For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: March 3, 2024 3:26 pm PDT


A is for arrogance.

We see it every day in baseball, it’s as much a part of today’s game as spin rate and exit velo. You saw it in Games 1 and 3 of the World Series where the Astros, no doubt encouraged by their analytics department, had Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. both go overboard with breaking balls against the Phillies instead of fastballs up in the zone.

The Phillies, under Dave Dombrowski, clearly put their scouts to work and came up with a tremendous offensive approach and a way to pitch the Astros. But at least the Phillies and Astros made it to the World Series. And the Astros certainly can be a little arrogant with all the success they have created through the years – minus the cheating – their approach gets them to the World Series, and we will see if adjustments are made as this series progresses.

The Astros made all the adjustments they had to make on Wednesday night, rolling to a 5-0 combined no-hitter victory over the Phillies to even the World Series at two games apiece. The Astros’ Cristian Javier was phenomenal, attacking the Phillies with fastballs, something the Astros did not do in their two losses.

What gets me, though, is the arrogance of doing things that don’t work and keeping up with that game plan.

Here we are now and the Yankees still have not won a title since 2009, three years before Harper came into the majors.

And that brings Baseball or Bust to the postseason presence of Bryce Harper, who was a free agent in 2019. Any team with money could have signed Harper. And all teams have money, don’t let them tell you anything else. The worth of these teams has skyrocketed through the last decade.

To their credit the Phillies did spend the money – and now they are reaping the rewards as Harper has shown himself to be an out of this world generational talent and also a leader who the team and a city can rally around. It’s fun to see. It’s what makes October baseball so special and good for Harper and good for the Phillies and their ownership.

This postseason Harper leads all batters in hits, doubles, runs and RBI.

Harper, as we all know, wanted to be a Yankee; but in their arrogance they skipped over any need to sign Bryce Harper and that decision by Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman is coming back to haunt them in a big way.

I’ve always been a huge Harper fan ever since my friend Tom Verducci wrote the Sports Illustrated cover piece on the kid from Las Vegas. Harper’s talent and love of the game was evident. Often I was assigned to search out Harper in spring training or at an All-Star Game and early on, well before Harper hit free agency, I pushed for the Yankees to sign him. AMBS knows. To me, it was a no-brainer, it was only money and in New York, money talks and pays big dividends. Way back in February of 2016 I had just such a sit down with Harper in Viera, Florida, back before the Nationals moved to West Palm Beach.

I enjoyed going to Viera as a spring training site because there was no place for the players to hide. There was great access. It was the most open in terms of fields of any spring training complex and also was the most cramped. To enter the Nationals clubhouse, you would have to go through a maze of weights and workout equipment which littered the hallway that led to the Nats clubhouse.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - NOVEMBER 02: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies steals second base past Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros during the second inning in Game Four of the 2022 World Series at Citizens Bank Park on November 02, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

On this day I was advocating for the Yankees to save their millions to spend on Harper as I sat with Harper in the dugout to talk long term plans. Harper made it clear he was looking forward to making the most of the next three seasons in Washington and repeatedly talked about the “W’’ on his chest.

But I could tell he had his eye on the prize. Just talking to a writer from a New York publication got his juices flowing.

In my column I wrote this was the player the Yankees had to sign and that is why I said at the time for the Yankees to start saving their millions because it would take $400 million to sign Harper as a free agent.

Turns out it would not cost $400 million, only $330 million over 13 years. It also turns out – and to this day I still can’t believe it – the Yankees never made a play for Bryce Harper and they let him get away to Philadelphia.

Again, this was 2016 and I was pushing for the Yankees to find a way.

The Yankees and Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman could not be bothered, they had other plans. Here we are now and the Yankees still have not won a title since 2009, three years before Harper came into the majors. Here we are and once again we have the Yankees sitting home during the World Series after having been swept away by the Astros and their offense not being competitive in the ALCS.

See what I mean about arrogance?

Who needs Bryce Harper? Imagine that.

In the December 2018 winter meetings in Las Vegas of all places, Harper’s backyard, I was not there but plenty of other reporters were and of course, in the Yankees press conference Cashman was asked about the possibilities of signing Harper as a free agent.

Cashman was almost indignant, telling reporters “No time at all all winter have I said I’m looking for an outfielder. The Harper stuff… I’m surprised you’re still asking.’’

If I were there I might have asked, “What about signing a franchise-changing star, have you thought about that?’’

Alas, I wasn’t there to ask.

I bring this all up because a Bryan Hoch tweet from that time was re-earthed after Harper’s two-run home run in the first inning Tuesday night sparked the Phillies to a home run barrage against McCullers, who stubbornly stayed with his breaking ball – the Phillies thank you Astro Nerds – as the Phillies rolled to a 7-0 win over Houston.

That December day in Las Vegas Cashman rolled the dice and went onto list his stable of outfielders.

There simply was no room at the inn for Harper with an outfield mix that included Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge (at least the man who would hit 62 home runs in 2022 was included), Brett Gardner and Giancarlo Stanton.

