Sorry, Bryce. Shut Up and Play.

One of the hardest things for a sports-talk host to do is to rip the biggest superstar player in his city. And by rip, I don’t mean offering measured criticism. No, I mean, giving the bigshot a dressing-down worthy of his exalted position in our sports community.

It’s a simple case of math, really. In the media world, the bigger the star you castigate, the more fans you will alienate. After all, only the marquee athletes have pretty much all of your listeners and readers rooting for them. Offering a harsh critique can easily make you the target of not just the star but also his legion of devotees.

Maybe that’s why, for a week now, I keep waiting for howls of protest from our sports commentators about the shameless greed being displayed right now by Bryce Harper.

Instead, crickets.

In case you missed it, Harper is so dedicated to the notion of taking his final breath as a member of the Phillies, he wants an extension to the 13-year, $330-million contract he signed in 2019. I’ll save you the math. This means he wants more years – the years when he will be 38 and older – than the eight he has remaining on his current deal.

OK, let’s start with a major concession. Harper may be one of a handful of athletes in any sport who is actually worth over $300 million. He has bonded as well with the fans of Philadelphia as anyone ever, with the possible exception of Jason Kelce. Harper was born to play here, and he has fulfilled expectations.

What he has not done, by any measure, is exceed those expectations, however. It is almost impossible to make hundreds of millions and be called a bargain. Harper is no bargain, averaging a mere 25 home runs a season and joining his teammates in an epic fail last season in the final two games of the NLCS.

No question, he has had some majestic moments, none bigger than that eight-inning bomb in 2022 that sent the Phillies to their first World Series in 14 years. He has also brought a boldness, a confidence, that only the best players bring into their clubhouse.

Meanwhile, Harper has brought an excitement to Citizens Bank Park that is also undeniable. The volume of the crowds in the past two postseasons has been historically loud in an already loud sports city, and no one is more responsible for this surge of interest in baseball here than Bryce Harper.

My argument is that the $330 million covers these heroics. I mean, if you really want to quibble, the man has managed over 100 RBIs only once in the five years – due in part to the shortened pandemic season and an elbow injury that cut into parts of the last two seasons.

Harper is a full-time first baseman now, and he will remain so for the next eight seasons under contract – if he doesn’t at some point trade in his glove for full-time DH duties.

The idea that the Phillies need to give him more than the eight seasons he has left on his deal is beyond outrageous. It is insulting. It is beneath the dignity of a player whose personality, so far, has meshed perfectly with his demanding city.

I can hear the naysayers now. This is just business. Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, is the most successful financial rep in sports because there are no limits to his greed. Sometimes this attitude works to the advantage of his clients, and sometimes it doesn’t.

With spring training up and running and the season less than six weeks away, four of Boras’ top clients – Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Matt Chapman and Cody Bellinger – are still free agents, waiting out a market that may never embrace them.

If you were a major league team, would you agree to a 10-year contract with these stars if you knew that Boras would be coming back around after a few successful seasons looking for more years and more money?

No, a contract should be sacred. It is a promise by both sides. When a star bottoms out, there is not a single example, ever, of the team receiving a rebate from the player. The same should apply when a player defies the odds and actually earns his pay.

That’s the end of my speech today, except for one last thing:

Where the hell are the commentators in our city to speak these obvious truths? Where are the screams of protest against Harper and his obnoxious agent? Shouldn’t the same voices who strained themselves for years trying to find the boldest platitudes to describe Harper now be working just as hard to find the strongest synonyms for greed?

Retirement has admittedly kept me partly out of the sports loop these days, so I will absolve anybody whose dissenting voice I missed in the past week. Bravo to you. You did your job. You held our players – and especially the superstars – accountable in a city that deserves nothing less.

For the rest of you, it’s time to do the unthinkable – to rip Bryce Harper. To tell him to shut up and play for the next eight seasons before looking for more.

If you want only to kiss the asses of our players, you should have gone into public relations.


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