Since the moment he debuted on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16 — hailed as baseball’s next “Chosen One” — Bryce Harper has established himself as one of the most polarizing players in MLB. Some people love him; most people tend to hate him.
A lot of the early Harper hatred stemmed from his antics on the baseball diamond, whether he was talking trash to the opponent or bat-flipping each home run. However, as his career progressed and he encountered his first experience with MLB free agency, fanbases around the league soured on him due to the decision he made in 2019. Currently a member of the Philadelphia Phillies thanks to a 13-year, $330 million contract, Harper has experienced constant booing pretty much wherever he goes.
With that said, Harper has found a way to thrive amid all the criticism by establishing himself as MLB’s number one villain.
Bryce Harper continues to thrive as the top villain in MLB
Aug. 3 was just the latest example of Harper leaning into this villain persona.
Facing off against his former team in the Washington Nationals, Harper took some extra time to celebrate an eighth-inning solo home run (which ultimately proved to be the game-winning run). The Phillies’ superstar right fielder took his time rounding the basepaths and then took a moment to blow kisses to the booing Nationals fans as he returned to the dugout.
Harper has consistently been chirped at by Nats fans over the past three years since he departed the franchise, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. He doesn’t seem to mind, though. In fact, he tends to thrive when playing against his former team.
Harper is batting .405 with five home runs and seven RBIs against the Nats this year. His OPS against all opponents currently sits at an eye-popping .967 as well, which is the fifth-best in all of baseball.
The booing and name-calling bring something extra out of Harper, which only makes him more dangerous at the plate.
Harper and the Phillies are at their best when he leans into the leaguewide hatred
Harper’s villain play style isn’t just exclusive to when he plays in D.C., either. Back in 2019, during a regular-season game against the San Francisco Giants, he had a similar encounter with the opposing crowd. The San Francisco fans had been booing and heckling Harper all evening long, and he promptly responded by launching two home runs.
After one of the homers, Harper took the time to “shush” the crowd as he crossed home plate.
Dodger Stadium, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field — you name it. Harper seemingly gets a negative reaction wherever he goes these days.
The MLB needs someone to play the “bad guy” role
While Harper would presumably prefer to be beloved by all baseball fans, Major League Baseball is unquestionably at its best when a handful of players elicit a strong negative reaction. Everybody loves guys like Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Mike Trout. The sport as a whole needs someone to balance that out.
The Houston Astros are another great example of this contrast. Fans all over baseball absolutely despise the Astros for the cheating incident of which they were deemed guilty. While everyone wishes such a scandal never happened, it creates some seriously electric environments whenever the Astros play a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees.
All sports need a villain, and it appears Harper is happy to be the top one in baseball. His production at the plate justifies all the shushing and kiss-blowing, and one can only assume he’ll continue to lean into this type of mindset as the playoff race in the NL East heats up. The Phillies are 1.5 games back from the New York Mets with a massive three-game series set to take place in Philadelphia.
All stats courtesy of mlb.com/stats.