One year ago today, the Philadelphia Phillies inked Bryce Harper to a 13-year/$330 million free-agent contract, following what sometimes felt like an endless courting.
Harper had a very strong first season in red pinstripes.
Following a big second-half, Harper finished the season with a slash line of .260/.372/.510, with 35 home runs, a career-high 114 RBIs, 99 walks and a 4.6 fWAR.
Of course, chicks don’t dig walks. They don’t even dig the wOBA, as much as that phrase caught on in the Phillies clubhouse in 2018. They dig the long-ball, and Harper hit 35 of those in his first season with the Phillies, the most a Phillie has hit since Ryan Howard launched 45 in 2009.
With the help of Scott Franzke, the Phillies radio play-by-play announcer on SportsRadio 94 WIP, here’s a look at Harper’s five most memorable home runs in 2019.
5. The One That Went Onto Ashburn Alley
“The weather is warming up, it would be nice to see that bat come right along with it.”
That was how Phillies franchise icon Jimmy Rollins, who was calling the Phillies-Colorado Rockies game on NBC Sports Philadelphia on May 18, introduced Harper’s first inning at-bat.
On cue, Harper’s bat warmed up, as he launched a ball 466 feet, clearing both batter’s eyes and landing on Ashburn Alley.
Franzke said that when he heard the Phillies radio year in review, his call on this particular home run stuck out.
“It was interesting to hear the surprise and sort of the wow-factor in my voice, because it was a total surprise,” Franzke said. “You just don’t see balls travel up there very often. It offered an early glimpse at just how powerful the guy is.”
4. The First Bomb
“The Opening Day thunder got stolen a little bit,” Franzke joked. “Everything was sort of pointing to Bryce, and then Andrew McCutchen hit the home run right away.”
In perhaps the most anticipated Opening Day in Phillies history, the team defeated the Atlanta Braves, the defending National League East Champions, 10-4. McCutchen, as Franzke mentioned, led off with a home run. Maikel Franco homered. Rhys Hoskins put the game on ice with a seventh inning grand slam.
In the grand scheme of things, it was a great day for Harper. He rocked a Pulp Fiction-inspired shirt before the game that featured The Phillie Phanatic and Gritty. During the game, in between standing ovations, he showed off his green cleats the featured his initials and a Phanatic theme. And the Phillies were victorious on Opening Day, capping off a special day at Citizens Bank Park.
All that said, Harper went 0-3 on Opening Day, striking out twice. He did reach on a walk, but from an on-field perspective, Harper had an underwhelming Opening Day. That, of course, happens during a 162-game season.
It was OK, though, because Nick Pivetta was less-than-stellar on the mound for the team’s second game of the season two days later. The Phillies needed offense, and Harper provided some insurance in the bottom of the seventh with a 465-foot home run.
“It was awesome,” Harper said of his first home run as a Phillie to Gregg Murphy of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “That’s one of my favorite homers that I’ve ever had.”
3. The Return
Bryce Harper’s return to Nationals Park after signing with the division-rival Phillies brought with it a playoff environment. Some would say the April 2 game between the Phillies and Nationals had more of a playoff-like atmosphere than some actual playoff games at Nationals Park.
A Nationals fan sitting in the right field stands donned a Jonathan Papelbon jersey, wearing it backwards so Papelbon’s last name and No. 58 faced right field. He held a sign that read “Pardon Papelbon.” Papelbon, of course, got into a physical altercation with Harper in the dugout during the final week of the 2015 season.
That fan perhaps symbolized an entire city’s worth of fans that delivered deafening boos every time Harper stepped to the plate in his first game since leaving the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2010. The first superstar in Nationals history left in free-agency to join a division-rival, and Nationals fans were pissed. Details of the Nationals seemingly weak attempt to retain him be damned.
Future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer did strike out Harper in his first two at-bats in Nationals Park as an opponent. But the Phillies forced the three-time Cy Young Award winner to exhaust 96 pitches through five innings, knocking him out and allowing Harper to feast on the bullpen.
Harper had doubled off Scherzer in the fifth inning, but drove in his first RBI against his former team in the bottom of the sixth inning, when he beat the shift by singling into left field off of Matt Grace to bring home Jean Segura.
As the night went on, Nationals fans got quieter and quieter. Some left. A slew of Phillies fans that bought seats in right feel became more and more audible as the night went out. Harper saluted them as he trotted out to right field for the bottom of the sixth inning, something that became a regular routine during his first season with the team.
