PHILADELPHIA — What would Charles Barkley do? There’s an easy answer to that hypothetical question, how Sir Charles would have responded if a fan threw a beer bottle at him, the way someone targeted fading Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard.
“I’d have kicked his ass, personally,” Barkley told reporters before the Cubs beat up the Phillies on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. The Cubs had a six-run lead in the ninth inning before the Phillies rallied late, with Howard pinch-hitting against closer Hector Rondon and making the last out in a 6-4 game that didn’t feel that close.
Barkley — who once got arrested for throwing a guy through a bar window during his Hall of Fame career and has become a must-watch personality on TNT’s NBA coverage — knows the pressure of playing in this city after eight seasons with the 76ers. Philadelphia police are searching for the man who tossed the beer bottle after Howard made the final out in Saturday’s loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Very disappointed,” Barkley said. “I wish that — to be honest — Ryan could get his hands on him and beat the hell out of him. That would be the appropriate response.
“But that’s the one thing I could tell you about Philadelphia, man. It’s a great city, great fans, very passionate. But there’s always going to be a couple bad apples. The majority of the fans here appreciate what Ryan has brought to the table.
“Just giving (that fan) a little warning or a ticket really doesn’t do that situation justice.
“That’s not punishment. I’ve always believed: Get him in the batting cage for 15 minutes, and whatever happens, happens.”
Barkley actually got in the cage and took some swings against Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode during batting practice. Barkley also held court in manager Joe Maddon’s office inside the visiting clubhouse, mingling with Cubs players and staffers before the game.
The Phillies are a franchise in transition, with ex-Cubs executive Andy MacPhail installed as president, a multibillion-dollar TV deal with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia in place and the No. 1 overall pick and more than $13 million to spend in this week’s amateur draft.
This is a surprising 28-30 team fighting to defy the odds and stay in contention, guided by manager Pete Mackanin, the Brother Rice High School graduate who interviewed for the Cubs job that went to Dale Sveum, playing across the street from where the 76ers made tanking their organizational blueprint.
But Howard — a homegrown Rookie of the Year/MVP winner who helped the Phillies beat Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 World Series — now symbolizes that window slamming shut. Howard is hitting .150 with 53 strikeouts through 162 plate appearances in the final guaranteed season of a five-year, $125 million extension that became an albatross.
“The guy’s been a great, great player, brought this city a world championship, made them relevant for X-amount of years,” Barkley said. “And regardless of whatever happens, he deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.”
Maddon grew up about two hours northwest of Philadelphia in Hazleton, a blue-collar city in Pennsylvania’s faded coal-mining region, and heard about the Howard incident.
“It just speaks to: What are you thinking?” Maddon said. “I went through a bad moment here in the World Series in 2008 with the Rays, so I know how the people can be down here.
“I’m from the state. I hung out with these guys. So I know when you get over-served at a baseball game, you have a tendency — especially around here — to act out.”
With a camera in his face and surrounded by microphones, Maddon wouldn’t get into what he heard in South Philly during the 2008 World Series.
“I can’t repeat it,” Maddon said. “Honestly, I can’t repeat (what was said) to my granddaughter in a bathroom. It was really bad ... really, really bad.”