The fairest way to decide whether Ryan Howard can ever make another All-Star team is to assess all the ways players make All-Star teams and see if any of those doors ever figure to open for Howard again.
1. The fans could vote him in as a starter.
Not likely. Howard has appeared in three All-Star games, but despite putting up gaudy numbers for a few seasons, he has never started one in the field.
Here is a fantastic bar bet: Did Ryan Howard make the National League All-Star team in 2007 or 2008? The answer, remarkably, is no.
One year after his 2006 season in which he hit 58 home runs, drove in 149 runs, scored 104 runs, batted .313—and won the National League Most Valuable Player award(!)—Howard was passed over in favor of the starter, the Milwaukee Brewers' Prince Fielder, and reserves Pujols, Derrek Lee of the Chicago Cubs and the immortal Dmitri Young of the Washington Nationals. You guessed it: Young was the Nationals' lone representative in the 2007 All-Star Game.
Adding insult to insult, Howard was not selected to the 2008 All-Star team, either, despite having posted a slash line of 47/136/.268 and finishing fifth in the voting for MVP in defense of his title.
Howard was a reserve in both 2009 and 2010, playing behind Pujols both times.
He has not been back since. For the fans to vote Howard in as a starter, he will probably need to move to another baseball market, where the fans vote early and often. St. Louis would be a good choice, or San Francisco.
With his contract, though, that is not about to happen.
2. His own manager could select him.
That is what happened in 2010, when Charlie Manuel used his prerogative as the All-Star team's manager (earned after the Phillies won the 2009 pennant) to take Howard over Joey Votto. It worked out for both players when Votto won the fan vote for the final roster spot on that All-Star team.
For history to repeat itself in this manner, the Phillies will have to win at least another pennant AND Howard will need to have numbers that give his manager a reasonable basis to choose him. Howard hit .253 in 2011 and he is hitting .254 in limited action this season.
If his batting average continues to languish below .260, there is not likely to ever be a reasonable basis for his manager to take him along over an arguably more deserving player.
So what say you? Does he or doesn't he?
3. Another team's manager could select him, i.e., he could play his way onto the team.
This is his best chance.
Howard has three things going for him where this possible berth is concerned: his name, the need to only put up numbers for about two months (those first two months of the season) and the relative lack of dominant first-base talent in the National League.
As things stand, after Votto, first base in the National League is pretty thin. This season, Bryan LaHair of the Chicago Cubs was the backup to Votto on the All-Star team. Do you think LaHair can do that again? You might be the only one. In 2010, Gaby Sanchez made the All-Star team as a Florida Marlin; Sanchez spent part of this season in the minor leagues. It is just not a deep position in the NL.
Then again, if Howard's numbers continue to decline, the thought of, say, Davey Johnson or Dusty Baker taking him over Adam LaRoche or Joey Votto—to say nothing of comers like Freddie Freeman or Anthony Rizzo—stretches the premise beyond believability.
4. He could be an injury replacement.
Apply all of the facts set forth in No. 3. above, then add in the possibility that one or two players ahead of Howard are either: a. legitimately hurt, or b. are just dinged enough not to want to travel to play two innings in an exhibition.
That said, getting in as an injury replacement is always a crap shoot—it helps to be either the sentimental favorite (like Chipper Jones) or the shiny toy (like Bryce Harper.) You can probably figure out where Howard, now 32, will fit on that spectrum in coming seasons.
You can say this for Howard, though: If he gets asked again, you can be reasonably sure he will go.
5. He could win the fan vote for the final spot on the team.
For the same reasons as No. 1. above, Howard is unlikely to sneak onto an All-Star team through the popular vote. Shane Victorino did win the final vote in 2011, though, so the possibility cannot be ruled out.
6. He could be the Phillies' only representative.
You just threw up in your mouth a little, didn't you?
Per the above, luck and timing play as much of a role in making an All-Star team as dominant or just excellent play does. Arguably, Howard's two best seasons saw him miss All-Star teams in favor of stars who had better numbers and/or more votes.
Maybe, just maybe, Howard is due to sneak onto an All-Star team one of these years when objectively he does not "deserve" it.