Getting to know Bryce Harper beyond the home runs and all those zeroes in his contract. He received his GED while he was still in high school and had photos of his bride sewn into the jacket he wore on his wedding day. Now, if he can just get the Phillies back into the playoffs ...
1. Harper is a six-time All-Star, unanimous 2015 MVP, and 2012 Rookie of the Year, and has been on the national radar since before he could apply for a driver’s license.
2. He is 10 years removed from being a teenager on the cover of Sports Illustrated and is the most-heralded free agent to sign with the Phillies.
3. Notable Phillies free-agent signees and their ages that first season: first baseman Pete Rose, 1979, 38; catcher Lance Parrish, 1987, 31; 1B/LF Gregg Jefferies, 1995, 27; third baseman David Bell, 2003, 30; first baseman Jim Thome, 2003, 32; leftfielder Raul Ibanez, 2009, 37; LHP Cliff Lee, 2010, 32; closer Jonathan Papelbon, 2012, 31; RHP Jake Arrieta, 2018, 32; left fielder Andrew McCutchen, 2019, 32.
4. Harper struggled badly in the first two months of last season, hitting .209 with a .347 on-base percentage. But, after June 20, Harper hit .283 with .430 OBP.
5. Phillies beat writer Scott Lauber offers this projected lineup:
1, LF Andrew McCutchen (R)
2. RF Bryce Harper (L)
3. SS Jean Segura (R)
4. 1B Rhys Hoskins (R)
5. C J.T. Realmuto (R)
6. CF Odubel Herrera (L)
7. 3B Maikel Franco (R)
9. 2B Cesar Hernandez (S)
6. This will be the second time the Phillies have two former MVPs (Harper and McCutchen) who won the award for other teams. The other was 36 years ago, when former Reds Pete Rose and Joe Morgan helped the Phillies win the 1983 NL pennant.
7. Harper’s 2015 MVP season included league bests in runs (118), homers (42), on-base (.460), slugging (.649), and OPS (1.109). He also established a career high by hitting .330. At the end of the year, he got into a fight in the dugout with teammate Jonathan Papelbon, who was barking at Harper for not running out a fly ball. Not that it matters, but the Nationals were eliminated from playoff contention the day before.
8. Harper last year became the 22nd player to register 100 RBIs, 100 runs, and 125 walks in a season. Mike Trout hasn’t done this, but two Phillies have (Bobby Abreu, 2004; Mike Schmidt, 1983). Babe Ruth did it 10 times; Barry Bonds, eight; Ted Williams, seven.
9. Trout could have had that 100-100-125 last season if not for a wrist injury. Trout’s 2018 WAR was 10.2; Harper’s was 1.3. Trout’s career WAR is 64.3. Harper’s is 27.4. Each guy’s first full season was 2012.
10. Harper’s childhood hero was Mickey Mantle, the Hall of Famer who famously wore No. 7 for the Yankees from 1951-68. When Harper was a kid, he played on a team on which the No. 7 was unavailable. “So I took 34,” he told USA Today in 2013. “I always thought, ‘Three plus four equals seven.’ I also wore 16."
11. While the Phillies did honor Roy Halladay with a place on the team’s Wall of Fame last summer, they have not retired his No. 34.
12. If Harper would rather not take Doc’s number, he could make a deal with Maikel Franco, who wears No. 7, or with Cesar Hernandez (No. 16), Dylan Cozens (25), Nick Pivetta (43), Jose Alvarez (52), or Edubray Ramos (61). He also could wait out minor-league infielder Arquimedes Gamboa, who is wearing No. 70 in camp.
13. He helped the Nationals to four postseason appearances in his seven full seasons. They lost in the first round each time.
14. Harper is a career .211 hitter in the playoffs, with a .315 OBP. In the regular season, he’s a career .279 hitter with a .388 OBP.
15. Harper’s 14 homers at Citizens Bank Park are his most outside of Washington. The Phillies pitchers he’s gone deep against in South Philly: Aaron Nola (3); David Buchanan, A.J. Burnett, Tyler Cloyd, Justin De Fratus, Jeanmar Gomez, Kyle Kendrick, Adam Loewen, Brett Oberholtzer, Sean O’Sullivan, Yacksel Rios, and Vince Velasquez (1 each).
17. Had the nickname “Bam Bam” as a kid, either as a nod to the Flintstones character or the initials of his name -- Bryce Aron Max (Harper).
18. ”Boom-Boom” Beck, who pitched for the Phillies during the early 1940s, also was born on Oct. 16 (in 1904). How’s that for a coincidence.
