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Everybody knows that Ryan Howard swings a big stick. But he also swings a heavy bat.

The average major-leaguer uses a 34-inch, 32-ounce bat. Howard’s is 35 inches, 34 ounces – the biggest on the Phillies roster and one of the biggest in the majors.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Howard’s bat isn’t one of the biggest in history. Babe Ruth swung a 42-ounce bat. Dick Allen was said to have used a 42-ounce monster, and he probably did from time to time, but Louisville Slugger records list the weight of his model at 36 ounces.

Still, Howard’s bat is pretty big by today’s standards. Anything heavier than 33 ounces these days is unusual. Broadcasters frequently comment on how big the bat of Washington Nationals slugger Alfonso Soriano is. According to Nationals officials, he swings a lighter bat than Howard – 35 inches, 33 ounces.

How did Howard start using his heavy bat? He stole it from Turk “The Raving Nutcase” Wendell:

It was April 2003, and as the major-leaguers were moving out, Howard was moving in, getting ready to spend the season with the single-A Clearwater Phillies. An equipment manager took Howard and some of his teammates into a back room and let them rummage through some leftover bats.

“We raided it, trying to find some good ones,” Howard recalled with a laugh. Howard picked up a bat and couldn’t believe how heavy it was. He rolled it around in his hands, and, despite its 35-ounce weight, liked its feel. Howard looked at the name on the bat – Turk Wendell – and chuckled. A pitcher uses this log? (Yes, indeed, a team equipment manager recalled the other day, Wendell did order some big bats that spring.) Howard was intrigued by Wendell’s bat. He took batting practice with it. Then he started using it for a couple of at-bats per game. His power and selectivity as a hitter improved. He led the Florida State League with 23 homers – two fewer than he hit in 183 games over his first two pro seasons – and a .304 batting average. “It was such a big bat that I really couldn’t swing at bad pitches,” Howard said. “With a bat that heavy, once you put it in motion, there’s no stopping it. I had to swing at good pitches.”

The good taste of Wendell’s leftover led Howard to order bigger bats. He tinkered and experimented, eventually settling on 35 inches, 34 ounces.

So that’s the story of how Howard got his bat. The fact that he gets to swing it while wearing a Phillies uniform is nothing short of miraculous. The Phils tried their best to trade Howard. But they just couldn’t find the right deal.

The Phils tried to trade Howard before he won last year’s rookie of the year award. They tried to trade him after he won the ROTY. But nobody was interested enough to offer a top of the rotation starter, something Phils GM Pat Gillick desperately wanted (and still craves).

So the Phils bit the bullet and did the previously unthinkable and traded Jim Thome to the White Sox, agreeing to eat a large chunk of his salary in the process. You know what Howard has done.

UPDATE: The Philadelphia Inquirer, which seems to be madly, deeply in love with Ryan Howard, is sponsoring a contest to come up with a Ryan Howard nickname. Here are the contenders:

Whambino

Big Smooth

Broad Street Bomber

Rhyno

The Ryan King

H-Bomb

Big Easy

All-Howerful

Howabunga

Deep 6

Mr. Clean

Personally, I’m not liking any of these nicknames. Where’s the originality? Rhyno? You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s what was so great about Big Papi. Nobody really knew what it meant, but it was so original. So authentic.

Personally, I’m not liking any of these nicknames. Where’s the originality? Rhyno? You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s what was so great about Big Papi. Nobody really knew what it meant, but it was so original. So authentic.I think Howard’s nickname should reference his giant bat. Something like, “The Hammer” or “The Lumberjack” or “The Caveman” (you know, b/c he carries a club).

No Responses to “Ryan Howard’s giant stick”

  1. Sarah Green says:

    Ward, I concur. A nickname, to mean anything, has to be organic. Uncontrived. Natural!

    Ah, and Big Papi—we anglos in Beantown didn’t know what “papi” meant at first, but we quickly learned that in Ortiz’s native Dominican, it is a cognomen of the highest respect. As for me, I will always regret not buying the “Who’s Your Papi?” t-shirt I saw after the Sox won the ALCS in 2004 (a riposte, of course, to Pedro Martinez’s infamous “the Yankees are my daddy” comment).

    But for my money, my favorite nickname in baseball is The Big Hurt. Who first called Frank Thomas that? I don’t know. (I bet someone out there does, though, and I thank you in advance.) That has to be one of the best sports nicknames of all time. Any sports nickname that starts with “the” is just that much cooler.

  2. Sarah Green says:

    Good ol’ Nomie. Now you know why we loved him so!

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