SNIDER: How will Nats fans react to Harper's final bow?

Rick Snider
September 25, 2018 - 11:13 am
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Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

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Sometime in the late innings of a forgettable game in a disappointing season on Wednesday, franchise cornerstone Bryce Harper will bat for perhaps the last time as a Washington National. Will the crowd rise in appreciation for seven years of hope, or will they stay seated in frustration that Harper will leave over the offseason as a free agent?

Let's hope fans send Harper off with a cheer.

It's deeply disappointing that a player drafted first in 2011, whose father needed to sign the contract because Harper wasn't yet 18-years old, could be leaving in the prime of his career. Even worse, the rival Philadelphia Phillies might sign him to torment the Nats for years. And that would be a real rebuke to Washington, if Harper signed with Philadelphia. It's one thing to go to one of the iconic franchises in the sport like the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers. But Philadelphia? Nobody goes there, except to eat cheesesteaks, see a cracked bell and run up the Rocky steps.

Choosing Philadelphia would mean this is all about money, and surely the Nats owners are willing to pay a premium rate. It's just sometimes, others will pay insane money. The Nats did so with Jayson Werth. Maybe the Phillies pay the Nats back by luring Harper.

This has been three years in the making. After winning the 2015 National League MVP award and batting .319 last year, there was no way Harper wasn't testing free agency and its ocean of money that some believe will surpass $400 million.

The stress clearly showed on Harper this season. A post-All-Star break surge has raised his numbers from pathetic to good, but it's still hard to call it a great year when batting .245 with 164 strikeouts despite a career-high 100 RBI plus 34 homers. Harper left a lot of wins on the bases early by hitting less than .200, with the recent rise coming mostly when the Nats weren't reaching the postseason.

Harper is a must-watch at the plate, but he hasn't been Mickey Mantle as promised. Harper has been a very good player, but also inconsistent. Harper batted .330 in 2015, .243 in 2016, .319 in 2017 and .245 this season.

Fans must decide how they will remember Harper when he comes to bat in the home season finale. It will shape his future greetings in Washington. Maybe Harper will re-sign and play his whole career in Washington. That would be great. But if not, will fans in future years follow Wednesday's response with cheers or jeers?

In a city where politics has turned uglier than ever, maybe Washingtonians can show how to be classy even when feeling conflicted.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.

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