“This is a great award, and I’m so excited and proud of it,” Harper said. “But my biggest thing is I want to win a World Series. I want to put that ring on my finger and give that to the town and city of D.C. They deserve that.”
Harper, who turned 20 in October, is the youngest position player to win the award and second youngest overall, after New York Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden in 1984, who was one month younger. He became the third player in franchise history to win the award, joining Andre Dawson in 1977 and Carl Morton in 1970, both of whom won it when the team was in Montreal as the Expos.
According to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which handles the voting for the award, this year’s seven-point differential was the fourth-closest race in history of the NL award. Among the close races was the one in 2006, in which the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman finished second to the Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez by four points.
Mike Trout, the Los Angeles Angels’ super rookie who is also a top contender for the AL most valuable player award, was unanimously named the AL rookie of the year. Trout and Harper were teammates, and became friends, on the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League last year, and both players will continue to be linked together.
A year ago, Harper was riding buses across the Northeast for Class A Hagerstown and Class AA Harrisburg, serving his time in the minor leagues with a $9.9 million contract in his pocket. After this year’s spring training, the Nationals sent the Las Vegas native to Class AAA Syracuse, keeping in line with a development plan that would keep him there for at least much of the season. “I knew it was only a [moment] of time until I got to the big leagues,” he said.
The Nationals turned to Harper in late April out of need, and he immediately injected life and spark into a then-punchless Washington offense. The cocky player that some feared would carry over from the minor leagues was gone; Harper blended into the Nationals clubhouse. He said all the right things, and on the field displayed a fiery, aggressive style of play. Primarily a catcher in high school and junior college, Harper played a strong center field and batted second for the first-place Nationals.