Howard's remarkable '06 ignited HOF push

January 20th, 2022

The Phillies couldn't have asked for much more out of Ryan Howard down the stretch after they promoted him from the Minors -- this time, for good -- on July 1, 2005.

Howard smashed 22 homers in just 88 games on his way to claiming the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year Award. As it turns out, however, that would pale in comparison to what he had in store for an encore in 2006.

Howard, who is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2022, put together one of the best offensive displays not only in franchise history, but across the Major Leagues. The Big Piece slashed .313/.425/.659 with a franchise-record 58 home runs, 149 RBIs, a 1.084 OPS and a 167 OPS+.

To put that in perspective, the only other players in MLB history with at least 58 homers and 149 RBIs in a season are Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx and Sammy Sosa.

It wasn't just the overall numbers, though. It was the series of little moments and key hits that culminated in Howard winning the 2006 NL MVP Award and establishing himself as a core member of a club that would ultimately go on to win the '08 World Series.

It was his outslugging David Wright to win the 2006 Home Run Derby. It was his early-season walk-off hit against the Nationals. It was his late-season go-ahead grand slam against the rival Mets.

It was coming off the bench after spending the night in a Cincinnati hospital to shock the Reds by hitting not one, but two clutch homers. After "some bad White Castle" left Howard with a case of food poisoning, the 26-year-old was left out of the starting lineup for the Phillies' May 14 game -- but he'd end up having a bigger impact than anyone at the ballpark that day.

"I felt really weak, really tired. I remember telling [manager Charlie Manuel] I was sick and I wasn't going to be able to play," Howard said. "Then, the game was going on and I was just sitting there. He finally came over and said, 'Hey, can you go? Can you hit, if we need you?' I said, 'I guess.' I felt terrible. But I said yes."

Trailing 1-0 with two outs in the eighth, Howard stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter and promptly drilled a game-tying home run. He then remained in the game at first base, ultimately hitting the go-ahead homer in the top of the 12th before snagging a game-ending line drive in the bottom half.

"The thing I remember is Ken Griffey [Jr.] came up and hit a steaming line drive right at me; I caught it to end the game," Howard said. "I was like, 'For real?' As if I didn't already feel bad, my idol hits a rocket at me."

A little more than a month later, Howard once again provided all of the offense for the Phils in a June 20 showdown with the Yankees. He went 3-for-4 with two homers and a triple while driving in all seven of Philadelphia's runs.

But his only memory from that one?

"We lost the game by two," Howard said of the 9-7 loss to New York.

That was just one of seven multi-homer games for Howard in that 2006 season. That's tied for the most multi-homer performances in a season in franchise history, a feat matched by Chase Utley (also in 2006) and Dick Allen (1968).

Howard went on to finish his career with 29 multi-homer games, but only once did he hit three homers in the same contest -- and, no surprise, that also came in his historic 2006 campaign.

Playing in the first game of a Sept. 3 doubleheader against the rival Braves, Howard hit three home runs in his first three plate appearances against right-hander Tim Hudson. Making the accomplishment all the more memorable was the fact that the first of those three homers marked Howard's 50th of the season.

"I was cool with one. That would have been a good day. Two would have been a good day. Then, you get that third one and it's like, wow," Howard said. "But the significance was 50, 51 and 52, and being the only Phillies player to hit 50 in a season. I remember [traveling secretary] Frank [Coppenbarger] tried to get No. 50 back, but the fan didn't give it back. Then, I hit the other two and 50 just became just another ball, I guess."

That historic afternoon came in the midst of Howard hitting 26 home runs in his final 63 games that season. He was intentionally walked 28 times in that stretch alone. Overall, he led the Majors in homers (58), RBIs (149) and total bases (383) despite being intentionally walked 37 times.

Though he never quite replicated those ridiculous numbers, that 2006 campaign did begin a stretch of four straight seasons with at least 45 homers and 135 RBIs, putting Howard on an early Hall of Fame trajectory.

The 2022 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on July 24 in Cooperstown. Election results will be announced live on MLB Network on Jan. 25, 2022.