Countdown to Opening Day

Still just 31, Bryce Harper can slug his way into several exclusive clubs

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Oct 19, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper (3) reacts during game three of the NLCS for the 2023 MLB playoffs against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next two weeks leading up to Phillies Opening Day on March 28, we're taking a daily look at the biggest questions and storylines surrounding the team in 2024.

Some baseball players duck attention as if it's a nasty 98 mile an hour heater, up and in and heading straight for their coconut like a heat-seeking missile. Some, in the immediate wake of a big hit, limit their acknowledgment of the cheers to a brief, perfunctory curtain call, seemingly embarrassed by being thrust into the spotlight.

And then there's Bryce Harper.

Somewhere along the way, the Phillies first baseman picked up a nickname: The Showman. It fits. If all the world's a stage, he'll audition for the leading role. It's already a part of franchise lore that, in his first game at Citizens Bank Park in 2019 after signing a 13-year, $330 million free agent contract, he rocked custom-made, lime-green Phanatic cleats. And that was just the beginning.

When he hit the 300th home run of his career last season he not only bounced out of the dugout to greet the standing ovation from the home crowd, he posed and preened and kissed the Phillies logo on his jersey. When he homered on his 31st birthday he pantomimed blowing out candles on a cake as he crossed the plate.

When he gets a key hit his jubilation is unchecked. Gesturing to the dugout, raising his arms in triumph, screaming his delight toward the heavens.

The Showman? Heck, he often wears a headband with the moniker proudly emblazoned on it during games. And if there are some who find it off-putting, who see it as pandering, well, baseball is a part of the entertainment industry. Harper can be hugely entertaining. And there's no indication it detracts from his performance. End of discussion.

And that, in the end, is the most crucial piece to the puzzle. This flamboyant persona only works because he tends to produce when it matters most. He doesn't just meet the moment. He looks it in the eye, shakes its hand and takes a selfie with it.

RISP/2 Outs64122194.281.465.499.964
High Leverage1,22848312.280.404.507.911

Which raises the question: Is there a connection between the sort of person who not only can deal with the intense scrutiny that comes along with celebrity but embraces it? Maybe even needs it? Think Curt Schilling, arguably the best big-game pitcher of his generation. Think Reggie Jackson, Mr. October. Both had outsized personalities to go along with their preternatural ability to consistently rise to the occasion.

On the other hand, soft-spoken introverts can be just as dependable when the chips were down. Chase Utley was the prototypical strong silent type at the same time he was regarded as the best second baseman in the game. Six-time All-Star and 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto is a career .294 hitter with a lifetime .920. Those numbers jump to .321/1.042 with runners in scoring position and .313/.999 in high-leverage situations.

Dr. Joel Fish is a Philadelphia-based sports psychologist who has spent more than 25 years counseling youth athletes, Olympians and professionals including a stint working directly for the Phillies. And his answer is no.

"In my experience, there isn't a relationship between clutch performers and personality," he said, adding the caveat that he doesn't know Harper and is speaking only in generalities. "Between guys who are more outgoing and guys who consistently perform better in pressure situations. I think they're very different traits."

Dr. Fish believes it all comes down to mental toughness.

"If you look at Major League Baseball players, you have a whole range of personality types who have been able, over time, to perform under pressure," he continued. "The more extroverted (players, such as Harper) are more out there. We're drawn to them in a certain way. But if you're asking me about the connection between performance and personality, I don't see that. I think there's a whole range of personality types that can perform well in pressure moments.

"In sports psychology, we say it's a package deal. Every trait has a benefit to it and a flip side to it. Sometimes, but not all the time, guys who crave the spotlight or go out there in a bold way, sometimes those players use that boldness as a way to mentally prepare for a big moment. They like to challenge themselves in that particular way.

"And there are other guys who prefer before the big moment to turn more inward. Keep it simple. Narrow the focus. Stay out of the radar."

Whatever the explanation, it's clear that Harper isn't fazed by living in the bull's eye. Which is a good thing. He's been dealing with it since he was 16 years old and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated along with a headline that read: BASEBALL'S CHOSEN ONE.

When he was approaching his 300th career home run last season, he downplayed the importance of the achievement, portraying it as a relatively minor milestone. And, from one perspective, he's right. He enters the upcoming season as one of 159 players to reach the big 3-0-0.

But here's another way to frame that. According to, there have been 23,114 players in Major League history. And only 159 have hit that many homers.

