Harper: I want my legacy to be all about winning
CLEARWATER, Fla. — From the roof of a dugout inside the Philadelphia Phillies’ sun-soaked spring-training home Saturday, Bryce Harper was formally introduced by his new club.
Focused, he said, on establishing a long, winning career in a place where he also felt a strong familial connection, Harper and his agent Scott Boras adamantly reiterated their belief that with a 13-year, $330 million, opt-out-free deal, Philadelphia will be that place.
Harper, who will be 39 when the deal expires, expects the red No. 3 pinstripe jersey he put on during his news conference to be the last big-league uniform he wears.
“At the beginning of the process, I told this guy I didn’t want (an opt-out) anywhere I went,” Harper said, motioning towards Boras. “I wanted to be able to dig my roots somewhere, that was through the good, through the bad, through the ups and downs of the organization. It’s going to be tough for 13 years to win every single year, and I totally understand that.
“[But] I want to be a part of this organization. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I want to be a part of this family, this Phillie Nation.”
At what cost, though? While Phillies general manager Matt Klentak tried to say free-agency deals are about more than dollars and years, Harper made it clear that he felt entitled to the $330 million he’ll be making.
“I think baseball is worth about 11.5 billion dollars,” Harper said. “So I think some of it should go back to the players, as well. I’m making $26 (million) a year or something like that, so I think that’s going to be able to bring some other guys in as well as be able to help this organization win.
“I know there’s another guy in about two years that comes up off the books, we’ll see what happens then.”
That other guy would be Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who many believe could earn a contract that dwarfs Harper’s in total value.
As for Harper’s introduction Saturday, it came with fanfare befitting of a man who had just signed the largest free-agency contract in baseball history.
Looming just beyond the outfield and over Harper’s left shoulder was his mean-mugging face, phototshopped into an image on display on the Spectrum Field video board. On the protective over-dugout netting just behind Harper and others sitting at a red-clothed table on the dugout — Boras, Phillies owner John Middleton and general manager Matt Klentak — were posters of magazines depicting Harper from cover shoots he had with ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated.
Also attached to the netting was a poster of “MLB The Show 19,” the soon-to-be-released video game that has Harper on its cover. The game, which had been showing a uniform-less Harper during his free-agency saga, updated its cover, putting him in the Phillies pinstripes Friday when the massive deal became official.
When free agency began in November, Middleton made headlines when he pledged his team would spend “stupid money” in the offseason to attract some of the game’s best stars. Asked Saturday if Harper’s dollars qualified as “stupid,” Middleton shot right back.
“Does it look like stupid money to you?” he said, adding that Klentak’s work this winter “made himself and me look smart.”
In addition to signing Harper, Philadelphia traded for high-value catcher J.T. Realmuto and middle infielder Jean Segura, and signed veteran reliever David Robertson.
Although the Phillies began communicating with Boras about Harper as soon as free agency started, there was very little action between the parties until mid-February.
At that time, Middleton sat down with Boras in Clearwater and made his eye-opening pitch to the agent. Usually, it’s Boras, who’s notorious for showing teams stats and figures about how his player can impact them from a financial and marketing standpoint, doing the talking.
“I said, ‘Scott, I want to tell you something. I’m not interested in talking about marketing dollars, ticket sales, billboards, concessions,'” Middleton said. “‘There’s only one reason I’m talking to you, and that’s because I believe this guy can help us win.’
“I’ve made enough money in my life, I don’t need to make more. I said, ‘My franchise value has risen dramatically over the last 25 years. I don’t need it to rise more. If it does, fine. I’m here to win, and I think your guy can help me win.'”
Said Boras, remembering the conversation: “He was emphatic about that.”
Last weekend, with Harper still unsigned, Middleton and his wife Leigh traveled to Las Vegas to visit the ballplayer and his wife Kayla at their home. It was Boras’ suggestion that the couples meet in a more informal setting so that Harper might better get to know his potential future owner.
During a three-hour dinner — the first hour of conversation included stories about how the various spouses met and was otherwise “personal” in nature, Middleton said — Harper came to understand just how much the owner valued winning.
“I saw that passion,” Harper said. “I saw that fire.”
Boras saw it, too.
“The maestro wanted to build the championship symphony: ‘I want The Harp,'” Boras said. “And the Philly Phil-Harpmonic symphony was built.”
Asked if the New York Yankees, the team Harper grew up idolizing, had been a serious contender for the outfielder at all this winter, Boras said no. The agent joked that he was surprised when he got a phone call from Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, but it turned out to be for something else.
Harper heads to Philadelphia after spending seven seasons with the division-rival Washington Nationals. He batted .279 with 184 homers and 922 hits playing for the organization that made him the first-overall pick of the 2010 draft.
The Phillies visit the Nationals in their second series of the season, beginning April 2.
“I’m very excited to be able to face those guys,” Harper said of his old teammates. “And also being able to watch from afar a little bit.”
As for his numerical switch — Harper is going from wearing No. 34 in Washington to No. 3 in Philadelphia — the outfielder is doing it in deference to the former Phillies ace Roy Halladay, who will be posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.
“I thought Roy Halladay should be the last one to wear it,” said Harper, of the pitcher who also wore No. 34 in Philadelphia. “He was a great person and was one of the nicest people that I’d ever meet … For me, it’s Roy Halladay. He’s 34. He’s what represents that number in Philly.”
With four trips to the league division series on his resume, Harper remains committed to getting the Phillies their first World Series since 2008.
“I want to be on Broad Street on a boat or a bus or whatever,” Harper said. “That’s what I want to do. That’s what I feel like I want my legacy to be: is all about winning, all about playing the game the right way for a great organization for a long period of time.”
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