As a Washington Nationals fan, I was glued to my computer screen to catch Bryce Harper's return to the nation's capital. It was his first game at Nationals Park with his new club, the Philadelphia Phillies, and I wanted to see what kind of reaction he would get.
Would the fans cheer their former hero? Would they boo him? A mix of both?
I thought there would be a mix. After all, Harper was a big part of the Nationals' success over the past seven seasons. He had plenty of memorable moments in a Nationals uniform, and at Nationals Park.
A good number of fans, though, weren't satisfied with booing. As Harper ran out to right field for the first time as a visitor in the bottom half of the first inning, he was greeted by fans wearing shirts that spelled out "TRAITOR." Another fan held up a sign labeling Harper a "snake." There were other signs blasting Harper's decision to leave the team that drafted him for another club.
Am I happy that Bryce Harper left the Nationals? No. But is he a traitor? Absolutely not.
Casual fans are gonna be casual fans. They don't follow the latest news. They just go to games. When they decide they're interested in the team, they spew their hot takes.
But anyone who has read up on the situation between Harper and the Nationals should know that Harper wanted to stay. Unless he's the biggest liar ever to set foot in Washington — and we know that's not true — he did everything he could to remain a National.
Nationals ownership, however, did everything they could to make sure he didn't.
We have known for awhile that the Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million near the end of the 2018 season. A recent Washington Post story revealed that Harper received that offer in an envelope during a rain delay. The team's offer, though, included $100 million in deferred money.
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Harper, the Washington Post reported, viewed it as a good first step. He wanted to stay in Washington. The offer was a building block toward that goal.
Unfortunately, that's not what happened. When the Nationals came back with a second offer later in free agency, it was a 12-year, $250 million deal that still had deferred money attached. Harper took that as the Nationals weren't serious, and he decided to look elsewhere.
In interviews, it's clear Harper wanted a lengthy deal. The money would come with it. He was more focused on the years. The Nationals, it can be argued, came in with a solid counter based on the length of the contract. But it was a joke that they didn't deliver the money — and still insisted on deferred cash.
As fans, we're constantly told that the way to build a sports franchise is through the draft. You draft good players, and you retain them for many years. That's what we have been brainwashed to believe.
Here, the Nationals drafted a phenom. Sure, Bryce Harper has had some injury woes and slumps. But he won the National League MVP in 2015 for a reason. And he showed in the second half of 2018 what he can do when he's at his best.
Bryce Harper didn't fail Nationals fans. Ownership did. They selected Harper with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He was supposed to be the cornerstone of their franchise. Instead, they let him go because they were unwilling to pay him the kind of money he commands.
I expect the front office will be reminded of this grievous error for years to come. Harper signing with the Philadelphia Phillies means there will be plenty of run-ins with the Nationals. The National League East foes will play each other close to 20 games each season.
I understand fans will be mad, but they should consider the facts. Harper wanted to remain in a Nationals uniform. Ownership wasn't serious about keeping him. He wanted a deal done with the Nationals. It didn't happen.
That doesn't make Bryce Harper a traitor. He did his part. The owners didn't deliver. This failure is on them, not Harper.