Let me throw a seventh name in there only because he was eventually brought to New York and given a huge chance in the outfield but failed, Joey Gallo. Nah, no room for Bryce Harper in the green grass of Yankee Stadium.

The bottom line is the Yankees had spent money on Stanton and arrogantly were not going to get involved the Harper quest.

What a mistake. And using the six outfielders as being the reason for not going after Harper was so weak. And, of course, there was no creativity to the Yankees answer.

How about Stanton to DH, put Harper in right and move the 6’7” guy in Judge to first base or just make it easy and dump some of the other guys.

Before we go any further let me tell you that in one of our many conversations through the years, I once asked Judge about moving to first base and he was all for such a proposal; so imagine having your cake and eating it too, fitting Harper, Judge and Stanton in the same lineup if you so desired, and still have two other outfield spots to play with if you were creative enough – and willing enough to spend the “Steinbucks.’’

Part of Brian Cashman's ``stable`` of outfielders who made a signing of Bryce Harper unnecessary: Brett Gardner (11) and Jacoby Ellsbury (22). (Photo by Jeff Chevrier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As it turned out, Harper has been a DH since coming back from injury this season, but he has turned his game up a notch in that role and has been so helpful to other Phillies hitters as his conversation with Alec Bohm showed Tuesday night – with Bohm hitting a home run off McCullers, who was clearly tipping his pitches by raising his glove higher on fastballs than breaking balls.

All that talent in Harper and baseball knowledge could have been in pinstripes because Harper so wanted to play for the Yankees.

I remember years ago hearing about a pre-draft workout that Harper had with the Yankees and after batting practice he was telling people he couldn’t wait to be hitting baseballs into the upper deck some day in pinstripes. That day never came wearing pinstripes and it’s really kind of crazy to think that the Yankees paid Josh Donaldson $22 million this year but could not go all out to pay Harper, who made only $4 million more than Donaldson this season.

History is always 20-20, I get it. But the point is everyone knew Harper wanted to be a Yankee and really the only thing that kept him from being a Yankee was the Yankees arrogance, thinking they could succeed a cheaper way with the likes of Clint Frazier (and his “legendary bat speed’’) and other outfielders, some who weren’t even outfielders.

After the Yankees gave up on Frazier and he was signed as a free agent with the Cubs this season – by the way he now goes by the name Jackson Frazier – he appeared in only 19 games, hitting .216.

The Yankees made a decision they were not going to spend the money for Harper and will forever have to live with that decision. They can spin it anyway they want but that is the truth. The great irony here is that Aaron Judge is now one step away from out the door as a free agent and the Yankees could lose him this winter. Gardner and Ellsbury are out of the game, Hicks is coming off another disappointing injury-filled season and it might be good for him to have a change of scenery as well. That stable of outfielders isn’t quite the stable Cashman made it out to be, huh?

“I’m surprised you’re still asking.’’

I’m not.

Arrogance has shown itself in other ways too this postseason.

The Mets are sitting at home for a while after winning 101 games because Billy Eppler did not bulk up at the trade deadline. Darin Ruf and Daniel Vogelbach did not get it done. At the time I said they needed to do more, but the Mets thought they pretty much had the division in the bag and were staring at a long playoff run and thought their double aces would carry them in Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom.

It didn’t work out that way and with the Phillies becoming a buzzsaw in the NL East, life just got that much more difficult for the Mets and Steve Cohen and all his money with the Braves being a nuisance too. Need I add the Mets were arrogant too in not making a big play to keep Zack Wheeler and letting him get away to the Phillies? So the Yankees and the Mets arrogance both helped build this Phillies World Series team.

The bottom-line lesson here is when a generational talent is available, you sign him. You ask how much, and you sign him. Don’t think you can go about winning a different cheaper way. Don’t let the Nerds tell you there is a shortcut to success that doesn’t include talent such as Bryce Harper.

Great ballplayers make great teams. It’s always been that way. It has been so much fun to see Harper reach his baseball destiny with the Phillies and raise the level of talent of the other players along the way and raise the spirit of the community in the process. Citizens Bank Park is the place to be. Across the street Lincoln Financial Field is the place to be for an NFL game. New England used to have that baseball and football thing going with the Red Sox and Patriots now it is Philadelphia with the Phillies and Eagles.

Amazingly, Harper has already played 11 years in the majors and is only 29. His best years should be ahead of him. He has six home runs this postseason, including the NLCS game-winner against the Padres when he gave the fans something to remember. Harper hit .400 against the Padres in that NLCS and .500 against the defending-champion Braves in the NLDS.

The Phillies can now say he is worth every penny of his contract. The fans love him. He loves the fans and the Phightin’ Phillies spirit. Good for him. He has found a baseball home. It wasn’t the East Coast home he originally wanted, but he has made Philadelphia a special baseball place. He now has the manager in Rob Thomson that is perfect for him and a GM in Dave Dombrowski who knows how to fill in the gaps to help Harper along in his journey. One of those players Dombrowski acquired is centerfielder Brandon Marsh who has lifted his game just being in Harper’s presence and getting better because of his guidance.

The Yankees not only missed the boat, they didn’t even bother to go down to the dock to try to catch the boat.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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