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Stop saying you won't root for Bryce Harper if he ends up on the Phillies

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor

If you would prefer that the Philadelphia Phillies eventually land Mike Trout or Manny Machado as opposed to Bryce Harper, that's fair. If you don't think that Phillies general manager Matt Klentak should issue a record contract to Harper or anyone because long-term deals don't normally work out, you may have a case. But please, stop saying that if the team does sign Harper after the 2018 season that you wouldn't root for him or it would reduce your desire to be a Phillies fan, because it's not true.

For the Phillies to sign Harper at the $400 million figure that's been speculated upon, he would have to prove over the next two seasons that his disappointing 2016 season, which may have been hampered by a shoulder injury, was a fluke. If he's more like the 2015 version of himself, when he won the National League MVP, Harper would almost immediately become one of the most popular Philadelphia athletes in recent memory. 

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In 2015, Harper slashed .330/.460/.649, hit 42 home runs and posted a 9.5 WAR (per FanGraphs). If we go off of FanGraphs' WAR formula, here is a list of some Hall of Fame rightfielders who *never* had an individual season with a WAR of 9.5 or higher: Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn and Frank Robinson. WAR is not a perfect statistic -- no statistic is -- and Harper does play in a different era, but isn't it rather incredible that at age 22 he had a season that based on that statistic was better than any season that four first ballot Hall of Famers ever had?

If Harper is able to perform at a comparable level to that, or, dare I say, he gets even better, the idea of him coming to Citizens Bank Park, which seemingly was built to encourage someone like him hitting 50 home runs per year, is scary.

Are there reasons for Phillies fans to dislike Harper as a person? Perhaps. Cole Hamels threw at Harper pretty much just because when Harper was a 19-year-old and later admitted it and was eventually suspended for five games. Harper did joke later that season that he hoped Phillies fans wouldn't throw batteries at him when he came to Citizens Bank Park, but my goodness, he was 19 years old. President Obama was still in his first term when the comments were made, I'm sure everyone could learn to get past them.

Heck, Jimmy Rollins said Phillies fans had a tendency to be front-runners in August of 2008. Two and a half months after that comment, Rollins was riding in a parade float down Broad Street. I don't think one of the estimated two million people at that parade was hesitant to treat Rollins like a saint because he had previously made a comment that rubbed fans the wrong way. 

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For some, it's difficult to imagine spending years not liking someone because they play for a divisional rival and then ending up rooting for them. But there's recent precedent of a similar situation taking place with a less talented player. Eagles fans were ecstatic when the team signed DeMarco Murray in 2015, just a year after he won the rushing title with the Dallas Cowboys. I'd go as far as saying that if the Phillies signed Harper, the team would sell out every game during his first five years with the team, because Harper would be the piece that put them back in a position to be an annual playoff contender.  

There's also a slew of false narratives surrounding Harper. Did Jonathan Papelbon -- who we know isn't everyone's cup of tea -- choke him in the dugout during the 2015 season? Yes, but that doesn't mean that Harper is universally disliked by his teammates. Perhaps there are players around the league that aren't fond of how quickly Harper became a household name or don't like the hair flip that he often does after hitting home runs. I'd argue that millennial baseball fans and those who first watched baseball in another country think that makes Harper must-watch television, but that's another debate for another time. There's also a certain level of of leeway that you tend to give players who are putting up Hall of Fame numbers (see: Bonds, Barry). 

Of course, Papelbon did choke Harper after an argument between the two ensued following him not running out a ball to first base. Another narrative that's pushed is that not running balls out or giving full effort 100 percent of the time wouldn't be tolerated in Philadelphia.

First of all, that's not true. Rollins was benched by Charlie Manuel twice, once for showing up over an hour late to pregame and once for not hustling to first (this was not the only instance of him not hustling). Rollins is a franchise icon, nonetheless, because he was a great player and helped bring a World Series to Philadelphia. 

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Secondly, while there isn't an exact statistic that I can point to in an effort to back my case, my own eyes have seen Harper regularly run the bases more aggressively than most and make stronger efforts on balls in foul territory than most players do. If anything, Harper's effort level would work in his favor in Philadelphia, not against him. 

No one's asking for you to root for Harper in the interim. Even with the Phillies not expected to contend for the National League East title at least this year, Harper's still the best player for arguably the best team in the division. No one expects you to root for him in 2017 and 2018, and again, there are legitimate arguments against investing in him after that. 

But if anyone tells you that they won't support him or the Phillies if he ends up with the team, they should be taken as seriously as the crowd of people that say every presidential election they are going to move to Canada if the candidate they support doesn't win. 

Comments

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JIM

Phillies have several needs which will be exposed as season wears on.

Offense they scored about 160 fewer runs than opponents, I play like Harper will not make that up.

Pitching , 2 starters on 1 year contract and no 15 game winners in farm system that I can see and Nola has been terrible, he looks like a pitcher with tired arm.

JIM

Phillies need to get at least 2 decent position players if they trade Hellickson and Buchholz.

The best pitcher with electric stuff is at Lakewood , this year along with #1 draft pick. They are long way off at Low A ball.

My guess split it down the middle this year , get a position player and a pitcher and repeat the process next season.

James

I can 100% guarantee I wont follow him if this happens.Do the Phillies really suck that much to where your only interesting story is about a player 2 whole years away from being a FA? Sad losers.

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