In the top of the eighth inning, Harper sent all remaining Nationals fans home and allowed the Phillies fans in the stadium to erupt, as he launched a two-run home run that went 458 feet into the second deck, in, of all places, right field.
Frankze said Harper’s performance that evening – and the home run specifically – was Oscar-worthy.
“In terms of the Hollywood, storybook terms…going to Washington for the first time…that being our first road trip of the year…the game happened to be started by Max Scherzer, their best guy on the mound…obviously he didn’t hit the home run off of Scherzer, but to do it in that game was what we had thought at the time was going to be a big statement. It was certainly fitting that he hit it into that sea of Phillies fans that made the trip down and bought up all those tickets in right field in the bleachers above the scoreboard. It was a titanic shot, and from a storyline standpoint, it couldn’t have been any better.”
2. The McCovey Missile
When Bryce Harper launched a 420-foot home run into the area of Oracle Park where Barry Bonds broke the all-time home run record in August of 2007, his night was cemented as a pretty good one.
Harper, against the team that was considered the runner-up to sign him just five months earlier, extended the Phillies lead to 5-3. As he reached home plate, he put his finger over his lip as if to tell a heckler to quiet down.
But seven years and two days after Bonds broke the home run record at his home stadium, Harper had plans of putting together a pretty special night as a visitor.
Two innings later, with the Phillies having fallen behind 6-5, Harper stepped up with Adam Haseley and Sean Rodriguez already on base. With no one out and lefty Tony Watson on the mound for the Giants, Harper worked a 2-2 count, before launching the fifth pitch of the at-bat into McCovey Cove, and appearing to point out someone in the crowd as he began his home run trot:
This is incredible camera work. You can see Bryce Harper point to the fan chanting “overrated!” after he hit a missile into McCovey Cove. pic.twitter.com/13WrpAWTDz
— Tim Kelly (@TimKellySports) August 10, 2019
Some suggested that it was the Phillies dugout that Harper was pointing to. Perhaps that was the case. That said, Matt Fassnacht of MLB’s Cut 4 reached out to me to tell me he shot the video, and believes Harper was pointing at a fan heckling him, not the Phillies dugout. We like that story a lot more.
“At that time, both teams were fighting for the National League Wild Card,” Franzke said, setting the stage. “The Giants, just about a week before, had made a decision not to trade away [Madison] Bumgarner and kind of stay with it. For Bryce to hit one into the cove [McCovey Cove], it’s been a long time since anybody had done that as a Phillie. I think that Cody Asche was the last one to do it.”
“I think that [night] showed what kind of a red-light player he could potentially be for you, in that when the stakes were at the highest, he came through.”
1. The Grand Finale
The Phillies series with the Chicago Cubs was perhaps the most magical series of the summer. Cole Hamels returned. Charlie Manuel returned to the Phillies dugout as the hitting coach. And Bryce Harper, in powder blue, hit one of the most iconic home runs in the 16 years of Citizens Bank Park.
Though neither of the Phillies or Cubs would ultimately make the playoffs, both were in the thick of the National League Wild Card race when they met in a series finale on Aug. 15. The Cubs nearly avoided a sweep in the final game of the series, until Harper stepped to the plate against Pedro Strop with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, and the Phillies trailing 5-3.
And he hit a grand slam. One that made John Kruk, a three-time All-Star himself, scream “Oh, my God!” as the ball sailed into the second deck. Tom McCarthy, who was calling the game on television for NBC Sports Philadelphia, had perhaps the greatest home run call of his career, channeling his mentor, the late Hall of Famer Harry Kalas, with an “Outta Here!” call.
Franzke, who called the game on radio with Larry Andersen, says he wasn’t sure exactly where the ball would land off the bat. And he still doesn’t know exactly where it landed. But he knows it was one of the most memorable moments that he’s gotten a chance to call.
“To have a walk-off grand slam that comes in the bottom of the ninth, it’s not a tie game – you’re behind. They needed some kind of a hit to get that game tied up or better. And Bryce Harper, against a left-handed pitcher – it was not an easy matchup – made it happen again.”
“I wasn’t sure exactly where it would land. I’m not even sure in the delirium of it all I remember exactly where it did land, to be perfectly honest.”
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