It’s ironic that in a season where Oakland’s Khris Davis is trying to become the second African-American player since Ryan Howard in 2008 to lead MLB in dingers, “The Big Piece” decides to end his comeback attempt and retire from the game. But the legacy of Black MLB sluggers is in good hands with guys like Davis, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton holding it down.
Davis and Howard are also the last two African-American players to have three consecutive 40-home run, 100 RBI seasons. In fact, Davis, who leads the Majors in homers, has more than any other player since the start of 2016, with 125.
Though he plays leftfield and Howard is the last of a dying breed of a Black, slugging, first baseman, the similarities are there as each has an incredible ability to generate power rushes. Howard physically retired from MLB around 2016. It’s the last time anyone spotted the once-feared slugger on an MLB field.
On Monday, he made it official with a heartfelt farewell to the City of Brotherly Love on Tuesday.
Thank you, Philadelphia. It's been a dream come true. https://t.co/ze8JOF3iNO
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound rocket launcher, former National League MVP and two-time league home-run leader, was slowed by injuries dramatically in the later part of his 13-year career with the Phillies beginning in 2004 -- most notably an Achilles surgery.
He hit only .196 but had 25 home runs in 362 plate appearances last season for the Phillies, but his first eight years were Hall of Fame worthy as he dominated MLB pitching and displayed historic power from his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2005 to the end of the 2011 season when Howard hit the deck between the batter's box and first base, rupturing his Achilles and altering the course of baseball history forever. Howard’s whopping five-year, $125-million extension that he signed in April of 2010, was to begin in 2012.
At the time, “Big Piece” was on his way to becoming a titan as one of four players to hit at least 40 home runs and have 130-plus RBIs in four straight seasons. Babe Ruth did it seven times, from 1926-‘32. Sammy Sosa (1998-’01) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1996-’99) did it four times.
Howard’s hit an impressive 382 dingers, but he hit 198 (60 percent) of those career home runs in a four-year span.
One of the most prolific HR hitters of his generation has officially retired. @ryanhoward's 262 dingers from 2006-2011 were the most in @MLB. https://t.co/ggFy1ouqT8
In his peak seasons, from 2006-2011, 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.
He 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.
Ryan Howard: 2009 .279 BA / 45 HR / 141 RBI
Prior to Giancarlo's 59 bombs in 2017, Howard was the last African-American to lead all of MLB in homers. Matt Kemp led the NL in home runs 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.
From ages 25 to 31, Howard was one of the best sluggers in the game. The verdict’s still out on whether that makes him a Hall of Famer, but we must celebrate the last of a dying breed of Black Knights.