This story appeared in Phillies Magazine in June. Kenny is a member of the Phillies Communications Department.Open up a Phillies media guide, or go online and search through the 133 years of the organization's career hitting records, and you will see quite a few names.Richie Ashburn. Jimmy Rollins. Bobby Abreu.By
This story appeared in Phillies Magazine in June. Kenny is a member of the Phillies Communications Department.
Open up a Phillies media guide, or go online and search through the 133 years of the organization's career hitting records, and you will see quite a few names.
Richie Ashburn. Jimmy Rollins. Bobby Abreu.
By looking at the rankings and the names on the lists, it becomes easy to see what types of players these men were. Ashburn was a dependable and prototypical leadoff hitter. Rollins was a perfect combination of speed and pop. Abreu was an on-base machine.
Now look at the power categories: the home runs, RBIs and total bases, among others. Two names jump out -- the best two power hitters the franchise has ever seen.
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Mike Schmidt and Ryan Howard are very different in a lot of ways, but they are also alike. They were the powerful anchors of their teams, the players capable of changing the game with one swing and the ones who did just that on so many occasions. There is a reason that the center of the giant Phillies mural along the Schuylkill River features images of them, both in the middle of majestic swings.
"[Howard] is going to be in that Wall of Fame out there, for sure, and will be remembered as one of the all-time great Philadelphia Phillies," Schmidt said. "The run they had, he was at the forefront of it."
Schmidt has seen a lot of Howard, whether it was up close in the cages down in Clearwater, Fla., or on TV as he evolved into one of the most feared sluggers in the game. He watched him shatter his own single-season home run record in 2006, and two years later, he watched him tackle Brad Lidge after helping the Phillies to their first title since 1980.
Schmidt's praise for the first baseman is unmistakable.
"Ryan Howard, in his top years, was better as a hitter than I was at any point in my career," Schmidt said with a nod. "What he did during the period, where he was one of the greatest young players ever to play the game, it was amazing.
"[Even now,] it's vitally important for him to be in the cleanup spot in the lineup. The team looks a heck of a lot different when he isn't in the four-hole."
Quite the acclaim coming from one of the greatest power hitters ever, and it is not limited to Howard's performance on the field. He has had his struggles during his career, from injuries to underperformance to more personal matters. Part of what sets Howard apart from others who have had similar trials and tribulations is the way he has dealt with them.
"He's had to deal with a lot of negative issues, and he handles it really well. I wouldn't be able to handle it that way," Schmidt admitted. "He does a lot of things that I am impressed with. He's a nice young man and comes to play every day with a smile on his face."
The Hall of Fame third baseman also understands the pressures Howard faces, especially in recent years, as a highly paid player who is expected to produce runs. Schmidt made quite a bit of money, too, and he also had his share of slumps. He knows the psyche of the type of hitter Howard is because he was one himself -- swing big, hit big and sometimes miss big.
"I had a knack for bat speed through the ball," Schmidt said. "The ball jumped off my bat and went out of the park. My problem was trying to make that happen all the time. If you just let it happen, you hit more home runs than if you try to force home runs. Home run hitters have to battle the sense of wanting to hit them. Like in golf, you hit your longest drives when you are trying to hit one in play. Boom! You hit it a mile. When you try to hit one a mile, you hit it in the trees or the lake.
"[Hitting home runs] is not as big a deal for guys that do it. You go up there, get four or five at-bats a night, you strike out, then you hit one. You look at every game as a single entity in itself. Every now and then, you look at the league leaders and if you are not where you believe you should be in relation to your competitors, you don't like it and try to work your way to that point. You can look at Ryan and wish he was a little different in this area or that, but he does pretty well with the hand he is dealt."
Whatever advice Schmidt has for Howard, he shares with him whenever they chat around the cage or on the field. Howard listens, and whether or not he implements any or all of Schmidt's suggestions hardly matters. Schmidt isn't offended if he doesn't; he's offering it because he cares and expects nothing in return.
"He knows how I feel about him and knows I'm on his side," Schmidt said. "He knows what I teach and what I like to see. I root for Ryan. He is a friend, and I have a lot of respect for him for a lot of reasons."
No matter how the remainder of Howard's career plays out, Schmidt believes he should be proud of all that he has accomplished, both on and off the field.
"He's a happy man, he's got a nice family, has made a heck of a living, has a World Series ring -- I have a World Series ring from many of Ryan Howard's accomplishments," Schmidt said with a laugh. "He was the fastest to 100 and 200 homers. It's a pretty strong career."