Forgive his bias or whimsy, for Washington Post sportswriter Adam Kilgore wasn’t even around Bryce Harper for a full season. But Kilgore saw enough to believe something epic is in Harper’s future —a National League MVP award this season.
“What he has done at 19 has perhaps been unprecedented,” Kilgore wrote in late September, “what he could do at 20 is unthinkable.”
College of Southern Nevada assistant coach Sean Larimer, a longtime Harper pal, was a bit more reserved when he predicted Harper would win an MVP trophy by his 22nd birthday. That bought the phenom another season, through 2014, to become his league’s premier player.
A surgeon general’s warning should accompany such prognostications … something about pressure and expectations being dangerous to a ballplayer’s health. Except Harper has been dealing with those since before he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 16.
But Scott Dysinger, Harper’s close friend and former CSN teammate, knows nobody will expect more from Harper than he demands from himself. At CSN, Dysinger’s influence led Harper to adopt Luke 1:37—“for with God nothing is impossible”—as inspiration, and Harper even stamped the words on his black Marucci bat. Limitation is a foreign concept in Harper’s world.
“The kid sets high goals, for sure,” Dysinger says. “But the damn kid reaches most of them. That’s the crazy thing. He definitely proved he belonged in the majors. It wasn’t like he was along for the ride.”
On May 6, Harper became the first teenager to steal home since 1964. In June, he became the first teenager to collect a walk-off hit since 1988. In July, Harper became the youngest position player to participate in an All-Star Game. He finished his rookie season two home runs shy of tying Tony Conigliaro’s teenage mark of 24, set for the Red Sox in 1964. Harper tripled and homered in his first two at-bats against St. Louis in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. The Nats led, 6-0. But the Cardinals rallied to win the game and clinch the series.
Harper also required 10 stitches in May when the bat he slammed against a concrete tunnel wall in Cincinnati ricocheted back and nearly took out his left eye; he was angry about grounding out to the pitcher.
On June 12, in Toronto, Harper’s words were his weapon when a reporter asked if he’d celebrate a home run with a beer. A devout Mormon who vows never to drink, Harper smirked and said, “That’s a clown question, bro.” His levity was deft. The perception of cockiness that preceded Harper’s arrival to the majors had by then been erased by his determinatin, his no-holds-barred approach to the game, and his production.
Harper tapped his goals, the precise numbers he aims to achieve this season, into his smartphone before flying to Florida. He won’t share these figures with anyone. Dysinger probably has as keen an idea as anyone about Harper’s phone entries, though, and he is certain a World Series ring is at the top.
“All he wants to do is win, and that team is fuckin’ loaded,” Dysinger says.
And he’s sure the rest of the goals are stratospheric. “What’s the highest batting average in one season? The most runs? The most RBIs? Barry Bonds hit how many [home runs]?”
(For the record, Hugh Duffy hit a single-season record .440 for Boston in 1894; Billy Hamilton tallied 192 runs for Philadelphia in 1894; Hack Wilson drove in 191 runs for the Cubs in 1930; and Bonds belted 73 homers for San Francisco in 2001.)
“Bryce probably is shooting for 10 more [home runs] than [Bonds] … something outrageous,” Dysinger says. “But he should also have a goal of no stitches.”
Dysinger also pondered Harper’s more distant future. If the Nationals don’t re-sign him before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018, count on the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees waging a bidding war for Harper.
A long-term deal worth $350 million to $400 million wouldn’t be outlandish. Remember, clients of Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, have broken most of the round salary thresholds.
“Of course, I know where I want him to be,” says Dysinger, a lifelong Red Sox fan. “And I know how hard it would be to see him in that [Yankees] uniform; I would want him to do well, but I’d always want that team to lose. I’ve told him five times, ‘Please, if you leave, just consider the Sox.’ ”