Analysis

From rival to revered: Philly fans will love fiery superstar Bryce Harper



Though he has been maturing with age and experience, Harper remains a fiery competitor who will become a Phillies fan favorite. (Johnmaxmena2/WikiCommons)

He is a power-hitting version of Pete Rose. A fiery competitor who is a genuine superstar in Major League Baseball. Now, just as Rose did exactly 40 years ago, Bryce Harper will transform from a feared and hated rival to a revered hero in Philadelphia.

After a months-long pursuit of the 26-year-old free agent, the Philadelphia Phillies have come to a 13-year agreement that gives Harper the largest contract in U.S. pro sports history and will add him to what was already a vastly improved ball club.

In conjunction with other moves that the club had previously made this off-season, the Phillies now have to be considered as favorites to win the National League East Division crown. This addition helps to transform the team immediately into a World Series favorite as well.

Harper is a Las Vegas, Nevada native who became one of the most hyped young baseball players in decades. He had been called “Baseball’s Lebron“, referring to basketball superstar Lebron James, when Harper appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old high schooler a decade ago.

Drafted by the Washington Nationals out of a Nevada junior college with the first overall pick of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft, Harper was selected two spots ahead of the other big name free agent whom the Phillies also pursued this off-season, Manny Machado.

The wait is over: Bryce Harper agrees to contract with the Phillies

In his lone full minor league campaign back in 2011, Harper blitzed through two levels with a .297/.392/.501 slash line. He banged out 17 homers and stole 26 bases in 109 games that summer, reaching Double-A as an 18-year-old.

After a brief stint to begin the 2012 season at Triple-A Syracuse, Harper received the call to Washington at the end of April. Other than a couple of injury rehab stints early in his career, he has never returned to the minor leagues.

In that 2012 season with the Nationals at just age 19, Harper slashed .270/.340/.477 with 22 homers, 57 extra-base hits, 59 RBI, and 98 runs scored. He was named to the National League All-Star team that summer, and when the season was over he received the NL Rookie of the Year Award.

Finishing 80-81 the year before, a distant 21 games behind the Phillies, Harper helped spark the Nationals to a franchise-record 98-win season as a rookie. Washington snapped the Phillies five-year string of NL East titles and took over as the division’s perennial power team.

In his seven seasons there, Washington would capture four NL East crowns and finish second in each of the other three years. Unfortunately, playoff heartbreak became a regular occurrence for those Nationals teams. The club lost in the NLDS all four times that they reached the postseason, with three of those series going the distance.

Harper has produced a career .279/.388/.512 slash line. The left-handed slugger has belted 184 home runs and 183 doubles. Harper has also stolen 75 bases over his career and produced 521 RBI with 610 runs scored. Over the course of his career, Harper has accumulated a 27.4 total WAR value.

Despite the fact that his 2013-14 and 2017 seasons were cut short by injury, Harper has been a six-time NL All-Star. His best year came back in 2015 when at age 22, Harper won the National League Most Valuable Player award and his lone career Silver Slugger award.

Fans may recall an infamous run-in between Harper and closer Jonathan Papelbon in September of 2015 in a game against the Phillies. Papelbon had been dealt away by the Phillies to the Nationals in July of that season in exchange for Nick Pivetta.

In that incident, Harper had popped out to left field. On his return to the dugout, Papelbon immediately came after him and the two exchanged words over what the reliever felt was a failure of Harper to run out the play. Papelbon then charged Harper, grabbing him by the throat and shoving him against the dugout wall before the two were separated.

Phillies fans are very well aware of Papelbon’s asinine personality from his 2012-15 years here. While it is certainly hard to hold it against Harper for getting under the skin of the abrasive Papelbon, there have been a number of times over his first handful of seasons that Harper has lost his cool. He became known for tossing his helmet and bats and was ejected from games a number of times.

However, with experience and maturity in both his career and in life, Harper has mostly turned that reputation around. He was tossed just once last season. Jamal Collier at MLB.com quoted him last September 15, just a week prior to that lone 2018 ejection:

That’s my biggest thing this year, I don’t wanna get tossed. I think I go to the edge and kind of quiet up. Because there’s no reason to. At the end of the day, if I’m 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, it’s just part of the game. I’d rather be 0-for-4 or 4-for-4 and not get thrown out of the game, where I’m only 0-for-2 and we lose the game in the eighth or the ninth.

In December 2016, Harper married his longtime lady, the former Kayla Varner. The two are both practicing Mormons, and the new bride gave this personal insight to Esther Lee at The Knot:

He’s this big, professional baseball player and you would never know it off the field because he treats everyone with respect and is genuine. He’s selfless, the most selfless guy ever… I think that’s what always attracted me to him. And he’s goofy and funny—he loves to play pranks on me, and as much as I get annoyed by it, I secretly love it—he’s just the best. I love him.”

This is the Harper that fans should be seeing as he moves through what should be the prime years of his career in a Phillies uniform. A player who wears his emotions on his sleeve, and who will occasionally lose control of those. But also, one who is multi-talented, plays the game hard, and who is a fun and genuine person.

Playing his home games at Citizens Bank Park could elevate Harper’s power numbers to another level. Phillies fans have not seen this type of consistent game power in the lineup since Ryan Howard‘s heyday nearly a decade ago.

Asked by Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic as to how he would handle the addition of a Harper, Kapler stated the following:

I would handle it the way I would handle any other major challenge, by throwing all of my energy and effort into supporting a superstar player and raising the bar for them simultaneously. Those are two things we can do around here very well — support players and raise the bar for them. I don’t think you can do one without the other. I don’t think you can ask or challenge a player to do things differently if you don’t first come with a high degree of support and care.

With veterans such as Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, and Jake Arrieta in the dugout, and with a homegrown leader in Rhys Hoskins, the skipper shouldn’t have anything to worry about as all of the new personalities and talent begin to mesh into a cohesive unit.

This announcement should also serve as a lesson to the many Phillies and general baseball fans who bought into every rumor that popped up for weeks that Harper didn’t want to come here or was leaning in some other direction. That lesson? Don’t jump at every Twitter or internet rumor being pushed by some source just because they have a blue check-mark next to their name.

This likely puts a capper on what has clearly been the single greatest off-season in Philadelphia Phillies history. Kudos especially to general manager Matt Klentak for getting the work done, and to principal owner John Middleton for his leadership – and his money. I think that I can speak for most of the fan base when I say, let’s wrap this story now so that I can go to the website and order some Phillies tickets.

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Troy B

    February 28, 2019 at 11:11 pm

    When the Phillies got Pete Rose, they got a proven winner who hustled on every play, not just when he felt like it. Will Harper do that with the Phils? If he does, then perhaps I will come to like him like I learned to revere Pete. From his track record so far, Harper lovers are asinine and Papelbon, for all his issues, is right.

    • Ken Bland

      March 1, 2019 at 12:42 pm

      Like fame, affection can be a fleeting thing. It’d be kind of ironic if Harper became revered beyond choosing the Phils for things like hustle just like Rose has done more than enough to be looked at a lot less positively by those to who
      loved his style as a player.

      So far, he seems a like what idealists would want based on the values that he applied in his search.

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