CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Bryce Harper’s first year in Philadelphia ended with his former team winning the World Series, and the Phillies suffered another September collapse in his second season.
He says it’s time to end the team’s nine-year absence from postseason baseball.
“I hate being home for Halloween,” Harper said Thursday. “The city of Philadelphia deserves it and they need it. We’re a team that can hopefully do that for them and give that to them. They deserve to be in the stands in October and I know they’re willing to do that.”
Before the Phillies hired David Dombrowski to be president of baseball operations and re-signed two-time All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Didi Gregorius, Harper wasn’t sure about the team’s direction.
“When you get halfway through the offseason and there’s not really much going on, you kind of start worrying about what our identity as a team is going to be,” Harper said. “I was wondering what we’re going to do.”
Then, Phillies managing partner John Middleton brought Dombrowski on board and promoted Sam Fuld to replace general manager Matt Klentak.
“You don’t really bring in Dombrowski unless it’s a win-now move,” Harper said.
Dombrowski won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997, another with the Red Sox in 2018 and reached two with the Tigers. He’s trying to lead the Phillies to success after they fell one win shy of reaching the expanded postseason in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Besides bringing Realmuto and Gregorius back, Dombrowski has strengthened a bullpen that blew 21 leads last year.
“He’s done a great job,” Harper said. “We have a lot of competition in camp. … Just very fortunate to play for an organization that is ready to go, ready to win and made the moves that are the significant moves that we needed to this offseason.”
Harper hit .268 with 13 homers, 33 RBIs and a .962 OPS in the second year of his $330 million, 13-year contract. He led the majors with 49 walks and was fifth with a .420 on-base percentage. Harper tailed off down the stretch while playing with a back injury that made it difficult to throw from the outfield.
He’s healthy now and eager to not only reach the postseason but win a series for the first time in his 10-year career. The Nationals lost four Division Series during Harper’s seven seasons in Washington, then won their first title after he left.
“I love postseason baseball. I love the mentality of it,” Harper said. “It’s always a lot of fun. I think the fans are craving it so much and getting back into the ballparks and what a great year to be able to get back into it.”
The 28-year-old Harper has enjoyed his time in Philly, where fans embraced him from the start. He showed up to spring training this week wearing a “Clearwooder” T-shirt and swinging a bat featuring the image of the Phillie Phanatic.
“I feel like I speak more free here in Philadelphia than I did prior to being able to talk to you guys and just be myself,” Harper said. “I think that’s always fun. I love playing in Philadelphia. I feel like I can take advantage of that and be Bryce, just be myself here. They’ve never once said to me: ‘Calm down or do this or do that. We want you to be this type or that type.’ They’ve just let me be me and I really appreciate the Philly organization for doing that for me.”
Manager Joe Girardi has been effusive in his praise of Harper. He cited former Yankees manager Joe Torre’s philosophy on handling charismatic players.
“Joe Torre used to say all the time: ‘Let a player be himself as long as it’s not hurting the club,’” Girardi said. “Let them be who they are because you want them comfortable when they come to the ballpark every day in who they are. I’m not asking them to be someone they’re not whether it’s on the field, off the field, in the clubhouse. As long as what he’s doing is not detrimental to the team, I’m all for it. I really think that’s what makes our lives interesting. If everyone was the same, it would be boring. I like the different personalities. I like the different music genres. I just like the different energy levels of different people because it’s what makes the world go round.”
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