If you’re wondering why Phillies Nation morphed into Bryce Harper Nation within the last seven days, it’s because Harper gave an eye-opening, two-hour-long interview on Barstool Sports’ Starting 9 podcast. Harper was as open and honest as any Philadelphia athlete has been for a long time. He spoke about everything from his experience as baseball’s young prodigy to his entire free agency.
There is so much to digest from the interview. A lot of what he said in that interview has circulated around the internet, including his bold idea to send MLB players to the Olympics. It may be a good idea to delve deeper into what he said and take five important things we’ve learned about the Phillies star slugger.
Harper’s Love For Philadelphia Isn’t Lip Service
From the beginning of his Phillies tenure, it was apparent that Harper was enamored with the blue-collar feel of Philadelphia. At first, I was very skeptical about whether or not he was genuine in what he meant. I brushed off some of what Harper said as pandering.
The interview completely changed my perspective. Harper spoke extensively about his upbringing. He grew up in a lower-middle class family and watched his dad work 10 hour days in the sweltering heat only to pick his son up from school and take him to practice. As he got older, he realized his parents went into debt to help him pursue his dream of playing in the big leagues.
“And I knew, that’s what I had to do,” Harper told Jared Carrabis and Dallas Braden. “I had to do that. That’s instilled in me because I saw my family do that. I saw them work their ass off. I saw them do everything every single day to provide for me and my sister and brother. So when I was going into a city, I knew what these people went through. I understand what they’re going through because my dad did it every damn day.
“That’s what fuels me going out there every single day. I want to play 158 to 162 (games) because those fans worked through their whole week to buy a ticket for a Saturday day game and if I’m not playing, that’s a slap in the face to them. They are the working-class city and they are grinding every single day to get by. And if I can make them happy that Saturday or Sunday, that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to work my freakin’ tail off to do that.”
It’s powerful to hear that coming from Harper, especially as someone who came from a similar upbringing. His feelings on Philadelphia stem from the way he grew up and you can get a sense of that by listening to him speak.
“When I was going through it, I was like ‘What city can do that for me?’ and I was like ‘Philly.’ Not even close. Not even a question. That was scary to me because all I knew was one place for seven years of my career. And for me personally, this is no disrespect to D.C. or anything like that. I love Philly.
“I love those fans. I love the pure emotion the fans and the Philadelphians feel and let out. I mean, you saw it when they won in ’08 and when they were good in ’09. You saw it with the Super Bowl and the Eagles…Philly is the city of underdogs. The hate they feel for every other team? I love it. It’s Philly or nothing.”
The Chicago White Sox Could Have Beaten Out The Phillies For Harper’s Signature
Harper admitted he was not initially enamored with the Phillies. There may have been some truth to the rumors that said he did not want to play in Philadelphia. The then 26-year-old left the first meeting not seeing the fit between the two sides.
“The South Siders” piqued his interest from the get-go.
“I loved that blue-collar feel on the south side of Chicago,” Harper said. “It was kind of like ‘Man, they can be a good team.’ They’ve got a lot of good arms. They got (Michael) Kopech. They got (Reynaldo) López. They got (Lucas) Giolito…They had a lot of good guys and I was like ‘Who is going to hit behind me?’ And I was like ‘Oh shoot, big ole’ first baseman (José Abreu).’ That’s huge for me because he goes about his business, hits .280 every year with 25 (home runs) quietly and nobody really talks about it. But he’s a very good guy to hit behind me. So that was a big thing as well.”Embed from Getty Images
This also tells us that Rhys Hoskins was a big selling point for the Harper signing, possibly bigger than the acquisition of his favorite player J.T. Realmuto. It’s tempting to wonder if Hoskins had put up his 2019 numbers in 2018 if Harper would have signed with the Phillies.
Anyway, Harper continued.
“And I was like ‘Man, these people are going to show up because they are blue-collar and they want to see their freakin’ team win again.’ When they were winning back in the day, that place was sold-out completely. So I met with them and I was like ‘Yeah that was a great meeting.'”
If you didn’t know he was talking about the White Sox, you would think he was talking about the Phillies. It’s shocking to look back and think that Chicago was not a serious bidder for his services. The team had everything Harper was looking for: a blue-collar fanbase, a history of success, payroll flexibility, ownership that’s willing to spend and a core of players on the verge of competing with the top teams in the league. The Phillies had all of the above to offer but if an unbiased observer had to choose between the two team’s core of young talent, most would side with the Sox.
Harper and the White Sox were an almost perfect match. If he had his way, he would have been a National for life. The Phillies may have been his third choice.
Harper And Hunter Strickland Have Squashed Their Beef
In the 2014 National League Division Series, Harper hit two gargantuan home runs off Hunter Strickland. Strickland, who won a World Series with the Giants that year, let his feelings fester and as a result, he threw right at Harper’s backside three years later in a regular season game. Harper charged the mound and it resulted in a meme that closely resembled a bench-clearing brawl:
Last September, Strickland went on the record to say that he is over their beef and Harper feels the same way.
