Bryce Harper has grown to be one of the best players in Major League Baseball, and he can have a claim to that moniker if he can help the Phillies win a World Series.
The 30-year-old’s career has been a tumultuous one, to say the least. Harper was deemed the savior for the Washington Nationals before leaving to Philadelphia after signing a massive contract in 2019. The reigning National League MVP became public enemy No. 1 in the baseball world, and his reputation wasn’t helped when the Nationals won the World Series in the same year he left the team.
Harper’s declining reputation arguably climaxed after he got into a dugout brawl with former Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon in 2015, when the pair were Nationals teammates.
The now retired pitcher took issue with Harper for not hustling after hitting a flyout. Papelbon, who is never afraid to say what’s on his mind, told Harper exactly how he felt. The then 22-year-old argued back, and the two got into it in the dugout. Papelbon grabbed Harper by the throat and shoved Harper toward the bench, forcing those around them to try and break it up.
For those who have forgotten the 2015 incident, you can refresh you memory in the video below:
Harper won the MVP that season, but the Nationals failed to reach the postseason after an 83-79 record. For an old-school player like Papelbon, you still hustle and play hard even if the season or a game is bleak. But Harper saw things differently, and Papelbon would be suspended four games for the incident.
Seven years later, Harper has led a Phillies team to possibly win their first World Series since 2008, and Papelbon is proud of the player the designated hitter has become.
“When I watch Bryce Harper right now I see a new-and-improved leader that I did not see when I played,” Papelbon said on the “Baseball Isn’t Boring” podcast, per Audacy. “If you pay attention to what (Houston Astros manager) Dusty Baker said in his interview about him, he said ‘You know, I had my time, he was young, we had a lot of run-ins, and he’s thanked me for those run-ins.’ … I think that run-ins and intensity, it’s all a part of baseball.”
Of course, Papelbon was asked about the 2015 spat with Harper, and the former All-Star doesn’t sound like he’s sweating it seven years later.
“I think everything’s come to a culmination for him now, and I’d bet you he would be thankful for our run-in just like I am,” Papelbon said. “I’m thankful because you learn and you grow and you become a man and you figure things out in life. People want to get their panties in a wad about it, but it’s a part of life. It happens on and off the field. I think he’s in a good spot, man. … I feel like he has finally hit that culmination in his career.”
To further illustrate how much he’s not sweating the incident, Papelbon added: “It’s a whole process. Honestly, I could really say, man, I’m proud of his development. I’m proud to say I played with this guy. We had a run-in, big deal.”
Now, would Harper have grown into the player and person he is today without his dugout incident with Papelbon? Who’s to say?
The important thing is it seems the two sides of gotten over it, and Harper will keep his focus on getting past the Astros.