Barry Bonds carried a torch that he worked for all his life.
He carried it for Jackie and Frank Robinson, for Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, his own father, Bobby, and all the Negro Leagues players that didn't share in the wealth of Major League Baseball.
But along the way, he became more of a lightning rod and, now, a symbol in so many minds of how baseball failed. He remains one of the great ballplayers of all time. But the controversy over his use of PED's, not to mention years of press discord, took the focus off his talents as a hitter.
Ryan Howard, with his brawn and natural talent, is a product of the Bonds era. Power hitting, big guy, Howard has the ability to hit home runs for years to come.
He's also got the torch in his hands now.
In the age of steroid clean-up in baseball, Howard is part of a crop of sluggers who have the future of the game on their shoulders. If Mark McGwire and Bonds made you fall in love with baseball (again?), then the heartbreak might be fresh.
Howard has the unique task of not only inspiring that love again, but also, being one of the rare black players to experience super stardom.
Could he be near the level of Bonds in the next few years? The name, a household one? Sure, he's reached that point to an extent, but it's not over.
Philadelphia has never had a black player quite like Howard before. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins isn't a Bonds-type player, known first for speed and spectacular defense, and certainly for a summer when he chased a Joe Dimaggio 56-game hitting streak (Rollins extended his to 38). Richie "Dick" Allen was one of the top hitters in the 1960's and 70's, but controversy was also part of his Philadelphia tenure. Bill James even deduced he was the second most controversial player in baseball history. Let's not forget the difference in racial climate, as well.
Howard, while improved on defense, is known for a singular ability. And he's no magnet for controversy.
He raises his bat and we wait for a dinger. Pure and unblemished, Howard. He hits, that's that.
And while you may feel bitterness toward Bonds, he's one of the most high profile talented black players to ever swing at Major League bat. He sets the bar high. His accomplishments stand, despite being contested.
Howard can take over where Bonds left off and he can do it in a way that no one will be able to question.
Sure, there's David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, but Howard is a Midwestern kid, an All-American Missouri native whose parents fought for Civil Rights in Birmingham, Alabama.
Howard means as much to the future of the game and it's integrity, as he does to those who came before him, whose battle was long and horrific, but ultimately won.
With baseball playing second fiddle to football and basketball for many black athletes choosing a career in athletics, a player as talented and charismatic as Howard can fill a clear void.
With power comes great responsibility.