MILWAUKEE -- When Bryce Harper connects, it's one of the most awesome sights in sports. He unloads on the ball, uncoils on it, and when he barrels it up, it's only a matter of watching how far it goes. You can't look away when he steps to the plate, whether you're cheering or booing. Goodness knows, Harper has heard plenty of both during his seven-plus seasons in the majors.
This season alone, Harper has three of the 28 longest homers in baseball and sports an average homer distance that ranks ninth, but even these numbers hardly do justice to the majesty of his long-ball swing. High, soaring shots are Harper's calling card ,and they have been since he was a teenage catcher. And when that calling card is missing ... it tends to brighten the glare in one of baseball's brightest spotlights. This is one of the shows in The Show, one that landed for an extended run with the Philadelphia Phillies before this season. So much -- so much -- has already been written about it. He understands.
"Everybody's got a job to do," Harper said, addressing his inquisitor. "Just like you doing an interview right now. You have a job to do. You're going to write what you want, just like anybody else is going to write what they want. I respect that."
Any fair analysis of Harper's career ought to note that he has done a lot more with his career than hit tape-measure home runs. That skill, in itself, won't get you a 13-year, $330 million contract like the one he landed from the Phillies. Over the course of his career, Harper ranks seventh among all hitters with a .386 on-base percentage and 12th with a .379 wOBA. His fWAR ranks 12th among hitters.
Yet, it's the long ball for which Harper is mostly known, and only 11 players ever hit more through their age-25 season than the 184 bombs he hit for the Washington Nationals. The homers are why pitchers handle him with such care. The homers, or the anticipation of them -- along with some kind of innate ability to attract all manner of attention -- are why Philadelphia's attendance is up 10,794 fans per game over this point last season. That's an increase more than three times as large as any other team's.
When the Phillies officially signed Harper on March 2, it was the final piece of a puzzle five years in the making. Philadelphia's aggressive offseason had already announced to all and sundry that the rebuild was over. The time to win is now. The signing of Harper was the pièce de résistance, the promotional poster that told us the Phillies planned to win right way, win big and win for a long time.