Ryan Howard was one of the greatest power hitters of his generation. He produced great power numbers for numerous years and none were as special as his 2006 MVP season. But, do baseball fans really understand how special the year really was? The steroid era in baseball was a big reason for the under appreciation. But first, let’s get into Howard’s season.
Heading into the 2006 season, Howard was coming off of his rookie of the year campaign where he hit .288, slugged 22 homers & 63 RBI’s in just 88 games. With Jim Thome leaving town and heading to the White Sox, Howard had to step up. And he did in a big way. He had 28 home runs by the All-Star break, won the home run derby and finished the season with a .313 BA, 58 HR, 149 RBI statline that earned him an NL MVP. Howard’s ‘06 regular season was easily one of the greatest offensively in franchise history and the 58 home runs were tied for 11th most in a single season in baseball history. Maybe not as much as the playoff run years, but Howard’s ‘06 season was and still is appreciated by many Phillies fans for what he accomplished. But, years later does the rest of the baseball world feel the same way?
Before the 1997 season, no hitter had really come close to Roger Maris’s Home Run record of 61 that was set back in 1961. The closest were Willie Mays (1965), George Foster (1977), and Mark McGwire (1996) who all had 52 in their respective seasons. In 1997, Ken Griffey Jr. hit 56 home runs, more than anyone else in 36 years. That season started a 9-year span of 16 separate seasons of 50 homers or more. The 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa was the pinnacle of the era. McGwire shattered Maris’s record with 70 homers and Sosa had 66. And just three years later, Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s mark with 73 bombs. That record still holds today.
But, what do these historical years have to do with Howard’s ‘06 season? Well, like many people know, the late 90’s and early 2000’s were more or less known as baseball’s “steroid era”. I won’t dive too much into it because it’s something that could become an entire book. But to keep it short, 12 of those 16 seasons of 50 homers or more came from a player who was linked to performance-enhancing drugs. In the eyes of some people these statistics are forever tainted because of the steroid scandal. Bonds’s 73, McGwire’s 70, 65, & 58, and Sosa’s 66, 64, and 63 all have imaginary asterisks next to them.
Ryan Howard’s ‘06 season just so happened to be right in the middle, maybe even right after all of the investigations and controversy. Howard was a big guy. 6’4. 250 pounds. It was only natural that people at the time were asking the question if he was taking some type of substance while hitting all those homers. But, Howard never failed a drug test or was brought up in any legitimate rumors for taking a PED. He hit 58 home runs clean. But, unfortunately he may have had this unbelievable season at the wrong time. Some fans had been turned off by baseball’s steroid scandal.
Howard’s 58 stands as tenth-most ever, but take away players that were linked to possible PED-use, he would be tied with Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg for fourth all-time. Ten to four is a huge jump. It’s time we give Ryan Howard’s 58 in ‘06 more love. Even if the steroid era has tainted the game’s history, there are still millions of die-hard baseball fans that love the game. When we talk about great home run seasons, Howard’s should receive the love that Griffey Jr.’s, Babe Ruth’s & Roger Maris’s had earned.
Photo cred: Tim Shaffer/Reuters