Bryce Harper returned home in September from the final game of the season when his wife asked him if he had finally looked at his statistics.
He did whatever he could through the season to avoid looking at his numbers. He told his wife to not tell him what he was hitting, blocked his ears when friends brought up his MVP case, and swiped past them as quickly as he could whenever they fell into his social media feed.
Harper told his wife, Kayla, that he had not yet peeked as he was waiting to come home.
“She goes, OK, well you need to look at what you just did,” Harper said.
What he did in 2021 was put together one of the best offensive seasons in Phillies history and it culminated Thursday with Harper winning the National League’s MVP Award. It was Harper’s second time winning the award, which is voted on by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Harper finished with 348 total points, ahead of Washington’s Juan Soto (274) and San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. (244).
Harper hit 35 home runs and drove in 84 runs while leading the majors in slugging percentage (.615), wOBA (.431), and OPS (1.044). His .309 average was the third-highest in the NL and his 78 extra-base hits led the NL. Harper posted a 1.188 OPS in the second half, nearly willing a flawed Phillies team into the postseason.
His 179 OPS+ is the third-best by a Phillies player since 1900, and he joined Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, and Stan Musial as the only outfielders in baseball history to have 100 runs, 100 walks, 40 doubles, and 35 homers in a season. Harper was so unaware of his numbers that he didn’t realize he made history in September.
“Rob Thomson, kind of made a thing, too, where he was like, you need that baseball,” Harper said of the team’s bench coach. “I was like, ‘Why do I need that baseball?’ And he goes, ‘Well, this is why.’ And he showed me the list of people and how many people that did it. Being able to look back on it, understanding kind of what I did as a player this year, I’m definitely going to remember it and understand the value that it had on the season.”
Shohei Ohtani, the All-Star pitcher and designated hitter for the Los Angeles Angels, was a unanimous choice as American League MVP.
The award caps off a terrific offseason for Harper as he already claimed a Silver Slugger, the Hank Aaron Award, and the Players Association’s NL Outstanding Player Award. Harper became the first Phillies player since Jimmy Rollins to win the MVP. He was presented the award on TV by Mike Schmidt, who won the award three times.
“I think the cool thing about right now is being able to have Mike Schmidt to announce that I did win it.,” Harper said. “Knowing how good Mike Schmidt was and the greatest third baseman of all time and one of the greatest Phillies of all time, having him announce it was a really cool thing. Not only for myself but I think the whole city of Philadelphia and the organization as well.”
Harper’s season was nearly derailed in April when he was hit in the face by a 97 mph fastball. But Harper returned to the lineup just four days later, thankful he had avoided a major injury. But he did not realize that his wrist was hurt as the ball ricocheted off his face and smacked his hand. And he underestimated the toll the incident would take on him mentally. He struggled through the next few weeks as teams were not afraid to challenge him with fastballs, the pitch that nearly hit him in the eye.
“I needed to sit back and, ‘Ok. I need to get my wrist right and I need to get my mental state right and get back into where I need to be,’” Harper said.
He missed 10 games on the injured list, worked with the team’s mental skills coach, and returned refreshed. Harper started the team’s final 72 games and registered a .713 slugging percentage in the second half, the third-best in franchise history.
“When he runs out there every day, he’s diving, he’s running into walls, he’s stealing bases. It’s not just a guy who is doing one thing. He’s the whole package,” Girardi said. “For him to maintain for those 72 games and be extremely productive, I mean to have a .700 slug after the break, that’s unheard of. That’s incredible. That’s what he did for us. It was fun to watch.”
The Phillies have failed to reach the postseason in Harper’s three seasons after he signed a $330 million contract. But he shouldered little blame for their latest playoff miss. One of their main goals this offseason is to find a power hitter to slot into the lineup and protect Harper, who was intentionally walked 14 times with runners in scoring position. Only three batters were intentionally walked more in those situations.
The Phillies have the MVP, but they need to find a way to protect him in the lineup. If they do, the MVP could be even better.
“I don’t want to check anything off, of course. I have 10 more years there,” Harper said. “So I never want to check off and say, hey, I did it, I don’t have to do it again. I want to keep doing that, come in every single year, ready to go, ready to play. Last season was a great season for myself, but as you said, our main goal and as an organization is to win a World Series. I’ve said that so many times to you guys and all the other beat writers.
“That’s my goal. That’s our main goal and that’s how we should look at every single season. Of course you look at the season and that’s what you play for each year. Individual accolades, they’re great. I’m so excited to win this win and be part of this, but at the end of the year, you’re going to remember, man, we should have done this or we should have done that. Or if we win this game we’re in it. Our main goal for the team, the organization and myself is to win a World Series. That’s what I want to do. But also I’m going to come in each year and be ready to play a full season and do everything I can to be a part of that.”