The Washington Nationals are preparing to play in their first World Series since 1934. And although the Astros have been listed as one of the biggest favorites in recent history, the city is jacked. They are truly appreciative of the players who helped bring them their first NL pennant.
Those conversant with Nationals history might tell you they thought this would have happened a long time ago because of the presence of one player – Bryce Harper.
Harper was the face of the franchise for many years, the guy the Nationals built their team around. He played in 927 games for the Nats over seven years, participating in six All-Star Games and winning the 2015 National League MVP Award.
The idea always was he would lead Washington to multiple pennants during a career they hoped would be spent exclusively with them.
But guess what? Harper left Washington after the 2018 season to sign a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies. The franchise was stunned and felt shunned.
Harper finally had his cash and appeared thrilled about it. But hey, the guy is human. You figure maybe he must have thought at least a little about how much his old team would miss him.
Well, the joke was on him. Little did Harper know the Nationals would turn out to be much better without him, that they had enough young talent to fill his void in right field, and those players, like the exciting 20-year-old Juan Soto, would soon make National fans completely forget Harper ever played in their town.
A few days ago, The Athletic caught up with Harper and asked him how he felt knowing the Nationals were able to move on so seamlessly without him.
“I think it’s about being able to be the person that I am and not saying to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m not a National.’ Or, ‘Oh my gosh, those guys are doing what they’re doing. I can’t believe it. I’m so jealous,'” said Harper. “No. I’m so happy for them. You know how hard it is to get into the postseason and win games. For them to be able to put it together this year the way they have, it’s an amazing thing.
“I made my decision, and that was my decision. And it was the final decision that I made. You know, jealousy isn’t good. For me, it’s about having the gratitude to go out and do what I do each day and not having an attitude toward anybody else.”
The Nationals quickly recovered from Harper’s decision to leave. First, they reallocated some of the money they would have spent on him to sign starting pitching depth in Anibal Sanchez and Patrick Corbin.
Then they turned to Soto and another young star, Victor Robles, and in concert with veteran Adam Eaton filled Harper’s right field position with admirable skill. Harper only hit .248 in his final season with the Nationals. So it wasn’t exactly that tough a hole to fill.
“It was kind of the perfect storm for them,” said Harper. “… Not signing me, they were able to go out and get the starting pitching that they needed and the pitching that they needed for their bullpen.”
The Athletic asked Harper’s former teammate, Jayson Werth, whether he felt the Nationals actually improved once Harper left. Werth immediately dismissed the notion, calling it a stupid conversation to have.
Still, you’d have to say Nationals, especially their fans, have totally dismissed the memory of their favorite player. In late September, Harper complained about the treatment he received from some when the Phillies came to Washington for their final visit of the series.
“They were fine all game, talking about myself and things like that,” said Harper at the time. “I get it everywhere I go. That’s nothing new.
“But the last two innings, it’s just not right. It’s not right.”
The venom had been building all season beginning with Philadelphia’s first trip to Washington in April. He was lustily booed when announced in the lineup and that only intensified when he team showed a video retrospective of his career.
So you might say what’s past is past. Harper’s the richest guy on a Phillies team that dramatically underperformed in 2019. The money he would have made has been put to good use and might bring more of a benefit should the Nationals be able to use some of it to sign Anthony Rendon.
The Nationals don’t miss Harper. And Harper likely doesn’t miss Washington. But that apparently won’t stop him from watching the World Series beginning on Tuesday.
“I like watching sports,” Harper told The Athletic. “I [can’t wait] to see. … that starting staff for the Astros against that starting staff of the Nats. That’s pretty cool baseball right there.”
Thanks for nothing, Bryce. Enjoy fourth place in the NL East.