I’m glad it’s over. This “will he or won’t he” baloney. While I think, in the end, it’s going to be a good fit, theres more to this than just adding talent.
Let me take you back, just a bit. Baseball Ross and I started coming to Spring Training back in 2007, the year before the Phillies would go on to win the World Series. That year and the spring of 2008, there was very little in crowd control at the Carpenter Complex. No fences around the dugouts, no screen behind the catcher between the fields so you could really see everything the pitchers were doing. There were no “Phillies Personnel Only” signs on the fences. There wasn’t a need. There weren’t a ton of fans. I remember walking right up to the players and getting autographs and not needing to wait long to get them. I actually started to get to know some of the guys at least at a “Hi, how are you” level.
Then in 2009, it all changed. The fans turned out in droves. It was crowded. I still was able to get autographs, but a lot of that still depended on the fact that the guys still recognized me. Heck, we bought a condo that year and I missed a game and Cole Hamels called me out and asked me where I was since I wasn’t “there on Tuesday”.
The Phillies were on a run. The crowds came, more security measures were in place. You had to get to the Carpenter Complex early or you’d have a long walk to get there.
Then the dark years. The team struggled. They didn’t pick up a lot in free agency. They were picking up older, journeymen type players. They lost Jayson Werth, Roy Halladay gets injured and retires. Cliff Lee gets hurt and can’t finish his contract. They trade Cole Hamels. Charlie Manuel gets fired then Ruben Amarro, Jr, gets fired. It was the beginning of a downward spiral into mediocrity that left the stands with more and more free space. There was nothing spurring the crowds to come out.
I believe that a lot of it was fans losing faith in the fact that season after season, free agents would become available and we were never in the hunt. We would end up with a pitcher that showed up into camp overweight and out of shape and not pitching very well at all and we were supposed to get excited by that?
This season, with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper both becoming free agents, I looked at it with a jaundiced eye. Why get my hopes up? I mean, every year for the last 5 or 6 years, at least, I’d gotten my hopes up that we’d get that spark plug that one guy who would give us the kick in the butt we needed to really contend and we never did. Then there was a whisper, more of a shout when they said we are going to spend “stupid money” this year.
There was talk of both Harper and Machado, then adding may be Dallas Keuchel. I never believed in that. History told me that much. I was pretty sure we’d get a guy that had been in the league 10 years, played on 6 teams and would break down by May.
Then the whispers that something BIG was going to happen…and as I was expecting, Machado signed with the Padres. How the heck could a team like the Padres get Machado? Attention turned to Harper. When he didn’t sign by last Wednesday (the rumored date) I felt like it was over.
Then Friday, owner John Middleton flew on his private jet to meet Harper. I was skeptically hopeful. Then the weekend ended and there was no deal. My heart sank. Then word leaked out that the Giants and Dodgers were in the mix and one of the writers in the “know” said that the Phillies were out and there was no way that Harper would sign with an East Coast Team. I was on the way to accepting that this was going to be just another year that I was stupid enough to get my hopes up just to get let down again.
In fact, I’ll admit it, last night I even posted that I was over all the “BS” that I just didn’t want to deal with it. If he really was going to sign he would.
Then today, Baseball Ross and I elected to go to the Phillies game against the Jays here in Dunedin. The two biggest reasons being that with a split squad, they sent the majority of the minor league guys that we are friends with to Dunedin and secondly, we could walk to the game.
It was somewhere around the sixth inning, off to my left, a crowd of people started hooting and cheering…we couldn’t hear what they were saying we actually thought there might be a fight starting in the stands. Then one man stood up and shouted, “The Phillies signed Harper! We got him, boys!’ Given the fact he sounded like he’d been drinking and was college age, I thought he was trying to prank us. 2 minutes later my phone beeped, “Phillies reach deal with Harper”.
He wasn’t pranking us.
You could hear phones beeping, pinging and whistling all over the stands. Harpermania was beginning. It was funny, it may have been because it was like 78* and sitting in the sun could have been too much, or more likely the Harper signing, but soon the stadium (especially on the Phillies side) started emptying out.
As I’ve started to digesting the whole event, I’ve come to realize something…
It’s not about Bryce Harper. Not really. It’s about the Front Office saying “we are going to spend the money it takes” to get a player that will help the team. It could have been Machado…but the fact that they pulled out all the stops to get the biggest free agent in the game..that is what the real “big deal” is. It’s that they have finally come to the realization that you have to make that dramatic move, take the leap of faith and not “settle” but to push hard to get what you and the fans want.
Last season, the Phillies finished 2 games under .500. With the addition of Segura, Realmuto and Harper, the talking heads on the MLB Network are projecting a WAR that would give us 97 wins. It’s been a while since we’ve gone into a season with a realistic expectation of 97 wins.
Will it happen? Frankly, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter (well it does, but not as much as this:) the front office didn’t settle, they said they were going to fight to get the best available player and then did it. They have shown they are not going to settle for sub .500 ball.
In the end, Harper ended up impressing me, with his no trade, no opt-out addition to the contract saying that “he wants to end his career with this contract.” To me that means he’s “all in” and isn’t going to play anything less than all out. I mean he knows his career will end with the Phillies so he’s going to make the most of it.
And I hope he does…