As Ryan Howard streaks toward the realm of Roger Maris, the man who helped discover him rolls on across the Midwestern portion of Interstate 70, mining for more talent just south of Maris country.
|Ryan Howard wasn't a hot commodity coming out of Southwest Missouri State. (Provided to SportsLine)|
He first saw Howard when the kid was a sophomore in high school. A few thousand miles on the odometer later, he still recalls exactly what long ago attracted him and the other scouts toward Howard in the concise language that is one-part baseball man, one-part shorthand and several parts labor of love.
"Athletic presence with power potential," Lafferty says, the words as clear and direct as any of the 56 home runs Howard has smashed during his sensational run this season.
But not everybody saw that. And -- here's the important part -- not everybody who saw it stayed with it.
As Howard streaks on and the debate grows as to whether he should be considered the legitimate single-season home run record holder if he bypasses Maris' 61 in 1961, there's one number that stands out above all others.
If Ryan Howard hits 62 homers this season, would you consider him the real record-holder?
Total Votes: 11,417
One Hundred and Forty.
That's what pick Howard, a fifth-rounder from Southwest Missouri State, was in the 2001 draft.
"I give Jerry credit for staying with him," says Mike Arbuckle, Philadelphia's assistant general manager for scouting and player development. "A lot of other people walked away."
"Ryan's junior year, when he came out, he had really struggled," says Phillies director of scouting Marti Wolever, who ran the '01 draft -- and every one since -- for the organization. "In a tournament at Texas-Arlington -- we had an area scout named Paul Scott there -- in 16 at-bats, he may have struck out 10 or 12 times. That's how his whole season went. He was pressing his whole junior year.
"Luckily, we had done enough scouting with him."
There were 139 other players chosen before Howard in '01, including such heavyweights as Minnesota's Joe Mauer (first overall), the Cubs' Mark Prior (second), Texas' Mark Teixeira (fifth) and Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman (26th, chosen by Oakland) ... and never-weres or likely-never-will-bes such as Dewon Brazelton (third, by Tampa Bay), Dallas McPherson (57th, by the Angels) and Matt Harrington (58th, by the Padres).
There were even five other first basemen picked before Howard, ranging from names such as Casey Kotchman (Angels) to John Van Benschoten (Pirates, who worked him out as both a pitcher and as a first baseman before deciding to use him on the mound) to Stefan Bailie (Boston).