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May 05, 2016

For the past decade, Ryan Howard has been incredible in his hometown

In sports, you often hear that athletes perform worse when they go back home. I’m not sure if it’s conventional wisdom, but it’s not far off.

Whether the cause is explained as pressure from family, dealing with friends and other distractions, or whatever the case might be, it’s not always easy performing at a high level on the field, court, or ice back where you grew up. For instance, Kevin Durant reportedly doesn’t like playing in Washington D.C. (which makes the last two-plus years of speculation kind of silly, but let’s not get off track). 

Yeah, that hasn’t been the case with Ryan Howard:

The last two nights, Howard has launched baseballs into the St. Louis skyline that fell just short of the Gateway Arch, 411 and 421 feet respectively. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Whatever point the Big Piece has been at in his career, whether it was the 2006 MVP version wearing out N.L. pitching or the guy playing out the final year of his contract a decade later, Howard has raked at Busch Stadium.

Howard’s numbers in St. Louis: 37 games, 13 homers, 43 RBIs, .331 AVG, .455 OBP, .654 SLG.
Howard’s career numbers: 1,486 games, 363 homers, 1,146 RBIs, .261 AVG, .347 OBP, and .517 SLG.

Howard definitely picks up his game at the stadium that is approximately a 35-minute drive away from Lafayette High School in Wildwood, Missouri. He believes that athletes play better in their hometowns. Here’s what Howard said about his ridiculous St. Louis numbers in a Daily News article from the 2011 playoffs:

"It's just being home, playing against my hometown team. I don't know. I think it's when guys get a chance to play in front of their hometown team, where it all began, family and friends, it's something different. It's just, I guess, maybe a little bit more natural."

Let’s test out that theory with the other core members of a golden era of Phillies baseball (minus Chooch and Shane, although the MLB should really think about expanding to Hawaii):

Chase Utley
Los Angeles
Jimmy Rollins
  San Francisco


Cole Hamels
San Diego

Utley is about the same in Los Angeles as everywhere else, impressive considering that he plays his home games at Dodger Stadium at the end of his career. Rollins has been worse in the Bay Area, no doubt about that. Hamels is better than normal in San Diego, but so is every pitcher.

None of them have been as good as Ryan Howard in St. Louis. The Phillies don’t go back to the Big Piece’s hometown in 2016, and with a lefty on the hill for the Cardinals today in Jaime Garcia, we might have seen Howard’s last game in his hometown.

If so, he ended on a pretty good note.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann