Top moments from Bryce Harper's career in Washington
Bryce Harper is no longer a Washington National, so let's remember all the most notable moments from his storied career in red, white and blue.
1. Bryce Harper is drafted number one overall by the Nationals
The story of Bryce Harper dates back to 2010, when he was drafted by the Washington Nationals after they lost 103 games the season before.
It was a year of excitement and optimism for the future of Nationals baseball, with the franchise enjoying the second of their back-to-back top overall draft picks.
In a stroke of fortune, Washington’s first two No. 1 picks came in 2009 and 2010, which happen to be the two draft classes headlined by the most hyped prospects to enter the league in recent memory.
2009 brought future ace Stephen Strasburg, and 2010 brought the future face of the sport in Harper.
When the team officially introduced Harper, face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman was there to welcome him.
2. Bryce Harper makes his Major League debut
Harper finally made his big-league debut in April of 2012 at the tender age of 19. Most prospects are still in college or the lower levels of a team’s farm system at 19, but Harper wasn’t most prospects.
With all the hype surrounding him, it’d be tough to exclude Harper's Major League debut among the early highlights of his career. He showed off his rocket arm, flair for the dramatic, brute strength and steely demeanor.
The Nats fell to the Dodgers in extra innings, but for one glorious evening, fans could see the future taking place right before their eyes.
3. Bryce Harper makes the MLB All-Star Game as a teenager
The next major milestone for Harper was making the All-Star Game, which he did somewhat controversially during his magical 2012 season. Harper became the third teenage All-Star ever, and the first to not be a pitcher.
He entered the game as a reserve, and though he had very little impact on the game itself, he still ended up one of the biggest stories at an event made for baseball’s biggest stars.
4. Bryce Harper hits clutch Game 5 home run as a rookie
Harper helped the Nats win their division in 2012, and in the NLDS year they went up against the 88-win St. Louis Cardinals. The back-and-forth series went the full five games.
Harper struggled during his first exposure to October baseball, hitting just 3-for-23. The highlight was a Game 5 home run off Adam Wainwright. His solo blast to lead off the third inning extend the lead to 4-0.
Nats fans will remember they went on to lose the game, but at the time, it felt like the team’s youngest superstar cementing a franchise-altering win.
5. Bryce Harper hits two home runs on Opening Day
Bryce Harper’s 2013 season didn’t go as well as 2012, but he still managed to start on a high note.
Harper didn’t just become the fourth-youngest player to ever homer on Opening Day (trailing names like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Robin Yount), but he ended up hitting home runs in each of his first two plate appearances.
He was the first player to do so in franchise history, and he did it at the prodigious age of 20, in his first ever Opening Day.
His powerful start to the year sent fans into a frenzy, and he gave them a curtain call four innings into the new season. The success wouldn’t last throughout the summer, but it was a wild start and is one of the lasting highlights from the early years of Harper’s career.
6. Bryce Harper enjoys a postseason power binge against the Giants
For all his regular season struggles in 2014, Harper experienced much more success in his second postseason. The Nats ended up facing another inferior NLDS opponent in the San Francisco Giants, and the end result was the same as in 2012.
The Giants won the series thanks to a dominant pitching performance, but Harper held his own this time around. In what still stands out to this day as his strongest postseason performance, Harper had a slash line of .294/.368/.882, buoyed by his three home runs in four games.
The 1.251 OPS represents by far a career-high, and his three home runs were 75 percent of the team’s total in the series.
He was essentially the entire Washington offense in Games 1, 3 and 4. He even launched a ball into the third deck at Nats Park in Game 1.
The highlight, however, came in Game 4. Trailing 2-1, Harper came to bat in the seventh and blasted his third home run of the series to tie the game. The Nats were eight outs from elimination, and Harper saved them.
The Nats eventually went on to lose the series, but the legend of Bryce Harper was cemented.
7. Bryce Harper hits three home runs in one game
It’s almost impossible to list every single big moment of Harper’s incredible 2015 season, but you can still find standouts. The first of those came in early May. Harper had actually been struggling up until that point, but everything changed one Wednesday afternoon.
In the second inning against the visiting Marlins, Harper drove a pitch out to left-center, 393 feet from home plate, to give him his first long ball of the game.
In the third inning, he crushed one into the second deck, measured at 442 feet. In the fifth, he managed to top himself, launching another one into the second deck, this time 445 feet.
That’s an extremely impressive 1,280 feet of home run in a single game, all off the same pitcher. Incredible for mere mortals, but just another day at the office for Bryce Harper.
He was the youngest player to hit three home runs in a single game since 1969. It wouldn’t be the last time in 2015 he became the youngest player to do something great.
8. Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon get into brawl
By September of 2015, it was pretty clear that Harper was wrapping up an all-time legendary season.
But while 2015 was a season full of personal ups for Harper, it’s impossible to look back on his most memorable moments without thinking of the Papelbon incident. It was just after the team was eliminated from postseason contention and Harper, who was having the best offensive season since peak-Bonds, hit a pop up and jogged to first instead of running out the ball.
It was completely understandable, even more so when you consider how often Harper has dealt with injuries stemming from his effort. Papelbon still took exception to this lack of hustle and accosted Harper in the dugout. He ended up lunging at Harper and grabbing his neck.
It’s rare to see such a public altercation between two teammates, and Papelbon was rightfully roasted for instigating with the team’s best player.
9. Bryce Harper is named unanimous MVP
Bryce Harper’s 2015 was one of the greatest hitting seasons in baseball history. Let’s run through some of the numbers.
His OPS+ of 198 (98% better than league average) was one of the five best of any player under the age of 23 since 1900, and the best of any hitter since Barry Bonds.
His Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball Reference was an even 10.0.
He hit 42 home runs and batted .330, a combo only topped in the previous decade by future first-ballot Hall of Famers Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols.
He became the youngest player ever (passing Babe Ruth) with 40 home runs and 120 walks in a season.
He led the National League in runs, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.
He was Baseball America’s Player of the Year and ESPN’s MLB Person of the Year, he won the NL Hank Aaron Award, and he became the youngest unanimous MVP winner in Major League history.
His 2015 is already the stuff of legend, and it happened just three years ago. It was a higher single-season WAR than the career bests of such luminaries as Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey, Jr., Albert Pujols, George Brett, and Joe DiMaggio. And he did at as a 22-year old.
Harper could win every MVP for the next ten seasons and very likely will never top his 2015 season. That’s how impressive it was.
10. Bryce Harper can't lead Nats far in postseason
It wouldn't be fair to pin it all on him, but the Harper Era Nats will be partially remembered for a lack of postseason success. The team fell short in 2012 and 2014, and one could argue that Harper was still learning how to be a star at that point.
By the time the 2016 and 2017 postseasons came around, the Nats were Harper's team. In 2016, they were matchup up with the Dodgers in the NLDS. The Nationals had a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 series, but lost the last two games to find themselves once again eliminated prematurely.
Harper didn’t contribute much at the plate, recording just four hits all series, including a surprising zero home runs. He also struck out six times, though he did lead the team with six walks, so it’s pretty clear the Dodgers were doing their best to pitch around him.
In 2017, the Nationals dominated the NL East, winning by 20 games.
Given their regular season success, expectations were high as the Nats tried once again to break though the first round of the postseason. They found themselves facing the Cubs, who of course had broken their own curse the year before.
In the series, Harper hit just .211, with a .304 on-base percentage. In the decisive Game 5, Harper went 2-for-4 with a walk, but with two outs in the ninth and the Nats trailing 9-8, he came to the plate against Cubs closer Wade Davis.
Who else could fans have wanted in a do-or-die situation than their best slugger? With the fans hanging on to every pitch, Bryce Harper worked the count full, and on the sixth pitch of the at-bat, he struck out swinging.
Just like that, another October run was over before it had really begun.
11. Bryce Harper set Opening Day home run record
Harper has never shied away from the big moment, and with the exception of games with postseason ramifications, there’s no bigger game than Opening Day. In 2017, Harper once again went yard in game number one, and this time, it was historic.
Harper’s blast against the Marlins was the fifth Opening Day home run of his career, a new record for any player under 25. It makes sense that this would be a difficult record to achieve, as players only have one chance at an Opening Day home run each year, and most don’t get their first chance as 20-year olds.
Harper hitting five home runs in his first five Opening Days is underrated as one of the most impressive stats from his young career.
12. Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland get into brawl
In May 2017, Harper (once again) found himself in the middle a brawl he didn’t want. This time, at least, the reliever wasn’t on his own team.
In 2014, Harper had hit two titanic blasts off of Giants reliever Hunter Strickland. Harper enjoyed one of them a bit too long for Strickland’s liking, and he decided to exact his revenge on Harper nearly three years later, all for choosing to enjoy a perfectly enjoyable home run.
Harper’s teammates were incensed at both Strickland’s actions and how long he held his grudge. It’s one thing to throw at someone later in the same game. It’s still a stupid thing, but it’s at least a thing. Waiting this long though? That’s a bit of a stretch.
The Nats slugger reacted the same way most of us would if someone threw a weapon at us at 98 mph. He stared, charged the mound, threw his helmet, and got in a few good punches before being pulled away. Harper was yet again the unintentional instigator, and still found himself suspended by the league.
13. Bryce Harper is the leading vote getter for 2017 All-Star Game
After April of 2017, it looked like Harper was well on his way to a second MVP. Instead, he fell off a bit in May and June, hitting just .256 and .287, respectively, to go along with nine home runs over the span of two months.
And yet, despite his “down” season (extreme emphasis on the quotes around the word “down”), Harper was the number one leading vote getter for the 2017 MLB All-Star Game in Miami. His 4,630,306 received votes represented Harper’s status among the faces of the sport.
Being named an All-Star is one thing. In fact, it takes extreme circumstances for popular former MVPs to not be named to the team. But leading the entire league in fan balloting was a coronation of sorts, symbolizing that he was now a name bigger than his stat line.
14. Bryce Harper wins 2018 Home Run Derby at Nationals park
The most memorable moment of Harper's walk year, and maybe of his entire career so far, came as the baseball world descended onto Washington for the All-Star Game.
It was the Home Run Derby that served as the backdrop to Harper’s special moment. He had participated before, falling short and promising not to compete again until the Derby was taking place in front of his home fans. Harper got his opportunity, and he took full advantage.
His numbers from that night were plain silly. His total distance for all home runs combined added up to more than 19,000. He hit 10 home runs in 11 swings. He won as the hometown representative for just the third time in Derby history.
None of the numbers, however, can quite capture the incredible atmosphere as he mounted his comeback in the finals. The energy in the crowd was electric, and whether you were there in person or watching on TV, it was obvious how cathartic the experience was for tortured baseball fans in the city.
As the American flag-themed bat swung through the air over and over again, fans weren’t thinking about the disappointing first half of the season. They weren’t thinking about how Harper might eventually leave for a bigger pay day somewhere else, and they weren’t thinking about a potential Home Run Derby curse.
All they were thinking about was watching the biggest name in the game rep harder for their city than anyone could have possibly imagined, all while having fun and doing what he does best on the biggest stage.
It was a night that Bryce, his father (who pitched for him), and every single fan watching will never, ever forget.