Bryce Harper makes no bones about it – he loves the city of Philadelphia and the fans. However, he admitted recently that it did take him some time to be able to imagine himself playing his home games at Citizens Bank Park.
Harper spoke at length to Jared Carrabis and Dallas Braden of Starting 9, and said that not only was he not especially interested initially in the idea of joining the Phillies, but he reminded the organization of how much success he and the Washington Nationals had against the team.
“Philly came in. I’ll tell you, they came in and I wasn’t very excited. I was kind of like ‘I played against you guys,’ and I told them this flat out: ‘We kicked your ass for the past couple years.’ I flat out said that to them.”
It’s true, the Phillies went just 16-22 against the Nationals between 2017 and 2018. Harper individually became a Phillie killer over his final two seasons with the Nationals. In 2017, he hit .326 with five home runs and 12 RBIs in 43 at-bats. One of those five home runs was a walk-off home run against the Phillies on Easter Sunday. He only hit .232 against the Phillies in 2018, but still homered four times and drove in 12 runs in 69 at-bats. In parts of seven seasons with the Nationals, Harper absolutely tormented the Phillies, to the tune of 24 home runs, 66 RBIs and 65 walks in 456 plate appearances.
After Cole Hamels famously hit him – and admitted to doing so – on Sunday Night Baseball in his rookie season, Harper became public enemy No. 1 in his Philadelphia. Harper had flowing long hair and accomplished more before his 20th birthday than most people do in their entire lives. Some people don’t like that. And whatever hate Harper got when he played at Citizens Bank Park as an opponent, he says he loved it.
“I remember walking away from that meeting like ‘I don’t know. I think they have a lot of good players…I think they have a great team…I love their fans.’ I mean going into that ballpark and knowing they hate me, I loved it. I absolutely loved it. They were so blue collar, they wanted you to play hard and I know that they respected the way that I played because you could feel it. And they could see that…they could feel that…but they hated my guts. And I loved that. And then it was funny because in 2018 we would go back in there and they loved me. They were like ‘Harp, come to Philly, dude! Go down Broad St., be our Nick Foles’ or whatever.”
Though Harper admitted that he found certain aspects of joining the Chicago White Sox or San Francisco Giants intriguing, it was an offer that came from the Los Angeles Dodgers – after a more positive meeting with the Phillies – that really put things in perspective.
“So, then we came back, we talked again – it went better, it was good. And then, at the last second, the Dodgers came in with like a four-year offer with super high AAV and opt outs. And I got so tired of my whole career in D.C. – even after my first year, man – all everybody talked about was ‘where is he going?’ Like, I was a National for seven years, and all I heard was ‘where is he going?’ from local media…from national media. [They said] ‘Is he gonna go to the Yankees, is he gonna go to Boston?’ Every place I would go it was like that. ‘Oh, he’s gonna come to LA because it’s close to home.’ It was always that, every single year and that was so dragging to me because I’d sit there and go ‘dude, I don’t want to talk about where I’m going because I’m locked in here for seven years. I’m not going to the freaken Yankees [now] – it’s not possible.’ So I was just over that, and when the Dodgers came in with opt outs, I was just like ‘I don’t wanna do that because I just don’t want the opt outs. I want a no-trade clause, I want these people knowing that I am here through the good and the bad, that’s it.'”
After a months-long courting process, the Phillies secured Harper on Feb. 28, 2019, well into spring training. They inked him to a 13-year/$330 million deal, one that included no potential player opt outs and granted Harper a full no-trade clause. Signing such a deal allowed him to take control of narratives that followed his career – there didn’t have to be any more debate about what team he would play for in the future.
In his first season with the Phillies, Harper slashed .260/.372/.510 with 35 home runs, 114 RBIs and a 4.6 fWAR. He also had one of the best defensive seasons of his career, recording nine defensive runs saved and tallying 13 outfield assists.
In the interview, Harper admitted that after the Nationals signed LHP Patrick Corbin, not only did he believe that his time in D.C. was over, but that his former team was likely to win the 2019 World Series. That prediction – one he made before he knew where he would play in 2019 and beyond – proved prophetic, as the Nationals did just that. Meanwhile, despite strong production from Harper – and J.T. Realmuto, the team’s other major offseason pickup – the Phillies went just 81-81 and finished in fourth place in a crowded National League East.
In the end, though, Harper says that his blue collar upbringing made Philadelphia a very desirable destination – and that’s proven to be right so far.
“There’s no better place to be, I can really say that.”
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