19. In his eighth career game, Harper was intentionally plunked in the back by Phillies lefty Cole Hamels, who afterward said, “I was trying to hit him. I’m trying to continue the old baseball. I think some people kind of get away from it.” Harper eventually scored by stealing home, though the Phillies won the game, 9-3.
20. Harper has just eight hits in 43 career plate appearances against Hamels: seven singles and a double (and one RBI). The Phillies will visit Hamels and the Chicago Cubs on May 20-23 and host the Cubs on Aug. 13-15.
21. Harper missed 31 games in 2013 because of bursitis in his left knee and 57 the following year after he tore ligaments in his left thumb while diving into third base for a triple. He injured the same thumb in high school, also diving into a bag. He injured his knee when he slipped on a wet first-base bag in August 2017, and it nagged him the rest of the season.
22. Played in a career-high 159 games in 2018.
23. Earned his GED after his sophomore year of high school so he could attend Southern Nevada junior college and become eligible to be drafted in 2010. This allowed him to become a free agent as young as possible. Yes, this was all planned.
24. Married high school sweetheart Kayla Varner in December 2016. His suit jacket on his wedding day was tailored with pictures of Varner.
25. As a sophomore at BYU, Varner scored on a penalty kick against Marquette to send the Cougars women’s soccer team to the 2012 NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. She played her final two seasons at Ohio State.
26. Harper created a stir in Class A ball in 2011, when he blew a kiss toward a pitcher he had just homered off. Harper, 18 at the time, was hit by a pitch the day before.
27. The pitcher, Zachary Neal, appeared in 31 games in the majors, though he never faced Harper. Neal signed to play in Japan in November.
28. Harper caught VGK fever when his hometown Vegas Golden Knights made a historic run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Harper dropped the puck for the opening faceoff for a game against Washington during the Knights’ inaugural season while wearing an Alex Tuch jersey.
29. “I’ve fallen in love with hockey,” Harper told USA Today during last spring’s NHL playoffs. “When we have kids, I want them to play hockey. How awesome would that be? I can’t imagine being on the ice and playing such a cool sport."
30. Tuch, who signed a seven-year, $33.25 million extension last fall, was asked by the Las Vegas Review-Journal what advice he had for Harper. “It’s a little different ballpark of money and sport and everything like that,” Tuch said, laughing. “I bet Bryce is going to be making my numbers look really, really small.”
31. Harper won the Home Run Derby at last year’s All-Star Game, beating the Braves’ Freddie Freeman, the Dodgers’ Max Muncy, and the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber.
32. Harper put on a show in the final round to become the third player to win the competition in his home ballpark. The Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg (1990) and Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier (2015) are the others.
33. Harper’s older brother, Bryan, was in the Nationals system as a left-handed reliever but has never made it past triple A.
34. Bryce Harper was at home in the D.C. area on the night of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting massacre across from Mandalay Bay. Harper recalled the evening to the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “About 2 a.m., my wife, Kayla, shook me and said, ‘Something is happening in Las Vegas,’ I started texting, immediately, my friends and relatives to see if everybody was OK. My brother [Bryan] was at the Golden Knights game, I made sure he was safe.”
35. Harper and fellow Las Vegas native Kris Bryant, a third baseman for the Cubs, were about to play in the 2017 NLDS when the tragedy occurred. The two appeared together in a video in support of the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund. “When you go through something like that from afar, you want to do everything you can,” Harper said. “That’s what we were able to do, reach across the country.” The two were teammates in youth baseball.
36. Dressed up as the character “Ghost” from Game of Thrones before a Nationals road trip late in the 2017 regular season. Jayson Werth was “Jon Snow.”
37. Appeared on ESPN’s College Football Game Day before the Michigan-Ohio State game in November and correctly picked 11 of 12 games. His picks went 8-3-1 against the spread, and he was the only panelist to pick Ohio State (4.5-point underdog) to win outright. Desmond Howard, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso each picked Michigan, which was trounced (again), 62-39.
38. Was yanked from a 2014 game for what then-manager Matt Williams said was Harper’s "inability to run 90 feet.” His spot in the lineup came up with the game on the line in the ninth inning, but replacement Kevin Frandsen grounded out.
39. Gabe Kapler will be the fifth manager Harper has played for in his eight big-league seasons. Davey Johnson (2012-13), Matt Williams (2014-15), Dusty Baker (2016-17), and Dave Martinez (2018) are the others.
40. Harper turned down a 10-year, $300 million deal from the Nationals in September that Nationals owner Mark Lerner acknowledged was a low-ball offer. “I really don’t expect him to come back at this point. I think they’ve decided to move on,” Lerner told USA Today. “There’s just too much money out there that he’d be leaving on the table. That’s just not [agent Scott Boras'] MO — to leave money on the table.”