“For him to hit me in the ass, I’m not mad,” Harper said. “It was definitely where I was like, ‘OK, well three years goes down the road like c’mon man. You got a World Series ring with it…’But for him to come back, I respect him for the pure fact of him hitting me in the butt. Because he could’ve came up and in and hit me in the head or anything like that. And he just wanted to fight… I enjoy that. And after that, it was squashed. It was done.”
Aside from politicians and rappers, baseball players may be the pettiest group of men in America. Considering what Harper said above and his thoughts on his eventual split with the Nationals, it’s safe to say that he’s not a part of that group. Harper went on to say that he acknowledges Strickland is “probably a great teammate” and that he “can’t be mad about it.”
It Was No. 1 Pick Or Bust For Harper
A sizeable portion of the interview was dedicated to Harper’s youth career. We all know Harper was deemed “the most exciting prodigy since LeBron” by Sports Illustrated when he was 16. He grew up as the kid that opposing coaches would heckle whenever he’d whiff on a pitch as he went 12-for-12 with 11 home runs and 12 walks in a tournament.
At the end of his second season of high school baseball, he realized that staying in school for two more years wasn’t the best for his development. He earned his GED and enrolled in the College of Southern Nevada and set records, hitting 31 home runs in 66 games and slashing .443./.526/.987.Embed from Getty Images
Harper put pressure on himself to perform and he succeeded. From a young age, he had set the bar as high as he possibly could.
“When I was 10 years old, I told my dad like ‘Dad, I want to be the No. 1 pick,’” Harper said. “Like it wasn’t even like him telling (me), ‘Harp, be the No. 1 pick. Bryce, you need to be the No. 1 pick. You need to do this, you need to do that.’ No, it was like ‘Dad, I’m going to be the No. 1 pick. Watch me.’ For me as a person, in my head, in my mind and in my heart, it was like ‘I can’t slip. I don’t want to slip.’”
For Harper, it was about what he owed to his family and everyone else who supported him to help him get to where he was. He carried an all-or-nothing mentality and honestly, from an outside perspective, it probably didn’t need to come to that. Harper could have carved out a productive and lucrative career even if he slipped out of the first round of the 2010 draft. Maybe he could have transferred to a Division I school and had been the first-overall pick in 2012. For him, however, there was a world of difference between what success and failure looked like, and with that came immense pressure.
Harper Is Built To Withstand The Next 12 Years Of Pressure That Comes With Playing Baseball In Philadelphia
If we’re being honest with ourselves, there’s a real chance that the last few years of Harper’s contract aren’t very pretty. Phillies fans and Harper are still well within the honeymoon phase and it could last for a while, especially if Harper puts up MVP-caliber numbers or leads the team to a championship within the next few years.
This is not going to last forever.
Harper will be heavily criticized and the number of zeros on his contract will continue to be brought up until the Phillies make their final payment in 2031. He’ll be the face of the franchise for a decade and with that comes pressure. Judging by his perception of what pressure really is, he is more than capable of whatever the next 12 years can throw at him.
“If I don’t perform, what do I do?” Harper said. “Do I try to go to school? Am I just going to be an ironworker and go work with my Pops? I had people counting on me more than just myself…It was bigger than me.”
Harper is referring to his year in junior college. He left high school early and sacrificed the last couple of years of his youth to pursue his dream. In fall intrasquad games, Harper found himself in a deep slump. He felt so defeated to the point where he met with his high school principal and asked if he could come back, despite already earning his GED. He was told no and had to find a way to prepare for the fall season. He eventually turned it around.
“I knew I had to do it,” Harper said. “Scott (Boras) was on the line. My parents were on the line. My family. My whole life was on the line that year. Everybody talks about stress and like ‘Oh man he’s struggling,’ and like ‘Yeah OK, I’m going to struggle in the big leagues. It’s going to happen.’
“‘He’s going through a slump or he’s doing this. Like, he’s getting frustrated. He’s doing this.’ And it’s like ‘Guys you don’t understand. Eight years ago, that’s where the stressful situation came in. I have to perform day-in and day-out no matter what.'”
Again, some of the pressure may have been overtly self-imposed, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that he is willing to put his family and everyone else who has ever advocated for him on his shoulders and did way more than just succeed. Failure to him meant not being bigger than what he was supposed to be. He said in the interview that he was okay with working in 120-degree heat as an ironworker in Las Vegas if he failed but everything else he said indicated otherwise.
If he got through that year in junior college, Harper will be just fine when he’s in another deep slump and the fan reaction turns sour. Harper should also be OK if he ever finds himself up to bat in Game 7 of the World Series.
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