Bryce Harper knew just how to endear himself to the locals when he joined the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019. He signed a contract without an opt-out clause, showing loyalty to a city that demands it. He adopted the Eagles as his favorite football team, dropping the hated Dallas Cowboys. He formed a bromance with the most beloved creature in town, the Phillie Phanatic, paying regular tribute to the mascot with headbands, cleats and even a green sport coat.
Yet the surest way to the heart of any fan base is to be the best player in the league. Harper did that this season, and the baseball writers certified it on Thursday. They voted Harper as the winner of the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award for the second time of his career, and his first as a Phillie.
Harper, a right fielder who turned 29 last month, got 17 of 30 first-place votes, ahead of Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals, who had six, and Fernando Tatis of the San Diego Padres, who had two. Yet as dazzling as their seasons were, none of those players could lift their teams to the postseason.
Harper’s other M.V.P. season, 2015 with the Nationals, was the last time the top three finishers had come from non-playoff teams. He was the unanimous choice that year after hitting .330 with 42 homers and leading the majors in on-base plus slugging percentage, at 1.109.
This season, Harper again led the majors in OPS (1.044), while batting .309 with 35 homers. He was passed over for a spot on the All-Star team, and then spent the second half punishing opponents with a 1.188 O.P.S. — compared to .684 for all of the other Phillies. The team finished 82-80, six and a half games behind the N.L. East-winning Atlanta Braves, who won the World Series.
Harper is the sixth Phillies player to win the M.V.P., after Chuck Klein (1932), Jim Konstanty (1950), Mike Schmidt (1980, 1981, 1986), Ryan Howard (2006) and Jimmy Rollins (2007). With another decade left on his 13-year, $330 million contract, he has time to add more awards in red pinstripes.
This was the best of Harper’s three seasons in Philadelphia, but all have been strong. Since joining the Phillies, he is one of only three players — with Soto and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman — to have both a .400 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage while playing at least 300 games.
Yet while Soto and Freeman have helped their teams win titles in that time frame, the Phillies have largely squandered Harper’s performance. Hampered by a thin farm system, shaky defense and a weak bullpen, the Phillies are 191-193 since signing him.
This week, however, has brought good news beyond Harper’s award. The Phillies settled a lawsuit with the designer of the Phanatic, allowing the team to bring back the mascot in his original glory: furry, flabby, and a friend of the M.V.P.