On Monday, the Braves released Ryan Howard from his minor league contract after he floundered at Triple-A Gwinnett, suggesting that the 6-foot-4, 250-pound meteor launcher was out of gas and had no value as an MLB player anymore.
The former National League MVP and two-time league home-run leader was slowed dramatically in recent years by injuries, most notably an Achilles surgery. He hit only .196 but had 25 home runs in 362 plate appearances last season for the Phillies, who paid a whopping $10 million buyout on his contract option for 2017. Howard was determined to reinvent himself and become the menacing force he once was.
Unfortunately, Howard, 37, hit .184 with one homer, two walks and 11 strikeouts in 42 plate appearances over 11 games at Gwinnett. His baseball future is in no man's land right now.
That’s sad news for a baseball fan who also understands the significance of having superstar African-American ballplayers in MLB.
With Howard’s release, one of baseball’s most prolific home run hitters will probably call it a career soon after 13 years in The Show. While his 382 career homers aren’t first-ballot Hall of Fame numbers for a guy whose main weapon was hitting homers, his place in history is secure, even though the magnitude of his brief dominance will be debated for some time.
Howard signed with the Braves this year after playing his entire career with the Phillies.
In his peak seasons, from 2006-2009, he was one of baseball’s all-time celebrated Black Knights. He teamed up with 2007 NL MVP and shortstop Jimmy Rollins to bless baseball with the only World Series squad baseball has seen in decades that was driven by All-Star African-American players.
Baseball has gone through various strategical phases over the years, but the home run has never lost its luster and that’s why Howard will be remembered, even though his career started with a pow and ended with a fizzle.
No brother has been as dope at going yard as Howard since those glory years in Philly.
For four seasons, he was as intimidating as any power hitter to dig into the batter's box. He won the NL MVP and led baseball with 58 homers with 149 RBI in 2006, In 2007, he delivered 47 homers with 136 RBI, and in 2008 he crushed another MLB-leading 48 homers while leading the Phillies to their first World Series title since 1980. In 2009, his last healthy year as a player, he pounded another 45 homers.
He hit 64 home runs over the next two seasons and then injuries inflicted Howard’s career and he never hit more than 25 again as his numbers continued to drop.
Howard is the last African-American to lead all of MLB in homers. Matt Kemp led the NL in homers in 2011 with 39 and Prince Fielder led the AL that same year with 38, but Black sluggers of that magnitude have been almost non-existent in the past decade.
The MLB Hall of Fame is largely based on longevity of performance. Howard’s peak didn’t last very long, but he accomplished a career’s worth of accolades during that stretch. He reminded folks that brothers on the infield crank the long ball too.