Think about how well Bryce Harper -- the best player and unquestioned face of the franchise -- has needed to play over these last three seasons to escape almost all of the criticism that you'd figure would come with the Phillies missing the playoffs three more times.
It requires not just monster numbers and clutch performances but consistency, and those are the very reasons Harper was voted 2021 National League MVP.
The NL Cy Young race was a nailbiter but this one was not. Harper's 2021 resume stood out above those of Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. and that was supported by Harper's 17 first-place votes out of 30. Harper received 348 voting points, followed by Soto with 274 and Tatis Jr. with 244.
He became emotional Thursday night after the official announcement was made on MLB Network by Mike Schmidt.
"I'm overwhelmed," Harper said, fighting off tears and surrounded by family.
He was later asked what he was thinking about in that moment.
"I don't think the fans understand that we don't know (who won) until they know as well," Harper said. "The two guys next to me had unbelievable years that shouldn't go unrecognized. And knowing I'm sitting with my wife, looking at my kids with my family there, it just makes you emotional.
"I was really nervous today, actually. I don't get nervous too much about any situation but I was definitely pretty nervous about this one. Just everything about it, having my family around, understanding the difficulties we went through this year at the beginning of the year, getting hit in the face and the hand. Between that and emotionally with my wife and my teammates, everything kind of coming back. All of that kind of poured in."
Harper in 2021 nearly willed into the playoffs a team that might have otherwise lost 85 to 90 games. His performance from August onward -- in the heat of a division race with every series carrying great importance -- was unmatched, reminiscent of the Augusts and Septembers Ryan Howard put together more than a decade ago.
From August 1 through September 18, Harper hit .351/.466/.805 with 17 doubles, 17 home runs, 41 RBI and as many walks as strikeouts. The Phillies went six games over .500 in that stretch to move within a half-game of the Braves. During that run, Harper had an extra-base hit, an RBI or both in 33 of 46 games, often in spots that would have led to a Phillies loss if he didn't succeed.
"Each night knowing that you've got to perform because you're in this race, I love that," he said. "I love the emotion of that but it's a grind until you get to the end of the year."
It was Harper's second MVP and second-best season, not far off of 2015 when he hit .330 and led the league in runs, homers, OBP and slugging en route to his first.
"Winning the first one and going through those six years to get to here, and winning it in Philadelphia, this one just felt a little bit different," he said. "Being older, more mature, having the teammates and family now that I do with my kids, it feels different being able to enjoy this with them. It's a lot of fun."
In three seasons with the Phillies, Harper has hit .281/.402/.556, averaging 40 doubles, 38 home runs and 105 RBI per 162 games.
In seven seasons with the Nationals, he hit .279/.388/.512, averaging 32 doubles, 32 home runs and 91 RBI per 162 games.
A decade still remains on his contract. So far, he's at least met and probably exceeded expectations.
"These are guys that I want to be with on a daily basis," he said. "It's a blast going to work every single day in this great city with this great fanbase. I love every day. I'm just happy talking about it. All they want you to do is work hard. They want no BS, they just want you to work hard each night. I respect that and I love that."
Harper is just the fifth player to win an MVP award with two different teams (Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez) but he'd gladly trade it for another chance in the playoffs. He hasn't played in the postseason since 2017, and his former team won it all the year after he left. While the individual honors are welcomed and add to his legacy, there's a lot more he's seeking.
"The team goal is to win a World Series. That's my goal. That's our main goal and that's how we should look at every single season," Harper said. "Individual accolades are great and I'm so excited to win this one, but at the end of the year, you're going to remember, man, we should've done this or should've done that, we should've won this game or that one.
"I don't want to check anything off. Last season was great for myself, but I have 10 more years here. I want to keep doing that and come in every year ready to go."
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