PHILADELPHIA -- So many thoughts and emotions raced through Bryce Harper’s mind at that moment.
He thought about his family, of course.
Family always comes first for Harper. They were with him at home in Las Vegas on Thursday, when he learned that he won the 2021 National League MVP Award. His son, Krew, stood behind the camera, waved at him and smiled. But Harper thought about his teammates; Phillies managing partner John Middleton, who hopped on a flight to Las Vegas a few years ago to convince him to come to Philadelphia; manager Joe Girardi and his coaches; Phillies fans and the city of Philadelphia. He thought about the work and the pain. He played with an injured back, shoulder and wrist at times this season. He miraculously survived a 97 mph fastball to the face in April.
It got him choked up. He shed a few tears.
“I’m sitting there with my wife and looking at my kids, knowing that my family’s there, it just makes me emotional, you know?” Harper said in a conference call with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “I think being able to play baseball in Philadelphia, you want to do so well for your organization, you want to do so well for the people around you. But you also want to do well for yourself, knowing the work that has been put in this year, knowing that I got hit in the face and that was a hard thing for me to come back from.
“I think it was just the involvement of everything combined. Having two kids and not sleeping as well. I mean, that’s a grind. I have a 5-month old, 6-month-old, who wasn’t sleeping, teething all that kind of stuff. It’s just part of the whole process and understanding that my wife [Kayla] was just a gamer all year round, not having any help and her just being able to take care of my kids when I’m on the road. There’s just so much stuff that goes on outside of the game as well that’s just an emotional toll, and being able to bring this one home back to Philadelphia just means so much to me.”
Harper got 17 first-place votes and finished with 348 points in voting by the BBWAA. Nationals slugger Juan Soto got six first-place votes and 274 points, and Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. got two first-place votes and 244 points to finish third.
It is Harper’s second NL MVP Award. He previously won in 2015 with the Nationals, which makes him the fifth player in baseball history to win MVPs with two franchises, joining Frank Robinson (Reds, Orioles), Barry Bonds (Pirates, Giants), Alex Rodriguez (Rangers, Yankees) and Jimmie Foxx (A’s, Red Sox).
Harper is the Phillies’ first MVP since Jimmy Rollins in 2007 and the eighth MVP in franchise history. Mike Schmidt won three of those eight. He made the announcement live on MLB Network.
It all puts Harper on a Hall of Fame track.
It is easy to see why Harper won. Harper batted .309 with 42 doubles, one triple, 35 home runs, 84 RBIs, a 1.044 OPS and a 179 OPS+. He led baseball in doubles, slugging percentage (.615), OPS and OPS+. He ranked second in the NL in fWAR (6.6), on-base percentage (.429) and walks (100); third in batting average and outfield assists (10); sixth in home runs and runs (101) and ninth in bWAR (5.9). He even tied for 17th in stolen bases (13).
Harper is the fourth outfielder in baseball history to have at least 100 runs, 100 walks, 40 doubles and 35 home runs in a season. Babe Ruth, Stan Musial and Bonds are the others.
“This one just felt a little bit different,” Harper said. “Being a little bit older, a little bit more mature, being able to have the teammates that I do, and the family that I do with my kids -- my son, Krew, and my daughter, Brooklyn. It just feels a little bit different in that way. Being able to enjoy this with them with my family and my friends, my teammates, the city of Philadelphia, bringing it back to them.”
Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies in Feb. 2019. It came with enormous expectations. He has lived up to the hype and then some.
Harper was asked whether he felt like he checked off a box on Thursday: Play like a superstar with the Phillies. He was asked whether it left him with one more box to check: Win a World Series.
“I don’t want to check anything off, of course,” he said. “I have 10 more years there. So I never want to check off and say, ‘Hey, I did it, I don’t have to do it again.’ I want to keep doing that, come in every single year, ready to go, ready to play. Last season was a great season for myself, but our main goal as an organization is to win a World Series. That’s my goal.”
The Phillies are working on that. Harper is, too. He said after he got up with Krew on Thursday and made him breakfast, he worked out, then did Pilates.
Afterward, Harper picked up a sharp red suit from the dry cleaners, which he wore for the announcement. He hoisted Krew onto his lap at one point, a proud father enjoying his moment with family and friends.
Krew is a little more than 2 years old. He is too young to grasp his father’s historic accomplishment.
“No doubt,” Harper said. “I’ve got to do it for him again, hopefully.”