bryce harper

MLB's Biggest Villains: The Chosen One

“The Chosen One.” That’s the label Sports Illustrated slapped on Bryce Harper when he was just 16. A sculpted, cannon-armed catcher with enough light-tower power in his left-handed stroke, Harper was destined to be baseball’s next shining star. 

The Washington Nationals selected Harper first overall in 2010, and he debuted two years later. The star athlete from Las Vegas was on baseball’s biggest stage, and, suddenly, fans around the world were captivated by his persona. The numbers sparkled, but, more importantly, Harper was a fascinating character. In the mid-2010s, his flowing hair, smeared eye black, and fiery demeanor made him the talk of MLB.

As Harper’s career trudged along and he racked up Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, it became very clear the prophecy was accurate. He wasn’t built like other ball players; he was better, and he wasn’t afraid to let you know it. 

What Makes Harper A Baseball Villain

The Temper

Very quickly, it became clear Harper had a temper. He was always a hothead – that’s part of why he’s a great player – but his disdain for bad calls has generated some memorable ejections. In 2015, for example, Harper got into it with veteran ump Jerry Meals after a questionable strike call. Meals implored Harper to “knock it off,” but the outfielder couldn’t resist. One more word, and he got the heave-ho. 

In 2017, Harper had an especially testy exchange with home plate umpire Chris Segal, slamming his bat down (Harper loves that move) and arguing his ejection. Harper became such a lightning rod for ejections that he’d even get himself tossed from the dugout, where he’d argue a call on his teammate’s behalf, or up the first-base line after he chucked his equipment in frustration.

The latest episode of the Harper vs ump show saw Angel Hernandez play a starring role.  In September 2023, Harper objected to Hernandez, the third base umpire, ringing him up on a questionable checked swing. The Chosen One marched to third base, seeing red. Hernandez ejected Harper, and on his walk back, the Phillies star chucked his helmet into the crowd. One final gift for the best show in baseball. 

Mr. Harper, you’ve outdone yourself once again. The stats on ejections aren’t very reliable, but we estimate Harper’s been ejected over 16 times in his career. A true villain, indeed. 

The Vendettas

Naturally, Harper made a few enemies along the way. He’s been intentionally drilled by opposing teams – the Reds hit Harper with a pitch in 2015, leading to a war of words between Harper and Joey Votto – but, to keep the list short, let’s focus on the two biggest scuffles.

During a September 2015 game between the Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies (the Nats were eliminated from the playoffs at this point), Harper hit a shallow fly ball to left field. Visibly upset with himself, the then-22-year-old slowly trotted out of the box, uninterested in running full tilt. Harper’s teammate, reliever Jonathan Papelbon, didn’t like that. 

Papelbon barked at Harper, who barked back, and the tussle began. The pitcher rushed his younger teammate, grabbing him by the neck, as teammates surged in to break it up. Harper’s brash attitude didn’t sit well with Papelbon, an old-school veteran with his own temper problems. 

Papelbon apologized for his actions, stating he should’ve addressed the issue at a better time, chalking up the spat to “a lot of testosterone” and competitive drive during a game. Ah, yes, just guys being dudes, handling their demons via outward physical violence. Sounds healthy.

Harper’s next episode of fisticuffs came in 2017 vs the San Francisco Giants. Reliever Hunter Strickland was still salty about a home run Harper pimped during the 2014 playoffs and decided he’d bean Harper in the hip. Bryce didn’t like that, pointed at Strickland, and all hell broke loose. 

Harper charged the mound and attempted to toss his helmet at Strickland, who popped him with a right hand. In a real rumble on the hill, Harper got a good overhand right in before bodies mobbed the infield and a pile formed. 

After the brawl, Harper wondered why Strickland was still frazzled by the homer from years earlier, especially after the Giants won the World Series that year. 

“He should be thinking about wearing that ring home every single night,” Harper told “I don't know why he did it or what he did it for, but I guess it happens."

The Villain's Venom: Why Harper is Great

A baseball sicko without success doesn’t leave a grand legacy. There has to be a method to the madness, and Harper's balls-to-the-wall attitude often results in glorious payoffs.

The Clutch Hits

Harper’s moonshot off Strickland in 2014 was one of many clutch moments in the playoffs. He has 11 home runs and a slash line of.273/.358/.604 in 36 postseason games.

During the 2022 playoffs with Philly, Harper reminded everyone why he’s a terrifying force at the dish. Harper slugged.746 (.746) with a 1.160 OPS while the Phillies ran through the National League en route to the World Series. His biggest moment by far was the go-ahead two-run bomb in Game 5 of the NLDS that lifted his Phillies over the San Diego Padres and into the World Series.

For his efforts, Harper’s Philadelphia teammates dubbed him "The Showman," a perfect nickname for a perfect baseball sicko.

Unwavering Plate Discipline

I love patient hitters, and Harper is as patient as they come. From 2013-2023, he produced a 13.8% walk rate and has the fifth-most walks (882).

It’s one hell of a weapon to pair an eagle eye with one of the most explosive swings in MLB history. That’s the type of player Harper is. He’ll strike out a fair amount, but he earns his way on base, too. Sometimes the threat of surrendering a monstrous homer also pushes pitchers into an uncomfortable position. With Harper’s resume of destruction, I can’t blame them.

The Hustle

It’s worth touching on Harper’s fantastic motor. Every time he crosses the chalked lines, he goes all-in, a style that plays even better in the playoffs. The 30-year-old isn’t a pure speedster, but, man, does he run hard around the bases (though Papelbon might disagree). If running the catcher was still legal, it’s safe to say Harper would do some nuclear damage to unsuspecting backstops.

As a lifelong baseball prodigy, Harper has elite instincts. In 2012, his rookie year, Harper bounced off third base during a pickoff attempt and stole home before the throw from first could nab him. It was an electric play, and it foreshadowed the pep (or, erm, ‘sicko energy’) he’d play with for his entire career.

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