and exclaims “he finally gets it!”
Let us pretend that at some point in 2011 or 2012 the organization had decided to begin to turn over the roster gradually. Perhaps they move on from Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley or Shane Victorino sooner. Or perhaps in 2009-2011 they don’t make the trades to stack the deck with aces in the pitching staff. What state would the Phillies be in now if they had decided to go down one or both of those paths?