Bryce Harper’s first game in National Parks in a Phillies uniform was highly anticipated for both Nats and Phils fans. For the Nats, it was a return marred with sentiments of betrayal and resounding boos. As if the sting of declining a ten-year, $300 million contract didn’t hurt enough, Nationals fans were enraged that their “Bam Bam” would take up a contract spanning thirteen years with an arch division rival.
Prior to the April 2 standoff, Nats fans traded in Harper paraphernalia at a local sports bar in exchange for free alcohol. At the first Nationals/Phillies game in the short two-game series, some former Harper fans donned his old jersey with his name X’d out on the back; a row of spectators wore white t-shirts that spelled out “TRAITOR.” It was an anti-homecoming for the ages.
The hype and the hoopla around Harper’s first game as a Phillie in D.C. hearkened back to 2011, when the script was flipped and our own Jayson Werth appeared on CBP turf in a Nats uniform. Given our reputation as passionate fans, most expected that Werth would not receive a warm welcome as he took to home plate on May 3, 2011. On the contrary, the booing he was initially greeted with morphed into cheers, a symbolic “thank you” for his contributions to the Phillies in the golden era that was 2007-2010.
When considering the difference in fan receptions to Werth and Harper respectively, consider the circumstances in which Werth came to Philly and left for DC, versus the those that brought Harper to DC and then to Philly.
When Werth arrived in Philadelphia for the start of the 2007 season, he had already spent two seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays and three with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He came to the Phillies as the team’s fourth outfielder, with a one-year, $850,000 contract, which was extended for two more years and $10 million. During his tenure as a Phillie, Werth was an integral part of the team that brought us four straight division titles, two World Series runs, and a World Championship title in 2008. He batted .282/.380/.506, stole a combined 60 bases, and had a decent WAR of 14.2 over his four seasons as a Phillie. He never failed to pump up fans as he approached the plate to Lil Wayne’s Right Above It, and was overall beloved by the City of Philadelphia.
Having proven himself as a value-add to any clubhouse, Werth left us for the Nats in pursuit of a contract worth twelve-fold what he’d made as a Phillie. Though well deserved, it didn’t feel good to see our one of our World Champions leave us for another NL East team. Time eased the wound, but those initial feelings of contempt are not lost on Phillies fans.
Harper was not an MLB vet when he made his debut in Washington as a 19-year-old slugger, but rather a rookie with tremendous promise, a once-in-a-generation kind of player. Harper grew to be the superstar he is today with the Nats. He batted .279/.388/.512 during his seven year tenure in Washington, and had a whopping WAR of 27.3. He became a household name for baseball fans as a six-time All Star, 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, 2015 NL MVP, 2018 Home Run Derby winner, etc. In spite of his personal accomplishments, though, the Nationals never advanced to the World Series with Harper (and have never since moving from Montreal to DC and becoming the Nationals in 2005).
Here’s the rub: When Werth returned to Philly, we could herald him for what he did for us, but when Harper returned to DC, especially after night one of the series, they see their homegrown golden boy who didn’t stick around long enough to bring home the World Championship, who left them to do just that with a team in their own division.
We’ve been there, too, Nationals fans, so we can empathize with how it felt to see Harper back “home” as a Phillie. We won’t be feeling too empathetic, though, when Harper, along with the rest of our Phillies, brings home a World Championship to Philadelphia.