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Ryne Sandberg directly challenges Ryan Howard
by Scott Butler 11/4/13

Ryan Howard has an average of 43 home runs and 132 RBI during his 10-year career. However, in the last two seasons he averaged 12.5 homers and 49.5 RBI, a drop off of over 30 homers and 82 RBI. Needless to say, the Phillies need the old Ryan Howard back.

Howard missed 173 games over those two seasons, so his averages will improve just by getting on the field. But it will take more than simply showing up for Howard to regain his old form. Howard needs to give a better effort and his new manager was not afraid to convey that message to the public.

Ryne Sandberg spoke about Howard on Sep 23 and did not mention the words slider or home run once. Instead, he referenced Howard getting in better baseball shape three times and acknowledged overall better preparation six times. Here are some of the key phrases he used:

get into baseball shape

have a good work ethic

better in-shape player

better frame of mind

he can be better prepared

To put this in simple terms, Ryne Sandberg called out Ryan Howard publicly. This was a direct challenge to Ryan Howard delivered to the entire fan base. Howard cannot possibly see it any other way.

Ryno first challenged Howard to get into better baseball shape. "Maybe, in some ways, he'll be disappointed in this season," Sandberg said. "It all adds up to a year where he'll be ready to go. It'll all start right now with the games in Florida along with his workout program the whole winter. Him being healthy will allow him to get into baseball shape. I look for him to come back and be a big guy right in the middle of the lineup. … I know I'll have a conversation with him about continuing to have a good work ethic and get the training in he needs to this winter."

Part of the reason for Howard not being in great shape, as Ryno acknowledged, is that he was not healthy enough to be in shape. But Howard cannot use that as an excuse anymore.

Sandberg also challenged Howard to be better prepared overall next season. "From what I've gathered, I think he can be better prepared to face somebody to start a baseball game," Sandberg said. "Whether it's through the hitting coaches, having conversations, going over scouting reports, we have plenty of video, whatever it might be, I think he can utilize that."

Those comments may appear innocuous at first, but they are about as harsh as you will hear from a manager. What it means is that the most expensive player and subsequently most untradeable player is not giving his best effort. Sandberg was careful to say better prepared rather than not prepared. No matter how he spins it, the message is clear.

But Ryno did not bash Howard and was not there to criticize. Sandberg's intention, it seems, is to get the most out of the most important offensive piece in the Phillies lineup.

“He has a knack of driving in runs. Cutting down on strikeouts would be a priority. All of that could come with a better in-shape player, a better frame of mind, and a healthy player.”

Sandberg took a starkly different approach than his predecessor. Charlie Manuel was indeed a players manager and with that, he rarely voiced any criticisms publicly. Ryno put it right out there for everyone to see. Whether it works, well, we have to wait for that answer.

The gauntlet has been raised. It is up to Ryan Howard to respond now.

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