CLEARWATER, Fla. — Forget the financial history. Focus on the baseball history.
Sure, Bryce Harper’s record-setting 13-year, $330 million contract is enormous — in fact, it is the most lucrative in the history of the game — but so are the accomplishments to this point in his career. He comes to the Phillies with a .279 career batting average, a .388 on-base percentage and a .900 OPS. He already has 184 home runs and 521 RBIs.
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The things he has done before the age of 26 are almost always achieved only by guys on their way to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. And, now, you have a chance to watch Bryce Harper as he enters his prime. You have a chance to see him hit his 200th, 300th, 400th, and maybe even his 500th home run.
Mike Schmidt is the only man in franchise history to hit his 500th home run in a Phillies uniform, and his numbers entering his age-26 season — .248 batting average, .366 on-base percentage, .857 OPS with 93 home runs and 266 RBIs — did not compare to what Harper has already accomplished.
Only six Hall of Fame players in Phillies history spent at least 10 seasons with the team. Harper has a chance to be the seventh. Maybe I’m putting the cart in front of the horse, but even if I am, history is on my side.
Consider this: Only 11 men in baseball history had more home runs than Harper’s 184 before age 26. The roll call: Alex Rodriguez (241), Eddie Mathews (222), Jimmie Foxx (222), Mel Ott (211), Mickey Mantle (207), Frank Robinson (202), Mike Trout (201), Albert Pujols (201), Orlando Cepeda (191), Ken Griffey Jr. (189), and Andruw Jones (185).
Seven of those 11 players are in the Hall of Fame. A-Rod would have been and many still believe he should be if not for his affiliation with performance-enhancing drugs. Pujols will be in the Hall of Fame one day, and Trout seems headed that way, too. Only Jones is likely to be left out of the Hall of Fame based on his decline in performance after age 26.
Just below Harper on the home run list before the age 26 are Giancarlo Stanton (181), Johnny Bench (179), Hank Aaron (179), Manny Machado (175), Miguel Cabrera (175), and Joe DiMaggio (168). That’s three more Hall of Famers and three other guys who have a pretty good chance of finding their way to Cooperstown.
What’s more interesting, at least for the Phillies and their fans in the immediate future, is how the above players performed in their 10 seasons after the age of 25. The vast majority of them did not fall off a cliff. In fact, they continued to be outstanding players.
A-Rod, of course, got better with age, but we’ll dismiss his case because of the documented enhancement. But the majority of other young superstars also excelled over the next 10 years beyond the age of 25.
-- Mathews’ slash line (batting average, on-base percentage and OPS) was .266/.370/.853 and he averaged 29 home runs and 86 RBIs over the next 10 seasons after age 25.
-- Foxx was .318/.428/1.025 with an average of 30 home runs and 105 RBIs.
-- Ott was .298/.419/.944 with an average of 28 home runs and 93 RBIs.
-- Mantle was .290/.419/.928 with an average of 31 home runs and 79 RBIs.
-- Robinson was .301/.399/.942 with an average of 30 home runs and 98 RBIs.
-- Trout, in his first year after the age of 25, set career highs with a .460 on-base percentage and a 1.088 OPS.
-- Pujols was .301/.386/.946 with an average of 36 home runs and 108 RBIs.
-- Cepeda was .287/.350/.823 with an average of 19 home runs and 70 RBIs.
-- Griffey was .286/.375/.955 with an average of 35 home runs and 95 RBIs.
-- Jones was .243/.333/.814 with an average of 25 home runs and 73 RBIs.
The natural order of things even for the guys who were not documented cheaters is that great young players usually remain great for quite some time. And, now, the Phillies have Bryce Harper, one of the best young players in baseball history. Sure it was a wild and sometimes frustrating ride waiting for him to get here, but now that he has arrived you can sit back and admire the player.