By Art Beitchman

When aging power hitters start to lose their skills and slip, they never regain what they once had in their prime.

It’s no different for 36-year old Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who’s hitting .148 through 53 games. He’s already been supplanted by Tommy Joseph at first, relegating the Big Piece to the bench and pinch-hitting.

Though he did get a couple starts at Toronto this week as a designated hitter — and homered — it’s time for the face of the Phillies’ incredible 2007-2011 stretch to retire.

It’s hard to do, but in pro sports it’s inevitable.

Hall of Famer and Yankee great Mickey Mantle hit .237 in his final season of 1968, 89 percentage points higher than Howard is hitting this year, but the Mick simply said “I can’t play anymore” when he retired in 1969, leaving $100K (top salary in MLB at that time) contract on the table.

Even though he would be leaving baseball almost completely broke, one the most accomplished power hitters in MLB history would not stand for anything but the greatness he played with for 18 MLB seasons.

Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt also was watching his enormous skills a erode at age 39 back in 1989, when he was batting a paltry .203 after 42 games. So on May 29 Schmidt had a news conference to make the announcement that he was retiring.

Through tears he broke down and cried as the moment was all too real for the Phillies’ all-time greatest player, he said, “I feel I could ask the Phillies to keep me on to add to my statistics, but my love for the game won’t let me do that.”

Schmidt left the better part of $2.25M on the table, again the highest salary of the day to retain his dignity for the sport.

Ryan Howard, who is due $25M this season, should follow in the footsteps of Mantle and Schmidt and retire from MLB with dignity.