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Editor at Large

Final act for the Phillies' tower of power

Ryan Howard's Twitter-feed cover photo shows a player who menaced pitchers and delighted Phillie fans.
Ryan Howard's Twitter-feed cover photo shows a player who menaced pitchers and delighted Phillie fans.

The second-best home run hitter in Phillies’ history will play his last game for the team this weekend.

First baseman Ryan Howard’s contract will expire and he will not be re-signed by the Phillies after 13 years, 380 homers, nearly 1,200 RBI and even more good memories for Philadelphia fans.

The last five years, though, have seen a lot of bad moments, too, thanks in large part to a ruptured Achilles tendon Howard suffered while making the final out of the 2011 National League Division Series against the Cardinals.

It’s a shame that, in many fans’ eyes, the Big Piece became the Big Cease. And yet, his performance – although scant in 2012-13 – has been modestly productive the last three years.

Even this year, hitting below .200, Howard has 23 homers and 53 RBI as a part-time player. If he were a regular, that would be about 35 homers and 80 RBI. And that’s good enough to be a designated hitter against right-handed pitchers next year in the American League.

The 6-4 Howard, second all-time in Phillie homers behind Mike Schmidt, was a monster at the plate before his Achilles injury.

Howard could carry the Phillies for weeks at a time, an RBI machine that, when you looked up at the end of the year, had 140 or more, to go with 40-plus home runs.

He hit .313 one year but generally was about a .260 hitter, and that’s just fine. The difference between a .260 hitter and a .300 hitter is less than one hit a week. Homers and RBIs take precedence, especially for a cleanup batter.

Howard also was heavily involved in the community and with charities, and he never got into trouble. A team player, he graciously stepped aside this year for his replacement, Tommy Joseph, and even mentored the rookie.

Should the Phillies have signed Howard to a five-year contract extension (in 2010) for the 2012 through 2016 seasons at $25 million a year?

In retrospect, no. But at the time, it was a good move. That was the going rate, and no one could have predicted his devastating injury.

Let’s hope Howard plays another year or two in the AL and gets to 400 home runs. Maybe he’ll even get to do an encore in Philly in interleague play.

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