In 2004 I had an eye doctor appointment late in the afternoon. I received the drops that blur your vision and it makes reading nearly impossible. The Phillies game was on once I got home. I couldn’t see the score, or anything really for that matter. Squinting my eyes, I could barely make out shapes, but an unrecognizable figure hit the fuzzy white ball on my TV screen over the fence in center field. The home run was followed by Harry Kalas’ unmistakable, golden voice uttering the name “Ryan Howard”. It was his first career homerun and the beginning of my fanhood for Ryan Howard.

The following season Howard won Rookie of the Year. One year later in 2006 he won the National League MVP while hitting .313 with 58 home runs and 149 RBI.

It really didn’t take long for Ryan Howard to become one of my favorite athletes of all-time.

Anyone with an inkling of baseball understanding knows Ryan Howard is a shell of the player he once was. Howard was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He drew 37 intentional walks in one season. Didn’t matter who the pitcher was, righty or lefty, young or old, if you made a mistake against Ryan Howard he made you pay. The pitcher’s mistake was usually blasted 400 feet away.

It’s a shame that people need to be reminded of how great Howard used to be, but ever since the torn Achilles in 2011, he just hasn’t been the same. Howard’s batting average may not be above .200 again this year. His production has not been nearly worth his roughly $25 million per year contract (5 years ,$125 million), and the fans aren’t exactly thrilled ( I’m talking about you bottle throwing guy).

Phillies fans are asking for his release or to be traded and blah-blah-blah. It’s like keeping Howard on the team is the first step of Armageddon.

Let’s all take a deep breath for a second…

There are very few athletes in recent Philadelphia sports history that have done more than Ryan Howard. He was an MVP, multiple All-Star appearances, and most importantly brought home a World Series. Ryan Howard is in rare air among athletes in this town. The way fans are treating him is viciously unfair.  He can’t control being 36 years old and being consistently hurt, over the past few seasons.

Howard has risen and fallen as a Phillie with class and dignity. During his prime he never became a diva, had any major run-ins with the law, or started acting like Floyd Mayweather. When things declined, he never made excuses, never lashed out to the media during a slump, and always exerted maximum effort. Ryan Howard always stayed level-headed and mild-mannered.

For a player that has done so much, would it really be so bad for him to just ride off into the sunset? The Phils aren’t making the playoffs this year, so it’s not like Howard’s roster spot is holding them back from adding “the missing piece.” Getting rid of Ryan Howard would be an insult to the dedication he has shown the Philadelphia fan base.

Chase is gone. Jimmy is gone. Shane is gone. Cole is gone and the list continues (Carlos Ruiz is the only 2008 Phillie left other than Howard). Ryan Howard is a name I would really appreciate not adding to the list of ’08 Phillies no longer on the team.

I’m not going to remember Ryan Howard for never being a great defensive player, having a declining batting average, and never living up to his $125 million dollar contract.

Instead, the Ryan Howard I remember will be the one who hit copious amounts of towering home runs. The one who tackled Brad Lidge and Carlos Ruiz after the final strike of the 2008 World Series. And lastly I’ll remember Ryan Howard for being a consummate Philadelphia Phillie.

Not allowing Ryan Howard to finish the season would be a distasteful end to a fantastic career.