Ryan Howard

October 30, 2008
The most common form of communal victory celebration in baseball these days is the roiling many-bodied bounce, in which several triumphant players converge and make loud happy noises while hugging and jumping up and down, everyone remaining vertical. These happen near the pitcher’s mound after the last out has been recorded or at home plate to greet the scorer of the winning run or near first base to swarm the author of the game-winning hit or sometimes in two places at once until the two many-bodied bounces converge into one big many-bodied bounce that seems, at least for a little while, capable of lasting forever, of perhaps even morphing into a new kind of everyday being with its own library card and many arms and legs, forever roaring with disbelieving joy even while going to the post office or waiting for a bus.

Last night, however, the Philadelphia Phillies, proving themselves once again a team for the ages, punctuated their four games to one victory over the Tampa Bay Rays by eschewing the many-bodied bounce, instead breaking out the old-school suffocating bone-crushing mound-centered pileup, in which laughing bodies thump down horizontally one on top of the other until the guy in catcher’s gear at the bottom is dead or at least a little scared.

The man pictured here played a key role in turning what could have become a many-bodied bounce into a pileup. Jesus Christ played a role too, probably the most important role, as He may or may not do in all things, depending on your understanding of the world, but in this case He worked in ways not quite so mysterious, or at least not mysterious to an amateur aficionado of sports celebrations such as myself. The pitcher who recorded the last out, Brad Lidge, dropped to his knees and stayed there, pointing and looking skyward, silently giving thanks to his personal lord and savior, as he did in a TV interview a few minutes later. This made the all-important first embrace between pitcher and catcher one that occurred with both men very close to the ground. They were not flat on the ground, however, until the third man in, the first baseman Ryan Howard, steamrolled the moment with the arrival of his hulking happiness (video courtesy of Josh Barron) . . .

As you can see, once Howard clinched the mode of celebration with a hug so massive that it acted as a two-man tackle, everything else fell into line. A few seconds after the pileup starts, a windbreaker clad reveler stands outside the pile with arms outstretched for a hug from a figure sprinting in from left field, probably Shane Victorino, but the Flying Hawaiian chooses (or perhaps in such moments there really is no such thing as choice) to bypass the mere vertical embrace and instead flies onto the pile, arms and legs wide like a freefalling skydiver.

I watched the celebration happily, thinking about my cousin Jamie and my friend David, both huge Phillies fan fans, thinking about how for the first time since the glory days of Andrew Toney there would be a victory parade down Broad Street, thinking, as I always do, of victory celebrations in general. My day had been a normal day, a long commute in the morning and evening, hours in between those two blank passages spent how I usually spend them in my professional life as a proofreader and editor: looking for mistakes. If I find a mistake there’s no celebration. If I find ten thousand mistakes there’s no celebration. There are only more mistakes, meaning that eventually (and it usually doesn’t take that long) I’ll miss one, and feel stupid, and worry about losing my job and going broke and going hungry, etc. Mistakes are everywhere. See if you can find the somewhat glaring one on the back of the Ryan Howard card: 


So I guess I follow sports in part to imagine an escape from this life’s samsaric wheel of mistakes, an escape that peaks with the vicarious thrill of watching grown men celebrate. Sometimes, much more often than is healthy, I fantasize vaguely about enjoying a similar moment as a participant and not simply a watcher. When I was a kid I put these imagined celebrations in the context of sports, but I no longer do that. What could I win? What would it change? Everything, somehow. I’d laugh and curse and weep. I’d get down on my knees and give thanks. Or I’d plow into the moment like a building-levelling wrecking ball. Or I’d sprint in from left field and fly spread-eagle onto the pile.

What would you do?


  1. 1.  Before hunting for the mistake on the Phillies card, I found one (aptly) at the beginning of the paragraph talking about mistakes – shouldn’t it be “…Jamie and my friend David, both huge Phillies fans…”

    Good piece though, I always enjoy watching the big celebrations.

  2. 2.  1 : Jesus Fucking Christ. Fixed it. Thanks.

