By Bob Nightengale |
The text message came in at four minutes past midnight Thursday on my cell phone.
It was from Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton.
“You tell me,’’ he said. “A little stupid? Or completely stupid?’’
This time, he was joking, and he certainly didn’t need my assurance that it was a stroke of genius.
Middleton was the one who uttered the quote to USA TODAY Sports heard ‘round the baseball world.
“We’re going into this expecting to spend money,’’ Middleton said. “And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.
“We just prefer not to be completely stupid.’’
It was uttered on Nov. 16, 2018.
Yes, 117 days ago.
But finally, on a glorious Saturday afternoon at Spectrum Field, there was Bryce Harper, being officially introduced, signing a record 13-year, $330 million contract.
Harper sat at a dais atop the first base dugout, with Middleton beaming like a new father.
“Does this,’’ Middleton said to crowd of reporters and Phillies employees, “look like stupid money?’’
The Phillies have already sold 220,000 tickets in the first 48 hours since the signing, but the ultimate evaluation, Middleton says, will depend on how many World Series titles and postseason berths the Phillies achieve through 2031.
“The intel I get is that people are going crazy,’’ Middleton said. “My friends are texting me and e-mailing me. This feels really unbelievable.’’
Yet, as Middleton told agent Scott Boras during negotiations, he didn’t want to hear about Harper’s marketability or Q rating.
“I said, ‘Scott, I’m not interested in talking about marketing dollars, tickets sold, billboards, concessions. There’s only one reason I’m talking to you. And that’s because I believe this guy can help us win. And that’s all I care about.
“I’ve made enough money in my life. I don’t need to make more.’’
Once Middleton made his feelings perfectly clear, the Phillies made their first official offer to Harper last Sunday, and four days later, the deal was finally done.
“The maestro wanted to build a championship,’’ Boras said, “and he wanted his harp. The Philadelphia-Phil-Harp-monic symphony is built.’’
Considering the time it took for this deal to finally get consummated, Boras apparently had plenty of time to work on his quips.
Then again, this paled to Harper’s heartfelt quote about his ultimate mission.
“I want to be on Broad Street, on a frigging boat, bus, or whatever it is,’’ Harper said, “and hold a trophy over my head. …
“This whole city, it’s a winning city, it’s an amazing city. (Former teammate Jayson) Werth always talks about Broad Street and his stupid little thing that he had, a red glove, or whatever it was. It’s something I want to be a part of for a very long time.’’
This is why Harper, tired of talking about the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and everyone else about his potential free-agent destination for the past six years, insisted on getting the longest contract possible, plain and simple. He didn’t want an opt-out clause, but insisted on a no-trade clause, assuring that he would likely spend the rest of his career in Philadelphia.
He was told by Werth that he would love playing in Philadelphia, no matter how often he may get booed. He talked to Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout, who grew up in nearby Millville, N.J., who assured him it was an ideal place as long as you’re not afraid of expectations or playing hard.
“I talked to him a lot,’’ Harper said, “all of the way through the process. Just seeing where he grew up in Philly, things like that. I was just trying to get a hometown kid to tell me how he felt about the organization, and the area, things like that.
“He’s a kid who grew up seeing the Phillies have success, so going through those times with the fans and things like that, It was good to get his perspective and hear how he felt.’’
Well, considering how much Trout persuaded him to come to Philly, Harper plans to return the favor in two years, just in case Trout decides to test free agency.
“I want to be able to bring in other guys to help this organization win,’’ Harper said. “I know there’s another guy in about two years that comes off the books. We’ll see what happens to him.”
The way Middleton sees it, he was never interested in waiting two years to see if Trout leaves the comfort of Orange County. He realizes the unlikelihood of owner Arte Moreno letting Trout get away without locking him up to a deal that may eclipse $400 million. Middleton doesn’t have the patience to wait. He wants to win. And he wants to win now.
Middleton, who met three times with Harper, wanted to make sure he understood just how badly he wanted to win. He provided gifts, including different aprons from the Philadelphia sports teams. He showed him a video, featuring everyone from NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving to former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins to the Villanova basketball team singing to him.
And once the Phillies came up with the money on Thursday morning, eclipsing the San Francisco Giants’ 12-year, $310 million offer, the deal was consummated, with Philadelphia celebrating the man they desperately coveted all winter.
“He is a magnetic personality,’’ Middleton said. “He has that presence. This is a special talent.”
He’s the man who’s expected to make the losing stop in Philadelphia. Win NL East Division titles. And perhaps bring home a few World Series trophies, too.
“We didn’t make this move to win 83 games,’’ Middleton said. “That’s not where we’re going here.’’
The Phillies liked the moves they made before Harper came aboard, believing they already had a great shot to make the postseason, but with Harper, they can’t help those World Series dreams dancing in their heads.
They know that Harper will ultimately be remembered for the titles he brings to Philadelphia, and not the numbers on his bubble-gum card.
“All I really care about,’’ Middleton said, “is getting that trophy back. We’re going to do this together. This isn’t a contract. Really, this is a marriage.’’
To World Series till us part.