Last night’s 3-0 loss to the Mets at Citi Field marked the first time since 1983 the Phillies have been shut out in 3 consecutive games, and while their current stretch of offensive futility is well, offensive, far greater umbrage is taken concerning an upcoming promotion by the Phillies’ Eastern League (AA) affiliate in Reading, PA. “(His) face all vaselined up, grinning from ear to ear, kneeling on one knee, and, as he is prone to do, holding a bat like a billy club – all ready to beat back those menacing garden snails,” the Ryan Howard Garden Gnome is, in the words of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Annette John-Hall, “dangerously close to lawn-ornament territory.”

The original jockey statue, standing proud and usually carrying a lantern, shepherded runaway slaves to safety during the days of the Underground Railroad, explained Charles Blockson, curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple.

But as time went on, lawn jockeys were often caricatured as a stooped-over black man with dark skin and painted-in white eyes and big red lips. They were usually displayed on lawns of homes in the South and served no real purpose other than to diminish African Americans.

So you can understand why this Howard gnome thing creeps me out, even if the team’s intentions were to tout its former star.

“Anything we do with Ryan is big here,” said Reading director of operations Kevin Sklenarik, who explained that because Howard played for Reading, the team doesn’t need the Phillies’ permission to use his likeness.