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Byko: I love you, Ryan Howard. Please retire

Don’t join the self-deluded athletes who stay too long and embarrass themselves and their fans

OPEN LETTER to Ryan Howard:

Dear Ryan:

I love you. Most Philadelphia baseball fans still love you, but some feel you are close to overstaying your welcome.

Retire, Ryan. Please.

You are one of two remnants of the glorious 2008 championship team that ended Philadelphia's humiliating, 25-year championship drought, bringing us psychological and emotional relief. You gave us j-o-y.

Others we loved - Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge, Jamie Moyer, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Matt Stairs - have moved on to one greener pasture or another. We cherish the memories they gave us.

Of our 2008 heroes, only you and Chooch, Carlos Ruiz, remain.

Both of you are slowly sliding into the shadows.

You've gone from the Big Piece to the Big Load.

Since blowing up your Achilles' tendon in 2011, you haven't been the same. The comeback year you and we expected never came.

Don't do this to us, Ryan. Don't make us hate you. Don't make the Phillies cut you.

Retire at season's end. Please.

Despite what you say, and probably believe, you can't hit lefthanders. You chase low and away pitches with the enthusiasm I chase a cold beer. The difference is, I get the cold one.

Every successful athlete must have a solid core of confidence. I get that. But believing that at 36 you can capture the magic of 26 is delusional. Reflexes slow. Age is kryptonite to the Supermen of Summer.

You're getting $25 million for this year, and have collected much more than $100 million from the Phillies over your 13 years of service. You don't need the money.

If you don't retire, the Phillies will have to pay you $10 million to make you go away next season. If forced to, they will. What happens then?

Do you become a shuffleboard disk banging from team to team, like Steve Carlton, staining your stellar reputation? You want to play in another league, like Allen Iverson when he went to Europe? He needed the money because he was an immature jerk.

That's not you. You've been clean on and off the field. The only thing hanging over you is an unsupported allegation by Al Jazeera that you were on the juice, and you are suing them for defamation.

Please, Ryan, tell the Phillies you will retire at the end of this season. Maybe they'll give you the $10 million anyway to avoid the anguish about cutting you from the only professional team you've played for.

Better yet - maybe they'll send it as a donation to your charity, the Ryan Howard Big Piece Foundation. Wouldn't that be cool?

After you retire, you are guaranteed to be on the Phillies Wall of Fame. Because of the many records you hold, your No. 6 could be retired. Your stats give you a shot at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Extending your career will only diminish your chance of getting into Cooperstown.

Why is it so many pro athletes don't know when it's time to leave the stage?

One big reason is money, says Kyle Emich, assistant professor of management at the University of Delaware, who focuses on sports and business.

That could explain Iverson and boxers who keep coming out of retirement, because they burn through their purses and always need more.

I don't think that's the deal with Ryan.

More likely is what Emich calls "the self-image thing. It's hard to change your image of yourself as a top athlete to what you will do" in the future, he says.

"In his own mind, he is focusing on the past more," says Emich, adding it is "self-delusion" and he "isn't seeing reality for what it is."

Self-image can also be called pride. No doubt your pride is hurt at the prospect of being platooned at first base. You probably believe you can return to your All-Star form. Ryan, you can't. You have earned your pride. Now exercise dignity.

For most of your 36 years, your identity has been "baseball player." Now you're supposed to give it up, just walk away, you ask me?

Yes, retire. Most players don't - they just run out of teams willing to give them a contract. Don't be that.

Coach a Little League team, go into broadcasting. If you feel a need to compete, join a softball league or take up golf, just like Michael Jordan did.

You're only halfway through your life. There's a lot of good you can do in the second half.

You're probably thinking, "Some of the guys who cover me are twice my age and they're still working. Why should I hang it up?"

Ryan, you're in a career where you peak at 30, while we are developing our chops at 30.

Your reflexes slow while our acuity deepens - and we don't get multimillion-dollar contracts.

The careers for the rest of humanity can last a lifetime. That's not true for athletes.

Don't embarrass yourself. Don't turn yourself into bread crumbs for heartless Philly boobirds.

Please, Ryan, retire.