In an era when character and attitude take a back seat to eye-popping stats, Ryan Howard has made it a priority to avoid the bad guy stigma sometimes associated with homerun kings while posting ridiculous power numbers.
Towering at 6’4”, 256 pounds, the softspoken Philadelphia Phillies slugger acts more like a harmless civilian than someone who delivers tape-measure bombs. In 2005, Howard’s magical rookie season, he gave Philadelphia’s championship-starved fans a realistic hope that a parade could be on the horizon. He hit .288 with 22 homeruns and 63 RBI, and was named NL Rookie of the Year. Making sure the rest of the league knew that such power output was no fluke, he backed it up by winning the 2006 NL Most Valuable Player, posting a .313 average, hammering 58 homeruns and driving in 149 runs.
Instead of reveling in his individual accomplishments, Ryan and Phillies star shortstop Jimmy Rollins teamed up to create one of the most lethal combinations in baseball. In just five games against the Tampa Bay Rays, Philadelphia triumphed in the 2008 World Series. Howard contributed by dominating the Rays’ pitching, batting .286 with three dingers.
While Ryan was growing up, his parents enforced the value of hard work and the importance of learning. So it’s no surprise that this former college walk-on evolved into a bona fide MLB superstar. When STACK got a chance to sit down with the burly hitter, we listened intently as he talked about his influences, college experience and more.
STACK: Who were your idols growing up?
Ryan Howard: My idols were Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn. I used to imitate Ken Griffey Jr. when I was coming up through high school.
STACK: Tell us a little about your college experience.
RH: I was a walk-on my freshman year of college. I went to Southwest Missouri State, now Missouri State. My college experience was great. It helped me mature baseball-wise. That’s actually where I learned to hit to the opposite field, from my coach in college.
STACK: Was the importance of academics emphasized in your household?
RH: It was simple: if you didn’t have your schoolwork done, you couldn’t play sports— you couldn’t do anything. Your homework had to be finished before we could even go play or go to a game or do whatever. My parents stressed—they still stress—education very, very, very much.
STACK: How do they continue stressing its importance?
RH: Everyone—my older brother and sister and my twin—everyone’s graduated. And I’m still going to go back and finish up my degree.
STACK: What advice can you give an aspiring baseball player?
RH: You just have to stay with it. Make sure your grades are there and stay with it. The only person that can hold you back is you. You may not get looked at by a certain school or go wherever you want, but if your dream is to keep playing, then you’re going to find a way to play.
STACK: Tell us about your relationship with Jimmy Rollins.
RH: I call him Young James; that’s my name for him [laughs]. I’ve known Jimmy for a little bit. He’d been up when I got called up, and he let me stay at his house—and he still won’t let me live it down.
STACK: What was it like living with him?
RH: Regardless of what he tells you, talking about me washing dishes and all that kind of stuff, I never ate there. So technically, I didn’t really need to wash dishes. I took care of business; I helped, I cleaned up, you know—[did] what I needed to do.
STACK: How has that relationship helped you as a player?
RH: It’s been fun having Jimmy kind of as my mentor…helping me out in the league [and] showing me the ropes. Jimmy’s the kind of guy where he’ll throw a couple of tidbits [of advice] in there. Basically, keep working, keep playing hard, just play your game. He’s probably told me just to watch him play [laughs].
Watch an exclusive video interview about Ryan Howard’s pre-game routine and baseball idols.