Bryce Harper is only 31 and can talk his way into several exclusive clubs

By | March 15, 2024

Bryce Harper is still just 31 and could work his way into several exclusive clubs originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Over the next two weeks leading up to Phillies Opening Day on March 28, we’ll be taking a daily look at the biggest questions and storylines surrounding the team in 2024.

Some baseball players avoid the attention like it’s an annoying 98 mile per hour heater, going up and down and heading straight for their coconut like a heat-seeking missile. Some, immediately after a big blow, limit their acknowledgment of the cheer to a brief, perfunctory curtain call, seemingly embarrassed by being thrust into the spotlight.

And then there’s Bryce Harper.

Somewhere along the way, the Phillies first baseman picked up a nickname: The Showman. It fits. If all the world is a stage, he’ll audition for the lead role. It’s already part of franchise history that in his first game at Citizens Bank Park in 2019, after signing a 13-year, $330 million contract, he wore custom lime green Phanatic cleats. And that was just the beginning.

When he hit the 300th home run of his career last season, he not only bounced out of the dugout to greet the home crowd’s standing ovation, he posed, brushed and kissed the Phillies logo on his jersey. When he homered on his 31st birthday, he blew out candles on a cake as he walked around the plate.

When he gets a keystroke, his cheers are irrepressible. He gestured to the nap, raised his arms in triumph and shouted his joy to the heavens.

The showman? Heck, he often wears a headband with the nickname proudly displayed during games. And if there are some who find it off-putting, who consider it pandering, baseball is part of the entertainment industry. Harper can be extremely entertaining. And there is no indication that this detracts from his performance. End of discussion.

And that is ultimately the most crucial piece of the puzzle. This flamboyant personality only works because he tends to produce when it matters most. He doesn’t just meet the moment. He looks him in the eye, shakes his hand and takes a selfie with it.

FATHER

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

RISP

1,587

59

540

.292

.438

.512

.949

RISP/2 off

641

22

194

.281

.465

.499

.964

High leverage

1,228

48

312

.280

.404

.507

.911

Postseason

215

16

31

.276

.383

.613

.996

Which begs the question: Is there a connection between the kind of person who can not only handle, but also embrace, the intense criticism that comes with celebrity? Maybe even necessary? Consider Curt Schilling, perhaps the best big-game pitcher of his generation. Think Reggie Jackson, Mr. October. Both had outsized personalities to go along with their preternatural ability to consistently rise to the occasion.

On the other hand, soft-spoken introverts can be just as reliable when push comes to shove. Chase Utley was the prototypical strong, silent type and at the same time he was considered the best second baseman in the game. Six-time All-Star and 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto is a career .294 hitter with a .920 lifetime. These numbers increase to .321/1.042 with runners in scoring position and .313/.999 in high-leverage situations.

Dr. Joel Fish is a Philadelphia-based sports psychologist who has coached youth athletes, Olympians and professionals for more than 25 years, including a stint working directly for the Phillies. And his answer is no.

“In my experience, there is no relationship between artists and personality,” he said, adding the caveat that he does not know Harper and speaks only in generalities. “Between guys who are more outgoing and guys who consistently perform better under pressure. I think they’re very different traits.”

Dr. Fish believes it all comes down to mental toughness.

“When you look at Major League Baseball players, you see a whole range of personality types who have been able to perform under pressure over time,” he continued. “The more extroverted (players, like Harper) are more present. We are attracted to them in a way. But if you ask me about the connection between performance and personality, I don’t see that. I think there is There is a whole range of personality types that can perform well under pressure.

“In sports psychology we say it’s a package deal. Every trait has an upside and a downside. Sometimes, but not always, there are guys who hog the spotlight or act out in a daring way, sometimes using players who are daring as a way to mentally prepare for a big moment and love to challenge themselves in that specific way.

“And there are other guys who prefer to go more inward before the big moment. Keep it simple. Narrow the focus. Stay off the radar.”

Whatever the explanation, it’s clear that Harper isn’t deterred by living in the bull’s-eye. This is a good business. He’s been dealing with it since he was 16 years old and appeared on the cover of Sports illustrated along with a headline that read: BASEBALL’S CHOSEN ONE.

As he approached his 300th career home run last season, he downplayed the significance of the achievement, portraying it as a relatively minor milestone. And from one perspective, he’s right. He enters next season as one of 159 players to reach the big 3-0-0.

But here’s another way to frame that. According to Baseball-Reference.com, there have been 23,114 players in Major League history. And only 159 have hit that many home runs.

