CLEARWATER, Fla. – First, Bryce Harper had to watch his former team celebrate a wild-card berth from the visiting dugout at Nationals Park late last September. Five weeks later, the Phillies’ right fielder tuned in from his Las Vegas home as the Washington Nationals won their first World Series title.
Had he been handed that script immediately after signing with the Phillies for 13 years and $330 million a year ago in spring training, he likely would have crumbled it up and tossed it in the nearest garbage can inside the Spectrum Field clubhouse.
Harper, however, refused to be anything but happy for his former team and teammates despite being the target of massive and sometimes mean-spirited Internet trolling after the Nationals beat the Houston Astros in Game 7 of last year’s World Series.
“Not at all [upset],” Harper said. “Those are guys I dealt with every single day. That’s a great organization. They have great players. They had the best pitching staff in all of baseball, I thought, last year. I was very happy for them as a team and, of course, as individuals. I let that be known through text messages and other things like that.”
The notion that Harper’s departure from Washington had anything to do with the Nationals’ ascent to the top of the baseball world is as ridiculous as Astros owner Jim Crane claiming that his team’s heinous sign-stealing tactics in 2017 did not impact the outcomes of games. If anything, the Nationals would have been even better if Harper had decided to remain in Washington for a lot less money than the Phillies were willing to pay him.
Adam Eaton, who replaced Harper in right field for the Nationals, is a really good player who had a terrific 2019 season and a sensational World Series. He is not better than Harper, a six-time All-Star with an MVP award, and he never will be.
If Nationals fans want to believe that Harper’s departure had anything to do with their team winning the World Series, they are free to do so. It does not make them bad people. It just makes them delusional. Nationals fans can also continue to boo Harper every time he steps to the plate down in D.C., although it’s an act as silly as Phillies fans turning on Jayson Werth after he took the far more lucrative deal to join Washington following the 2010 season.
When contract offers are similar, a player has to weigh how much he likes his current home. When the offers were as far apart as the ones pushed in front of Harper and Werth, the only sensible decision is to take the money and run.
Harper also is not the reason that the Phillies only managed to play .500 baseball in 2019. He did not have his best season, but he had a really good year despite missing the first three weeks of spring training and dealing with the pressure of a huge contract.
In addition to the 330 million reasons Harper should not have any regrets about leaving Washington, the 27-year-old right fielder also has a dozen more seasons to attempt to win a World Series with the Phillies.
Harper arrived in spring training Sunday for the start of his second season with the Phillies and he was every bit as optimistic as he was a year ago when he was brought to Clearwater amid much fanfare on owner John Middelton’s private plane.
“I think everyone knows this is going to be a juggernaut of a division,” Harper said. “So we have to start out quick and we’ve got to play well all year long.”
Harper said he thinks the Phillies have enough talent to compete for the division title even though the sentiment outside Philadelphia seems to be that the team remains short when measured against the Nationals, the Braves, and the Mets.
“[The Nationals] have three top-end pitchers that are very tough, especially in a five-game series or that wild-card game,” Harper said. “I think they’re definitely going to be tough. Losing Anthony Rendon is definitely something that’s going to hurt them, but I think they’ll be OK with the guys they do have. And then the Braves, that lineup is still one of the best in baseball.
“We just have to worry about what we’re doing here and not about those teams. Go in and play the right baseball and hopefully have a good record at the end of the year and be where we need to be.”
Harper is eager to work with new manager Joe Girardi and that feeling is mutual. Girardi has managed more than his share of superstars and he’s eager to find out what Harper is all about.
“Oh, I’m really curious,” Girardi said. “I also want to see how he handles it – being that guy. There’s a lot that comes up when you’re that guy and how you handle expectations. I’ll be a part of trying to help him deal with all of those expectations. I’m curious to watch how this unfolds. You get a guy like Bryce Harper, you’re always excited to manage a guy like that.”