Sports

Becoming Bryce Harper

PART ONE

‘Baseball’s Chosen One’

Long before Bryce Harper became a major league baseball player, and even well before he was drafted by a major league team, he was already being billed as the sport’s next big thing. He could hit home runs of unthinkable distances. His arm could fire a ball at blazing speeds. He was just a teenager when adults started considering him the kind of star a franchise could be built not just around, but upon. The next step would be the only logical part of his baseball upbringing: He had to live up to hype that would never go away.

Rafa Alvarez/For The Washington Post

JUNE 8, 2009

Harper appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, with the headline reading, “Baseball’s Chosen One.” The article includes a comparison to NBA star LeBron James and an account of Harper hitting a 570-foot home run at 15.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

JUNE 7, 2010

The Nationals select Harper with the first overall pick of the 2010 MLB amateur draft. "It was a pretty easy decision," General Manager Mike Rizzo says of taking the 17-year-old from the College of Southern Nevada.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

APRIL 28, 2012

Harper makes his major league debut at 19, finishing with a double and an RBI in three at-bats against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Harry How/Getty Images

MAY 14, 2012

Harper hits his first career home run off San Diego Padres pitcher Tim Stauffer. He has since hit 183 more.

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

JUNE 12, 2012

Harper is asked in Toronto if he will celebrate a home run with a beer because the drinking age there is 18. "That's a clown question, bro," he replies. The phrase becomes a cultural phenomenon in Washington, appearing on T-shirts and being used by Sen. Harry Reid.

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

JULY 10, 2012

Harper makes his first of six all-star appearances, joining baseball's best players at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

OCT. 7, 2012

Harper makes his playoff debut in a National League Division Series game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Harper would play in four postseason series with the Nationals but would fail to advance past any of them.

John Grieshop/MLB Photos/Getty Images

NOV. 12, 2012

Harper, still 19, becomes the youngest position player to win the National League rookie of the year award after finishing the season with 144 hits, 22 home runs, 59 RBI and a .270 average in 139 games.

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post

PART TWO

A fully realized superstar

When all of his progress and statistics were added up at the end of the 2015 season, Harper was one of baseball’s best hitters and named the National League’s MVP. He was, at that moment, validated as the young, rising phenom who could be the face of both a franchise and a sport. All he had to do was stay on track, continue hitting like he had been, not stray from the edge and approach that made him as feared on the field as he was marketable off it. All he had to do was keep being Bryce Harper, 23 years old and full of potential, a star who only had room left to grow.

Rafa Alvarez/For The Washington Post

APRIL 1, 2013

Harper smacks two home runs in his first Opening Day appearance with the Nationals.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

OCT. 7, 2014

Harper hits his second of two home runs off reliever Hunter Strickland in the National League Division Series, and it splashes into McCovey Cove well beyond the right field fence at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The Nationals nonetheless fall to the Giants in four games.

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The Washington Post

MAY 6, 2015

Harper homers in each of his first three at-bats against the Miami Marlins. Just 22 at the time, he becomes the youngest player to hit three home runs in a game since Boston's Joe Lahoud on June 11, 1969.

Katherine Frey/The Washington Post

SEPT. 27, 2015

Harper gets into a dugout scrap with then-Nationals reliever Jonathan Papelbon as frustrations boil over at the tail end of a disappointing 83-79 season.

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WUSA 9

NOV. 19, 2015

Harper is named the NL's most valuable player after leading the league in home runs (42), runs scored (118), on-base percentage (.460) and slugging percentage (.649). He also posts a .330 batting average and drives in 99 runs.

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

PART THREE

Baseball’s villain -- or savior?

From the time Harper broke into the majors in 2012, it felt as if he were nearing free agency that would not come until, well, right now. That wasn’t always true — at least not a half-decade ago — but the looming thought of Harper hitting the open market followed him as he blossomed into one of baseball’s brightest stars. Agent Scott Boras was always going to bring his client to the open market, the best way to drive up the price tag for a player of Harper’s caliber, and the outfielder had no interest in discussing the situation once the 2018 season arrived.

Rafa Alvarez/For The Washington Post

MARCH 10, 2016

Harper makes unapologetic comments about baseball in an ESPN The Magazine profile, saying, "Baseball's tired. It's a tired sport, because you can't express yourself. You can't do what people in other sports do.” He vows to change baseball and, with his play and personality, make it more star-driven, more fashionable and, above all else, more fun.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

APRIL 14, 2016

Harper hits his 100th career home run and, in the process, breaks an LED panel of a scoreboard stripped across the facing of the second deck in right field. It is a 429-foot grand slam.

Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post

MAY 29, 2017

Harper charges the mound at AT&T Park after Strickland plunks him with a waist-high fastball. The two had a history after Harper twice homered off Strickland in the 2014 NLDS and then proceeded to stop and watch the ball from the batter's box, raise his arms while rounding the bases and stare in Strickland's direction. Harper winds up to throw his helmet at Strickland but leaves it well wide, and both benches clear for a brawl.

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WUSA

FEB. 19, 2018

On the first day of spring training ahead of the 2018 season, Harper reads a statement to reporters that says he will not discuss his upcoming free agency going forward. “If guys do [ask about it], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door,” he says.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

JULY 16, 2018

Harper wins the Home Run Derby at Nationals Park with a stunning final-round comeback that includes nine late home runs in front of an adoring crowd.

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

SEPT. 25, 2018

Harper discusses his nearing free agency with Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga, saying: “I’ve always said: If I’m in those plans, I’d absolutely love to be here. But if I’m not, there’s nothing I can do about it. There’s nothing I can do. I would love to play next to [Victor] Robles or [Juan] Soto or [Adam] Eaton. I’d love to. But am I in those plans? I have no idea.”

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post

SEPT. 26, 2018

Harper plays in what could be his final game at Nationals Park as a member of the Nationals. There were ovations throughout the day but, given the uncertainty of his future, no formal tribute or goodbye from the organization and its fans.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post