After clamoring for Bryce Harper to join his longtime friend Kris Bryant on the North Side, Cubs fans are back to treating Harper like a villain.
It’s good to see normalcy return to Wrigley Field, and no one enjoys playing the role of the bad cop quite like the Phillies star, who pretended he was going to throw an inning-ending fly ball into the bleachers Tuesday night at Wrigley Field before hurling it across Sheffield Avenue.
“Hopefully I didn’t hit a cop or something down below,” Harper told Phillies reporters before Wednesday’s game. “I didn’t even see where it went. I just threw it. Acting like we had a third deck in Philly. It’s all fun.”
Messing with the opposing team’s fans is second nature for Harper, who basically is booed just for being Bryce Harper. The only difference this week was some of those booing fans were the same ones complaining last winter when the Cubs made no effort to sign him.
“Same old stuff,” Harper said. “They were really nice last year because they wanted me, you know? They were nice to me, but now they’re back to not.
“Everyone is usually pretty mean. There’s some mean stuff. … Some people take it over the line and some people just yell the same stuff. It’s usually the same stuff. No one really comes up with anything that clever.”
That was confirmed during a brief visit to the right-field bleachers Wednesday night, where the predominantly millennial crowd began chanting “Harper sucks!” before the opening pitch. They came up with the standard “Over-rated” when he came out to right in the bottom of the first and followed with the predictable cliches:
“You’re a bum.” “You suck.” “Get a haircut.”
The one that stood out was near the end of the first when someone yelled: “You’ll never be happy, Bryce.”
It appears as if Harper is quite happy, as anyone would be if given a $330 million contract. The bottom line is bleacher fans need to up their game if they’re going to troll Harper, who is a professional troll on social media.
It was only two years ago Harper posted a photo of himself and Bryant on Instagram with the hashtag “#Back2BackOneDay,” leading to speculation he was hoping to sign with the Cubs when he was eligible for free agency after 2018. Remember, this is a guy who named his dog Wrigley.
Bryant admitted afterward that Harper was “stirring the pot” to get everyone’s attention.
“He's just totally having fun because I think a lot of people were talking about that,” Bryant said then. “He's funny, man. He knows how to get people talking about stuff, and I love that about him.”
Of course it never happened, though it would’ve been something to see Bryant and Harper hitting back-to-back in the Cubs lineup, perhaps even sandwiching Bryant between Harper and Anthony Rizzo.
We’ll never know how high the Cubs would’ve gone in a bidding war because they opted to sit out the proceedings and generally keep the status quo in the outfield, minus Ian Happ.
Was it the right move?
Harper is off to a slow start again in 2019, taking a .224 average into Wednesday’s game with nine home runs and 31 RBIs. But he’s probably going to wind up with 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs, which the Cubs would gladly take from Kyle Schwarber, who was at .214 with six homers and 15 RBIs on Wednesday.
Bryant noted Tuesday that so much attention has been paid to Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish during this series that Harper has avoided the spotlight. Harper also hadn’t done anything offensively before Wednesday, going 0-for-8 with one walk in the first two games, and his 18-game on-base streak ended Tuesday.
Harper did throw Rizzo out at the plate Monday night to save an important run in a game in which the Phillies rallied for a win in 10 innings, and he finally broke through with a bunt single past Cole Hamels in the third inning Wednesday.
But besides his stats, Harper brings a swagger to the Phillies lineup that was lacking before he signed. He’s a lot like Jake Arrieta — but with better hair.
If baseball is fortunate, we’ll see Harper and the Phillies back at Wrigley in October when the ivy is thicker and the stakes are much higher.
The first two games of the series were great theater, and when Rizzo’s three-run shot in the third inning Wednesday hit the “D” in the Budweiser sign atop the right-field video board, jaws dropped from the bleachers to the box seats.
As the Phillies right fielder watched the ball soar over his head and into the twilight, almost everyone in the ballpark turned and craned their necks.
For one brief moment, no one was paying any attention to Bryce Harper.