I was hesitant to discuss the Bryce Harper contract chronicles on Philly2Philly, until he finally put his John Hancock on (at the time) a record-setting contract that offered lifelong security to generations of family members heâ€™ll never even meet.
After a four-month long courtship, amid rumors galore and false reports resulting in (to paraphrase my fiance) â€œa bunch of grown men, checking their phones, constantly, to see if thereâ€™s been any update on Bryce Harper. Is he coming? Is he not coming? Whoâ€™s he talking to? Whoâ€™s he having dinner with? Who did he meet? Who didnâ€™t he meet?â€ itâ€™s safe to say Bryce Harper mania has hit Philly with a frenzy. His new Phillies jersey set a single-day sales record for an jersey launch ever (take THAT, LeBron) and ticket sales have been estimated at almost $8 million (and counting) since his signing.
Yes, itâ€™s early, but Philly loves Bryce Harper, and thatâ€™s clearly something I never thought Iâ€™d joke about, let alone type in Google Docs.
Here are several takeaways from the last several weeks since Harper donned the red pinstripes.
He comes off as a likeable guy
Whether itâ€™s accurate or not, a less-than stellar reputation has seemed to follow Bryce Harper around during the course of his seven-year career.
Granted, with the exception of the All-Star game and some occasional national headlines (no pun intended), my impressions of Harper were basically limited to several trips to Citizens Bank Park and televised games at Nationals Park over the course of the baseball season. Collectively, two things stuck out:
1. Some big, game-winning home runs he hit against the Phillies.
2. He really loves his hair.
3. His 2015 dugout dustup with former Phillies close/villain Jonathan Papelbonâ€”and come on, whoâ€™s going to take Papelbonâ€™s side in anything, even if heâ€™s right?
Basically, my thoughts on Harper were a combination of respecting the tremendous talent that he is, and reconciling the fact he kind of comes off as an absolute hard ass when you donâ€™t see him day in and day out.
I’m not exactly sure if somebody gave Harper a handbook on all the right things youâ€™re supposed to say at his Phillies introductory press conference, but he sure checked almost every box that afternoon at Spectrum Field. Coming across as thoughtful, sincere and the most humble $330 million dollar man you could meet, Harper talked about the family environment Phillies principal owner John Middleton emphasized with his wife, over the course of several flights to visit him in Vegas, the long hours his father, Ron (who is around 25 years older, but appears more jacked than his son) spent with him after working countless hours in the Nevada heat, and the pride he felt after wearing the Phillies uniform for the first time.
Yes, itâ€™s very early in the honeymoon phase, but you couldnâ€™t have found any traces whatsoever of egoism if you tried. Granted, heâ€™s probably going to have some bad games and might not always give a reporter the exact answer theyâ€™re looking for, but my thoughts on Bryce Harper the man changed completely over the course of 60 minutes.
He actually wants to be in Philadelphia!
For a big part of the off season, rumor was that no matter how much money the Phillies threw at Harper, it wouldnâ€™t matter because he didn’t particularly like Philadelphia, and his preference was to stay closer to home on the West Coast. Those rumors were debunked before he signed with the Phillies. The Giants were reportedly offering Harper 12 years and $310 million, but California taxes probably hindered that from ever becoming a reality. If Harper never came to Philly, weâ€™d never know the truth, but thatâ€™s obviously a non-issue.
I donâ€™t care how rich you are, you and your family better like having to stay in one city for over a decade. As it turns out, not only did Harper not want any opt-out in his contract, he seems genuinely happy to be in Philadelphia, wants to make the city his and his future familyâ€™s home, and appears downright ecstatic about it, according to his recent interview on SportsRadio 94WIP.
“For me it came down to where could I see myself. Where could I really see myself helping in the community, helping with a team, helping with the organization and going through that process of 13 years. I didn’t want the opt-outs. I didn’t want to get traded or anything. I really wanted to go through the winning, the losing, the understanding of what a team is all about and going through that long period of time.â€
Harper went on to say more, and you can click the above link to hear the entire interview, but itâ€™s evident that he wants to establish roots in Philadelphia for a long time. He even asked Phillies fans about local Philly hot spots in a recent Instagram post.
Yes, heâ€™s being paid $330 million, but heâ€™s not greedy about it
Any (and I mean any) assumptions as to why it took Harper so long to sign a contract this spring never directly came from Harper the entire offseason. Other than a few posts from his Instagram and Twitter feeds, neither ever involved any reference of a contract negotiation. To be fair, itâ€™s not uncommon for sports fans to assume the reticence of an athlete signing a multi-million dollar contract is based on greed (which this Instagram user made clear to Harperâ€™s wife, Kayla). In this new era of millennial athletes, the majority of the players care less about tradition, pride and championships, and more about the dollar signs and amenities that go with it.
However, unlike Manny Machadoâ€™s guaranteed $30 million he received from the Padres, Harperâ€™s AAV (average annual value), which goes against baseballâ€™s competitive balance tax, is $25.38 million. Yes, Harper wants to be rewarded for his talent, but he wants to win, too. His exorbitant salary wouldnâ€™t allow the team to sign other high-priced free agents unless itâ€™s structured a certain way.
At his introductory press conference, Harper did everything but publicly ask Mike Trout to come to Philly after his contract expires with the Angels in 2020. After the Angels extended Trout this week, the possibility of him playing in Philadelphia will never happen, but there always will be free agents (maybe not of Troutâ€™s caliber) looking to move from one team to another, and something tells me Harperâ€™s just getting started in the recruiting department.
He has a sense of humor
That’s Phamily. pic.twitter.com/ZlywkzxMIV
â€” Cut4 (@Cut4) March 17, 2019
A final thought
Sure, there might have been (as of this writing) historically bigger names in the game that have arrived in Philadelphia via free agency (Pete Rose, Jim Thome), but when all is said and done, Harper, at just 26 years old, could possibly surpass both players on the all-time greats list.
And if he does, heâ€™s going to the Hall of Fame, and heâ€™ll go in wearing a Phillies hat. Never in baseball history has there been a player as young and highly touted, who contractually obligated himself to the City of Brotherly Love (or any city for that matter) for as long as Harper has. Barring injury or some horrible circumstances, the next decade could possibly bring the most glory this long-suffering Phillies franchise has ever seen.
In short, Bryce Harper appears to be in it for the long haul. And if the last few weeks are any indication, baseballâ€™s back in Philly again, and hopefully itâ€™s not going away for the next decade or longer.
Photo: MLB Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports