Say whatever else about the man, but no one can claim that Ryan Howard is not a big-time homerun hitter. Last night, Howard broke a Major League record by hitting his 200th HR in 658 career games, which is the fewest number of games played of anyone who has ever reached that mark. So kudos to Mr. Howard.
But for the sake of keeping things in context, it is important, I think, to remember that Howard got a very late start to his career thanks to Jim Thome, who had been the Phillies first baseman while Howard lingered in the minors (he was 26 years old before he even played his first full season in the bigs). So essentially, Howard was already in his peak years when he arrived on the scene and his power had already developed. Had Thome not been an impediment to Howard’s big league promotion, the guy could have been a big league regular at least a full season earlier, if not two. And chances are, he would not have been such an impact bat from the onset.
For instance, Ralph Kiner, whose record Howard broke last night, was a full two years younger when he hit his 200th. In fact, there have been 79 players in baseball history who have hit their 200th HR during or before the year they turned 29, including less heralded names as Adam Dunn, Troy Glaus, Adrian Beltre, Shawn Green, Eric Chavez, Ruben Sierra, Bob Horner, and Kent Hrbek. And because there are doubts that a player of Howard’s massive size could be a productive hitter for much longer, it’s also worth mentioning that Kiner’s power began to leave him at 29, and a back injury forced an early retirement at the age of 32.
So while it is an accomplishment to even be good enough to hit 200 HRs over a major league career, I have serious reservations when guys like Tim Kurkjian says that “Howard’s gonna go to 500 HRs, at least” like he did last night on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. There have only been 14 players in the history of the game who hit 300 HRs between the age of 30 and their subsequent retirement – and quite a few of them are regarded as PED-users (Bonds, Palmeiro, McGwire, Sosa, Sheffield, and who knows who else). So Howard’s chances are, well, not good.
Maybe I’m selling Howard short. Maybe he’ll continue to lose weight like he apparently did this off season. Maybe he’ll be incredibly fortunate and stay healthy for another ten-twelve years and somehow beat the odds.