Hope appeared to be lost for Phillies fans. Excitement turned to anger as reports trickled out earlier this week that Bryce Harper was leaning toward playing for a West Coast team instead of Philadelphia, his expected destination this offseason. Around noon on Feb. 28, the Washington Post ran an article headlined “‘Good riddance’: Some Phillies fans are eager to boo Bryce Harper when he signs elsewhere.” Just a few hours later, the Harper sweepstakes was over.
Now Phillies fans can finally relax. If they want to boo, it’ll be for one of their own.
Harper, the 26-year-old former National League MVP, has agreed to a record-setting 13-year, $330-million contract with the Phillies. It’s the highest contract in North American sports history, according to the Post.
Instead, it may now be D.C. fans who boo Harper, the Nationals’ former crown jewel.
Washington drafted Harper No. 1 overall in 2010 and the Las Vegas native played his first major league game on April 28, 2012. The Nats lost, 4-3, to the Los Angeles Dodgers that day, but Harper went 1 for 3 and had a double and an RBI in his debut at Dodger Stadium. Since then he has become one of the most dynamic—and polarizing—players of his generation.
Walk around the concourse at Nationals Park, and you’ll likely see more Harper jerseys than any other player. His was the 13th most sold jersey in 2018. Few other MLB athletes resonate in pop culture like Harper can. Clown question, bro. Me-me. The barbershop endorsement deal. All of those moments provided viral fodder and helped make Harper a household name in addition to being one of the best players in the league.
It also made him a target for critics who felt his hair flips and animated demeanor were self-serving. An ESPN The Magazine player poll regularly rated him the “most overrated player in MLB.”
And now that he’s joining a division rival, some local fans have expressed their ire toward the baseball player who was once among the most popular athletes in the city.
“I hope they turn on you,” tweeted Danny Rouhier, the co-host of Grant & Danny on 106.7 The Fan. “I hope you regret this decision every day for the rest of your life. This poisons every great memory and sullies every moment you had here. Hope it was worth it.”
Other Nats fans on social media haven’t been much kinder.
But as my friend Scott Allen at the Post points out, Harper provided plenty of moments that endeared him to fans and locals throughout his seven years with the Nationals.
The 2013 opening day solo home runs. The walk-off homer to snap a six-game losing streak later that summer, leading to chants of “M-V-P!” and then two years later, actually winning the MVP award.
During last summer’s MLB All-Star Week at Nationals Park, Harper donned a D.C. flag bandana as he went on to win the Home Run Derby in dramatic fashion. His legacy in D.C. will endure, even if the breakup brings fresh wounds for fans.
As Nationals fan Lizzie Keegan wrote on Twitter, “Sometimes I loved him and sometimes I hated him but DC sure is going to miss this guy.”
Opening Day for the Nats is March 28. They will face the Phillies in D.C. on April 2 and 3. Will fans cheer or boo when Harper steps to the plate? As it’s been in his career, expect to hear both.