I can tell from my hit tracker that readers are searching Beerleaguer for discussion about Ryan Howard, his home run chase and questions about steroid use. It wasn’t something I was in the mood to discuss, but after browsing some out-of-town articles, needless to say, I’m compelled.
Anyone who has followed baseball for the past 10 years has a right to speculate. Baseball broke a solemn vow that what we were seeing was real. The game has since been exposed, but the residue still lingers. Every outstanding feat is in question, and justifiably so. This is particularly true for home runs.
As a Phillies fan, I feel obligated to stand behind Ryan Howard and enjoy this incredible once-in-a-lifetime ride, and I don’t feel much bias or guilt about that. One way to heighten the experience is to shut out the outside static from out-of-town writers and cynics.
Everyone has a right to speculate, and since Beerleaguer can be accessed just as easily as the national outlets, I’ll do my part to issue my own brand of speculation. Maybe this post, and your comments, will come up in a Google search in time for Howard to break Roger Maris’ mark of 61.
Howard is the same size today as he was in Reading two seasons ago. He’s toting the same suit-wearing frame I saw, sitting alone, at the 2004 King of Baseballtown banquet before the season, when everyone else was waiting in line to meet pitcher Gavin Floyd. I knew little about Howard at the time, other than he had great raw power and was coming off a solid home run season in the Florida State League. But with Jim Thome signed as a long-term fixture at first base, nobody envisioned much of a future for Howard in Philadelphia.
That season, he went on to hit 37 home runs in Reading - a franchise record - and 48 total on the season. The picture above is from the night he received the Shining Star Award after he broke Greg Luzinski’s record. It looks like it could have been taken yesterday.
Before this season, I saw him once again during the Winter Tour, and darned if he wasn’t wearing the same suit. This was around the time Baseball Prospectus ran his career numbers through a computer and predicted his power output for 2006: 50 homers, the most surprising number in the book. It turned out to be short.
Today, his 53 homers are on pace to break Roger Maris’ mark of 61, which stood for 37 years. Physically, he's a fully-grown 6-4 slugger, and swings perhaps the heaviest bat in baseball this side of Alfonso Soriano. There's your power source, not growth hormone, and it doesn't hurt to have an eagle eye to punish all pitches. He's hitting .309. Physically, his head has not swelled to the size of a pumpkin, and his arms show little definition at all. If anything, his head is almost cherubic, and his body is far from shredded. It looks like his exercise regiment could be bowling and watching Chappelle's Show every night, and I have it on good authority this last statement is not far off the mark.
It’s a lifestyle that wouldn’t be far off from a modern-day Babe Ruth, who did it on hot dogs and beer.