Bryce Harper proves he's a walking baseball encyclopedia

August 23rd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

walked through the Phillies' clubhouse late Monday, when somebody asked him about the inside-the-park home run he hit earlier that night against the Giants.

Harper placed his hands together, looked upward and said, “Thank goodness for Mr. Montgomery.”

Harper’s inside-the-park homer was the 14th in the history of Citizens Bank Park, which opened in 2004. Nine of them hit the tall, angled wall just to the left of straightaway center field, including Harper’s on Monday night and J.T. Realmuto’s in Game 4 of the 2022 National League Division Series. A 10th deflected off the angled wall adjacent to it.

Former Phillies president David Montgomery imagined excitement and action when he designed those walls more than 20 years ago. Montgomery, who died in 2019, got what he wanted.

“We didn’t want to replicate the Vet,” former Phillies general manager Ed Wade said Tuesday. “But those walls were David’s idea. His attention to detail was always present, and it was certainly present in the construction of the ballpark. Everything was designed with a purpose.”

Harper has a well-known appreciation for baseball history, but it was surprising to hear he knew such an obscure piece of Phillies history.

“We were talking about it a couple years ago,” Harper explained Tuesday. “A few players were wondering why they made the walls like that. Why? What’s the reasoning? I heard [John] Middleton said [Montgomery] was the reason why. I guess he liked the craziness of it, the idea that if a player hits a ball off there that he has a chance at an inside-the-park home run.”

The Phillies have hit eight of the 14 inside-the-parkers at the Bank.

“I saw J-Roll do it,” Harper said. “I saw [Chase] Utley do it a couple times. Being able to be part of that is pretty cool.” 

Jimmy Rollins hit the first inside-the-park homer at the Bank on June 20, 2004. Utley hit the next two on July 9, 2009, and July 26, 2011.

“I was 11 in 2004,” Harper said, when asked about Rollins’. “I can see J-Roll running around second.”

Harper beat himself up trying to think about the team Rollins hit it against. He kept coming back to the Rockies. It was the Royals, but they were wearing sleeveless gray jerseys with black T-shirts, similar to the road jerseys the Rockies once wore.

He was close.

“I remember -- golly -- I want to say one of Utley’s, he was facing [Barry] Zito?” Harper said.

As a matter of fact, yes, Utley faced Zito when he hit his second in 2011.

“I remember a lot of Utley’s at-bats just because I just loved watching him play,” Harper said. “It wasn’t because of the Phillies or anything. I just really enjoyed watching him play. Just the way Utley would run, too.”

Harper then mimicked the way Utley chugged his arms when he ran.

If you are wondering how Harper remembered the Rollins and Utley home runs in the first place, you should know he has tremendous recall when it comes to baseball. He routinely remembers plays from the past. Earlier this season at Wrigley Field, he compared a play Realmuto made up the first-base line to Carlos Ruiz’s play for the final out of Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in the 2010 NLDS.

“Scott [Boras] would always say that to me, when I was younger because I’d pull out some stuff,” Harper said, when asked about his baseball memory. “Even when we were going through our free-agency meetings, I would say some stuff to teams, and they would be like, ‘What?’ Scott would talk to them a couple days later and they’d be like, ‘Did he study for our meeting?’ He was like, ‘No, his recall is insane. You ask him a question about baseball, and it just pops in.’ There are just certain times and moments that get in my head because I’ve watched them so many times. I’ve seen them. I just have so much respect for the guys that played before me.”

And to the guy who designed the wall that helped him get his second inside-the-park homer at the Bank.

“I remember [Montgomery] showing me the design,” Phillies managing partner Middleton told Jim Salisbury after Realmuto’s inside-the-parker last fall. “I said, ‘What’s this notch in center field and why is the wall so high?’ David said he thought it would create excitement. He thought we’d see some inside-the-park home runs.”

You can check out the list of the last 10 inside-the-park home runs at the Bank here.