The Phillies’ 2024 season begins March 28 at Citizens Bank Park against the Braves. And since Harper doesn’t turn 32 until October 16, there’s every reason to believe he’ll continue to climb the charts if he stays healthy. If he does, the clubs he is admitted to will become increasingly exclusive. There are currently 58 players who have reached 400 home runs, 28 who have reached 500, nine who have reached 600 and only four – Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Albert Pujols – with 700.

Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who now ranks 16th all-time with 548 career bombs, believes Harper will at least easily pass 500 in the coming years. “I have no doubt he will,” Schmitty told the Philadelphia Inquirer last year. “Plus, Bryce will have a few more MVPs in that time.”

Wait what? Did he really just say that? Let’s rewind the tape to make sure we heard it right.

. . . broadcast that ni sPVM as elpuoc and evah lliw ecyrB

Yes, he said it. Let’s think for a moment about the weight of this seemingly thoughtless comment. Harper already has a pair of Most Valuable Player Awards in his trophy case, winning one with the Nationals in 2015 and the other with the Phillies in 2021.

With just one more player, he would be added to the ultra-exclusive fraternity of eleven players to win at least three MVPs.

And two? Well, if Schmidt turns out to be Nostradamus here, Harper will only be riding Bonds in every MVP Award stacking match.

PLAYERS WITH MULTIPLE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER PRIZES

SEVEN

Barry Bonds

THREE

* Mike Trout
Albert Pujols
Alex Rodriguez
Mike Schmidt
Mickey Mantle
Yogi Berra
Roy Campanella
Stan Musiaal
Joe DiMaggio
Jimmy Foxx

TWO

* Shohei Ohtani
*Bryce Harper
Miguel Cabrera
Juan González
Frank Thomas
Cal Ripken Jr.
Robin Yount
Dale Murphy
Joe Morgan
Johnny Bank
Frank Robinson
Roger Maris
Ernie Banks
Willie Mays
Ted Williams
Henk Groenberg
Hal Nieuwhouser
Carl Hubbell
Mickey Cochrane
Lou Gehrig
Rogers Hornsby
Walter Johnson

*Active player

He must be given sufficient opportunities to do so. He has four more seasons before he turns 35. There have been eleven players who have won an MVP even older than that arbitrary cutoff. And Harper is known as a fitness fanatic, so there’s no telling how long he’ll be able to compete at the highest level.

OLDEST PLAYERS TO WIN A MOST VALUABLE PLAYER AWARD*

Year

Player

Age

2004

Barry Bonds (SF)

40 years, 71 days

1979

Willie Stargell (Pit)**

39 years, 208 days

2003

Barry Bonds (SF)

39 years, 66 days

2002

Barry Bonds (SF)

38 years, 67 days

1992

Dennis Eckersley (oak)

38 years, 1 day

2001

Barry Bonds (SF)

37 years, 75 days

1986

Mike Schmidt (Phi)

37 years, 8 days

1952

Hank Sauer (CHC)

35 years, 195 days

1943

Spud Chandler (NYY)

36 years, 21 days

1981

Rollie Fingers (Mil)

35 years, 41 days

2022

Paul Goldschmidt (STL)

35 years, 25 days

Even with the exception of Bonds, who continues to deny that his late-career dominance was fueled by steroids, this list still provides ample ammunition for the premise that there is no magical dividing line on the calendar after which a player is disqualified from advancing to to be elected to the top. performer in its class.

As mind-boggling as the idea of ​​winning four MVPs is, it sometimes seems like Harper can do whatever he wants with a bat in his hands. Of course he can’t do that, but he often projects that image.

The Phillies lost Game 2 of the National League Division Series to the Braves last October. Not only that, the match ended ugly.

Harper was on first with one out in the top of the ninth when Nick Castellanos drilled a long line drive to deep right-center field. Instead of waiting halfway to see if the catch had been made, Harper put down his head and ran away as if he were being chased by a pack of barking dogs. He was well around second and on his way to third when Atlanta centerfielder Michael Harris II made a phenomenal leaping catch. He was easily doubled and the Braves evened the best-of-five series at one game apiece.

Afterward, in the jubilant clubhouse at Truist Park, Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia circled the room happily, cackling over and over again in a loud voice, “Ha ha! Atta boy, Harper!’

When these comments were reported, Phillies teammates’ Spidey senses were on high alert. “They looked at me and said, ‘What are you going to do?’ Harper said.

What he did in the next game was hit a three-run home run in the third inning… and stare at Arcia as he took second.

Just in case anyone missed the run, he homered from the fifth and started over at shortstop as he rounded the bases.

The Showman responded by putting on a show, that’s what he did. No one in the clubhouse was surprised.

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