  3. 3.  FYI: New comments in older posts for Vic Albury (Twins), Cory Lidle (Behold the Unsprtable), and Jim Lonborg (Phillies)

  4. 4.  3 : Correction: “Behold the Unsprtable” should be “Behold the Unsortable”

    Stay tuned for the inevitable correction for this comment…

  5. 5.  I found the Howard mistake on my third read-through.

  6. 6.  Hah! Got it.

    The problem with stuff like this is that it looks correct on a quick scan. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially if one is doing lots of similar set-ups.

  7. 7.  6 : “an easy mistake to make”

    I totally agree. I had certainly glanced at the card a few times without seeing it. When I did it warmed my heart a little, made these newfangled slick cards a little more like the cards I grew up with, and a little more human. As some jazz guy once said, I think Jon Hendricks, “It wouldn’t be jazz without the mistakes.”

  8. 8.  I played the Howard tackle over and over and it makes me wonder how these guys pull muscles while walking to the water cooler and yet can take a hit like that and then have a ton of manhood pressing on their body parts and come out of it no worse for wear.

    It was a great celebration and hopefully their last for a while. At least the NL won something.

  9. 9.  I felt a warm pang of nostalgia come over my body as Brad Lidge effusively thanked Jesus Christ in his post-pile-up interview moments after he (and He) closed out Tampa Bay in the bottom of the ninth.

    Is it me, or is this a rarer occurence than in the God-fearing ’80s and ’90s? Maybe football has more of it going on. I remember making book on the number of times Reggie White would mention his Lord and Savior when interviewed during the Packers’ playoff appearances a decade ago.

    Then again, maybe Lidge was just impulsively exclaiming a vernacular interjection of overwhelmed disbelief: “Wow! I’d like to thank – (whew! Jeeee-zus Christ!….) my family, and teammates and the fans, etc.etc.”

    But somehow I doubt it.

    After all, Jesus Christ could hardly be expected to extend any hand of divine providence to the Rays – a franchise whose President, General Manager, and Principal Owner are all members of a tribe that does not deign to worship Him.

  10. 10.  9 : Interesting point. I think the behavior of last year’s NL pennant-winners tells the changing story: Christ has gone corporate. The Rockies had (and still have, I guess) that organization-wide Christliness, which had an element of being sort of quiet about it, as if there had been company-wide meetings to tell all Believers to go light on the subject in interviews.

    But guys like Lidge and, a little earlier, Trot Nixon keep that old-school shout-out style alive.

    But it may never be like it was in the glory years, when I won real money betting on which team in the Super Bowl would have the first guy to kneel and pray after a touchdown.

  11. 11.  Perhaps a bit insensitive to the nature of the subject, but I think we need to incorporate this into every day life.

    boss: “Did you complete that issuing of documents I asked you to take care of?”
    me:”I did, thanks to Jesus Christ for giving me the strength to accomplish that task while avoiding the tantalizing Cardboard Gods newest update”

  12. 12.  I would jump up in the air repeatedly like Tug McGraw did in 1980 against KC (same thing I do when I win a softball game). Mitch Williams when he got a strike out to close out the Braves in 1993 jumped up in the air with his legs spread in opposite directions and it looked like he was touching his toes with his hands. The Mitch Williams picture made the front page of the NY Times. Lidge’s reaction by dropping to his knees was cool. I was at all three games in 1980, 1993 and 2008, and the pitchers’ reaction is indelibly stuck in my mind.

  13. I decided to take a second to catch up on a past post and went to this one, which I was surprised to see because the card is not from your childhood. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m such a huge Phillies fan and an editor in my everyday life. I can’t help but replay the key dozen or so killer moments from the Phils over the last few years (as well as the key moments from my teen years, the only other time when the Phils were also a bit of a powerhouse for an extended period). Although aesthetically I wish Lidge would have gone high rather than low at that moment (it’s just cooler), the guy’s sincerity and humility in the many lows and recent highs that have followed his perfect 2008 season have never been in question. I hope my team can give me another 6 weeks of thrills and absolute moments of achievement, and I hope all of your teams do the same for you in coming seasons.

    Meanwhile, can I was thinking about my original childhood baseball hero this morning, Willie Montanez, and can use your help: http://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/index.php/townspeople-helping-townspeople-find-rock-n-roll-holy-grails

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