Schmidt: I’ve been in Harper’s shoes, he can walk the walk
Bryce Harper has been a celebrity since he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school player. No player ever entered professional baseball with more fanfare.
His training was under the tutelage of his father, a blue-collar steelworker, who pushed him to be a “can’t-miss” prospect. This father-son relationship was akin to Earl and Tiger Woods. Most young talented kids fight this kind of parental pressure, being consumed with the daily push to be the best ever. Most are blown out after a 150-game high school, travel team, showcase and All-Star game schedule.
Not Bryce Harper. Bring on more. He goes against the ol’ axiom of “don’t equate more with better.” Harper couldn’t get enough.
There was, and is, nothing about him that doesn’t equate to superstardom. Run, hit for power and average, good defender, great throwing arm, great attitude and a Pete Rose will to win.
Maybe one question would be his penchant for striking out. So what? In today’s game, it’s very acceptable. His 162-game average for Ks is 150. If his power numbers are there, who cares?
Bryce is in his eighth year and for several reasons has not been the player he was expected to be. With the exception of an MVP year with 42 HRs and 99 RBIs in 2015, he has fallen short of his and everyone’s expectations. There have been injuries and inconsistencies due to strikeouts and pitchers working around him, but nonetheless he’s maintained his status as one of the league’s stars.
Harper is left-handed and the Phillies are a predominantly right-handed lineup. Makes for a perfect fit. Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto — the meat of it — all right-handed. The addition of Harper, along with Odubel Herrera and switch-hitting Cesar Hernandez, makes the lineup balanced and one of the best in the majors on paper. Paper never won anything, now they have to prove it.
If you want to question $330 million for a player with two good seasons in seven tries, go ahead, but don’t blame the player. He became a free agent under the rules, bargained his services and that’s what the market offered.
You can compare this contract to others this offseason and it will boggle your mind. But Harper is now a Phillie and we’re damn happy.
So what’s Bryce facing becoming the newest Phillie and highest-paid player in baseball history? Let’s ask someone who knows — me. I was the Bryce Harper of the ’80s, the largest contract ever, six years over $12 million guaranteed. Only $318 million short. People always say I was born too soon, I say it all worked out perfect. I could have been born earlier, before free agency, like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, who never made $250,000.
My experience becoming a major league player was a cartoon before a movie compared to Harper’s. No one had any idea who I was, nor did I.
I was insecure, subject to pressing under pressure and feared failure. Sure, I hit many big home runs to win games, but a two-out RBI single was unlikely, kinda all or nothing. I remember the boos loud and clear.
That all changed as I grew and matured as person and a hitter. Bryce Harper, from my perspective, came to the big leagues ready for pressure. It has been a part of his life all along and he seems comfortable with it. Playing in this age of social media, TV exposure and daily scrutiny, forced him to learn to handle pressure in both his private and professional lives.
But Philly is a whole different animal. Even though Citizens Bank Park has a more friendly environment than the old Vet, it’s still home to the most knowledgeable and passionate fans in baseball. They care, they want a winner and they will have your back if you give them 100 percent.
When he hits the field for his opening home game, there will be a warm standing ovation. They will thank him for choosing their town, much like one of his idols — Pete Rose — did in 1979. Bryce is the kind of player they love, he will interact with them, he will run hard and take the extra base, run into walls, play injured, and yes, even hit 30 home runs and drive in 100. Just play hard and hustle, and all will be fine.
In 1979, Pete came to Philadelphia because he saw a team very close to a championship. He knew all we needed was someone to help us get out of our own way, a new, respected voice in the clubhouse, someone to be the media focus so the rest of us could relax.
The Phillies are counting that Bryce Harper will provide all those things for them, plus 120 RBIs. A new era in Phillies baseball will begin March 28.
I wouldn’t miss it!
Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt was a three-time NL MVP and hit 548 home runs. He led the Philadelphia Phillies to their first World Series championship in 1980.