Wednesday, November 22, 2006

If ever there was an accurate representation of "the winter of discontent," it will be Philadelphia circa 2006. The Eagles, following an embarassing loss to the Tennessee Titans and season-ending ACL tear for quarterback Donovan McNabb, are on damage control. Although the Flyers -- the second-worst team in the NHL points-wise -- have only completed one quarter of their season, it would take a veritable miracle to revive them following an upper-management shakeup that saw the firing of coach Ken Hitchcock and resignation of general manager Bob Clarke. And the Sixers... well, they're the Sixers: bound for mediocrity. Although they may make the playoffs with the unconscionably easy playoff system the NBA has in place (50% of the teams make it), this season will be nothing special. No one seems to want to play defense consistently (Andre Iguodala, this concerns you), and Chris Webber apparently isn't happy with his role on the team.

So another winter goes by where Philadelphians will have to wait until next year for the long-awaited championship (23 years, actually) and parade down Broad Street. However, the sun came out, if only for one day when Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was named Most Valuable Player of the National League on November 21, 2006. The award could have been given to Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols just as easily, but the Sosian homerun and RBI totals, and the King Kong-esque way Howard put his team in the palm of his hand in August and September was enough for the Baseball Writers Association of America to give him 20 first-place votes, eight more than Pujols received.

For Howard, he is only one of two players -- Cal Ripken, Jr. being the other -- to win the Rookie of the Year and the MVP awards in consecutive seasons. He is also only the fourth Phillie to win the honor, behind Mike Schmidt (three times in 1980, '81, and '86), Jim Konstanty (1950), and Chuck Klein (1932).

Almost ironically, or as in an attempt to jinx, a video played during Howard's MVP award presentation featured McNabb, Schmidt, Allen Iverson, Mike Knuble, and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell offering their congratulations to Howard, but only Rendell is enjoying any current success, as he was re-elected on November 7. Jimmy Rollins, as per usual, cracked a few jokes along with offering his congratulations to Howard in the video, noting that with the bigger paychecks in Howard's imminent future, he could help Rollins out with his rent.

The amount of the bigger paychecks remains a mystery, as the Phillies seem wont to wait until after the 2007 season to talk about signing Howard long-term. Given the current market trend where average players like Juan Pierre, now of the Los Angeles Dodgers, get lengthy, pricy deals -- Pierre's was $44-45 million over five years. Soriano is the current jackpot winner of MLB free agency thus far, having signed an eight-year deal worth $136 million, the fifth-largest in MLB history. Howard should get a deal like that of Soriano's, but likely less lengthy. The NL MVP has earned every penny he gets.

It was almost fitting that the MVP award was announced on Tuesday, as it gave the Philadelphia media one day to grieve over the Eagles' (and McNabb's) now-defunct season before moving on (yeah, right). For one day, Howard parted the clouds looming over Philadelphia, threatening to rain mediocrity at least until the Phillies break for spring training in March. Philadelphians now ashamed to wear their Flyers and Sixers jerseys, and too superstitious to wear those of the Eagles, the Ryan Howard jerseys, pinstripes and all, were proudly worn in the City of Brotherly Love. Instead of wasted power plays, missed free throws, and torn ACLs, Howard put a pacifier in Philadelphia's mouth. If only for one day.