Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

The Bryce Harper Sweepstakes Made Dummies Of Us All

Photo: Andrew Harnik (AP)

The last time we saw Bryce Harper’s name linked to the Philadelphia Phillies, we were told he hated Philadelphia, the shambolic organization, and especially manager Gabe Kapler, who is supposed to be as mad as a brush.

So of course today Harper signed a 13-year, no-opt-out deal with the Phillies, and everyone who had the Phillies as the favorites to sign him claimed victory. And conveniently, everyone who picked the Phillies as Harper’s destination also picked the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Arizona Cardinals, Columbus Blue Jackets, Team LeBron, Tottenham Hotspur, and the cast of Medical Police, because in the end no actual news meant maximum nonsense.

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That was the only sure takeaway from Thursday’s contract news—that given enough time and enough guesses, everyone would be right, and wrong, except maybe the lonely pundit who thought Harper’s deal would be for 13 dollars over 330 million years. Indeed, the only seamhead who avoided committing to anything more definitive than “I haven’t got a clue” was ESPN’s longest-serving analytroid, Tim Kurkjian. So I guess he wins.

(For the record, my own position, that he wouldn’t sign with the Giants because no hitter in his right mind would, turned out to be right despite the fact that I analyzed everything leading up to Thursday incorrectly. Just establishing my bonafides as a blowhole without portfolio, if you must know.)

But the big takeaway from the Harper deal is that given minimal information and maximum time to regurgitate that information, even the people charged with keeping us up to date on all the negotiating ins and outs can eventually reach that most rarefied of states, angry disinterest. Indeed, if Scott Boras announced that Harper would play his baseball in 2019 on the surface of the sun, the most written story lede would be, “Good news, boys and girls. He’s the solar system’s problem now.”

As a Phillie, Harper will be the centerpiece of the new wackiest ship in the game, a team loaded with hitters who could turn Citizens Bank Park into the new Baker Bowl, a manager whose purposeful stride struck every land mine in the field in his first year and offseason, a fan base that combines barely submerged rage and eternal hope and now has a single point upon which to fixate their love, hate, disappointment, and fulfillment. In a town suddenly awash in athletic stars, icons and love interests, Harper slips in neatly ahead of Joel Embiid and whoever is playing the Cowboys in any given week, and just behind Carson Wentz and Gritty. And because he opted out of any opt-outs, he could realistically spend each of the next 13 years outliving them all in the hearts and spleens of the citizenry.

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But for the moment, his greatest accomplishment is breaking the baseball intelligentsia’s source nets by exhausting them all into submission. His decision to sign with the putative favorite still ended surprising everyone because (a) nobody believes in Occam’s Razor any more and (b) not signing a deal on everyone’s timeline made us assume he was dissatisfied with the putative favorite when all he was doing was letting Boras chipper-shred the money tree. We were geared for the grand shock (again, in candor, I wanted it to be the A’s just to see if Giants CEO Larry Baer would pull off manager Bruce Bochy’s anthropology-class-midterm head at the neck in blind, adrenalized, plasma-hydrant rage) only to be given the anticlimax we’d already dismissed as the dead narrative.

Now if we could only do this for and to the Los Angeles Lakers, the team for which more words have been employed to less effect than at any time in sports history. They have come as close as any story has come to achieving Harper’s level of media surrender, and even at that there’s always another version of “LeBron James is the best player and worst rainmaker in sports history” to please a pitilessly gormless editor or program director. Bryce Harper was supposed to be the name that could always move the baseball needle, and we found out that even he has a shelf life. We just saw it.

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But now it is done. He has not only decided his future, he has decided the hell out of it. He is Philadelphia’s, and they are his. We have seen the event horizon finally attained in a sports story, and if there is a deity who loves and cares for us all, it won’t be the last.

In other words, and only in the interests of re-testing the limits of human endurance, let’s hope Kevin Durant doesn’t decide what team he wants to play for until Halloween. I mean, the courting of Harper lasted less than a year. Durant’s next stop has been a subject for nearly three. Let’s find this brave new frontier, if only to throw up all over it.

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Ray Ratto likes when Twitter cries.

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