The Braves released Ryan Howard from his minor league contract on Monday, extinguishing the possibility of the 2006 NL MVP coming back to haunt his longtime employers, the Philadelphia Phillies, in the uniform of their hated rival.
Howard was hitting .184/.238/.263 for Triple-A Gwinnett at the time of his release, which probably ends all meaningful hope of the 37-year-old making it back to the big leagues. Howard was a gigantic figure in baseball in the late 2000s, and his role in bringing a championship to Philadelphia, along with the raft of criticism he took as his decline phase overlapped with a much-mocked five-year, $125 million contract, are worthy of expansive coverage.
But this is not that story.
One of Howard’s greatest cultural legacies came through the NBC sitcom The Office, which debuted in 2005 and was set in Scranton, Pennsylvania, then the home of the Phillies’ Triple-A team. Over the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Howard hit 25 home runs there in just 384 plate appearances, and inspired the creators of The Office to name a character after him. The real Howard even appeared on the show in 2013.
That raises the question: Is Ryan Howard the best baseball player who shares a name with a principal character from The Office?
According to Baseball-Reference, nobody named Jim Halpert, Dwight Schrute, Stanley Hudson, Creed Bratton, Darryl Philbin, Toby Flenderson, or Gabe Lewis has ever played professional baseball at any level, and after that you really have to start thinking about how far down the IMDb page you’re willing to go. (Just to be safe, I checked B-Ref for Pam Beesly, Angela Martin, Phyllis Vance, Jan Levinson, Erin Hannon, and Karen Filippelli and struck out there as well.)
One Andy Bernard played 12 games in the Pacific Coast League in 1924, and there have been two Roy Andersons, one Kevin Malone, and seven Oscar Martinezes to have played in the minor leagues, but none of them cracked the majors. There are even two more Ryan Howards to have played in the minors, one of whom, a Giants infielder, is still active and hitting .317 in high-A. (In a fascinating historical coincidence, this Ryan Howard was a fifth-round pick out of the University of Missouri, while the former Phillie was a fifth-round pick out of Missouri State. Maybe “fascinating” isn’t the right word, but you get the picture.)
Three men who share a name with Dunder-Mifflin CEO David Wallace have played pro baseball, and one of them, a right-handed pitcher, even made the majors — for the Phillies, no less. But Ryan Howard had two home run titles and four top-five MVP finishes, while Dave Wallace posted a 7.84 ERA in 20.2 career innings.
There is, however, one man who shares a name with a character from The Office who had an even better major league career: Mike Scott.
Five men named either Mike Scott or Michael Scott played pro baseball at some point or other between 1939 and 2002, but only one of them made the majors, a right-handed pitcher with a wicked split-fingered fastball.
Scott came up with the New York Mets but enjoyed his greatest success in his early 30s with the Houston Astros. In 1986, he posted one of only 34 300-strikeout seasons in big league history, pitched five complete-game shutouts, led a rotation that included Nolan Ryan in K/9, and won the Cy Young award. In the NLCS against the Mets, he won Games 1 and 4 in complete-game fashion, and the Astros lost every game he didn’t pitch. As far as peak goes, this is at least the equal to Howard’s 2006 campaign.
Scott’s career arc was almost a mirror of Howard’s: He debuted at 24 but was below-average every year until his age-30 season, while Howard first broke into the Phillies’ lineup at 25 and was pretty much finished by 32. It’s difficult to compare the two statistically, not least because Scott was a pitcher in the 1980s and Howard was a first baseman in the 2000s and 2010s, but also because Howard lost several wins at the end of his career by playing out the string on a bad Phillies team that kept trotting him out no matter how slow his bat got. Even so, we can compare their career WAR totals directly:
Scott clearly comes out ahead, which feels fitting: A nice sentimental moment gets ruined out of nowhere by Michael Scott.