The Phillies' 2024 season opens at Citizens Bank Park against the Braves on March 28. And since Harper doesn't turn 32 until October 16, there's every reason to believe he'll continue to climb the charts if he stays healthy. If he does, the clubs he'll be admitted to become increasingly more exclusive. There are presently 58 players who have reached 400 homers, 28 who got to 500, nine who reached 600 and just four — Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Albert Pujols — with 700.

Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who now ranks 16th all-time with 548 career bombs, believes Harper will, at a minimum, easily pass 500 within the next few years. "There's no doubt in my mind that he will," Schmitty told the Philadelphia Inquirer last year. "Plus, Bryce will have a couple more MVPs in that time."

Wait what? Did he really just say that? Let's rewind the tape to make sure we heard that right.

. . . emit taht ni sPVM erom elpuoc a evah lliw ecyrB

Yeah, he said it. Let's take a moment to ponder the weight of that seemingly offhanded comment. Harper already has a pair of Most Valuable Player Awards in his trophy case, one picked up with the Nationals in 2015 and the other coming with the Phillies in 2021.

With just one more he'd be added to the ultra-exclusive fraternity of 11 players to win at least three MVPs.

And two? Well, if Schmidt turns out to be Nostradamus here, Harper will be riding shotgun to only Bonds in any MVP Award stacking contest.



Barry Bonds


*Mike Trout
Albert Pujols
Alex Rodriguez
Mike Schmidt
Mickey Mantle
Yogi Berra
Roy Campanella
Stan Musial
Joe DiMaggio
Jimmie Foxx


*Shohei Ohtani
*Bryce Harper
Miguel Cabrera
Juan Gonzalez
Frank Thomas
Cal Ripken Jr.
Robin Yount
Dale Murphy
Joe Morgan
Johnny Bench
Frank Robinson
Roger Maris
Ernie Banks
Willie Mays
Ted Williams
Hank Greenberg
Hal Newhouser
Carl Hubbell
Mickey Cochrane
Lou Gehrig
Rogers Hornsby
Walter Johnson

*Active player

He should have sufficient opportunities to do it. He has four more seasons before he turns 35. There have been 11 players to win an MVP even older than that arbitrary cutoff. And Harper is known to be a fitness fanatic, so there's no telling how long he'll be able to compete at the highest level.


2004Barry Bonds (SF)40 years, 71 days
1979Willie Stargell (Pit)**39 years, 208 days
2003Barry Bonds (SF)39 years, 66 days
2002Barry Bonds (SF)38 years, 67 days
1992Dennis Eckersley (Oak)38 years, 1 day
2001Barry Bonds (SF)37 years, 75 days
1986Mike Schmidt (Phi)37 years, 8 days
1952Hank Sauer (CHC)35 years, 195 days
1943Spud Chandler (NYY)36 years, 21 days
1981Rollie Fingers (Mil)35 years, 41 days
2022Paul Goldschmidt (STL)35 years, 25 days
**Co-winner with Keith Hernandez

Even excluding Bonds, who continues to deny that his late-career dominance was fueled by steroids, this list still provides plenty of ammunition to the premise that there's no magic line of demarcation on the calendar after which a player is disqualified from being voted the top performer in his league.

As mind-boggling as the idea of winning four MVPs is, it sometimes seems as though Harper can do whatever he wants with a bat in his hands. He can't, of course, but often projects that aura.

The Phillies lost Game 2 of the National League Division Series to the Braves last October. Not only that, the game ended ugly.

Harper was on first with one out in the top of the ninth when Nick Castellanos drilled a long line drive to deep right-center field. Instead of going halfway and waiting to see if the catch was made, Harper put his head down and ran as if he was being chased by a pack of baying hounds. He was well around second and on his way to third when Atlanta centerfielder Michael Harris II made a phenomenal leaping catch. He was easily doubled off and the Braves evened the best-of-five series at a game apiece.

Afterward, in the jubilant home clubhouse at Truist Park, Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia circled the room happily cackling over and over in a loud voice, "Ha ha! Atta boy, Harper!"

When those remarks were reported, the Spidey senses of Phillies teammates went on high alert. "They looked at me and they were like, 'What are you going to do?" Harper said.

What he did, in the very next game, was hit a three-run homer in the third inning ... and glare at Arcia as he rounded second.

In case anybody missed the point, he homered leading off the fifth and once again started down the shortstop as he rounded the bases.

The Showman responded by putting on a show, that's what he did. Nobody in the clubhouse was surprised.

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