I like Bryce

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I like Bryce
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BY DENISE DUNBAR

Why do people boo at sporting events?

And why do Washington Nationals fans, who are generally polite and appreciative of current and former players, boo Bryce Harper with such vitriol in 2023, his fifth season as a Philadelphia Phillie?

I pondered both questions while attending two of the Nats-Phillies games the first weekend of June. I saw that the booing really bothered Bryce. His body language exuded a mixture of anger, frustration and, I think, sadness. He clearly would have loved nothing better than to hit a 500- foot home run. He didn’t.

Why do we boo at sporting events? It’s not just because we resent the salaries that modern-day athletes make. Booing at sporting events has been around since way before professional athletes began making ridiculous money. Perhaps it dates back to the Romans and gladiators. Maybe booing is a remnant of prehistoric life, where clearly distinguishing between “us” and “them” was a matter of survival.

Why do we reserve this practice for sports though?

We don’t boo our minister at church if they give a lackluster sermon. We don’t generally berate the cashier at Safeway for an apathetic checkout. We don’t boo the ac- tor whose misfortune is to perform Hamlet less exquisitely than Sir John Gielgud.

Perhaps local psychologists or anthropologists can explain the roots of booing.

I’m particularly intrigued, and saddened, by the treatment Harper gets on each trip here to play the Nationals. Nats fans are normally better behaved than our Northeastern counterparts in Boston, New York and, yes, Philly.

Maybe we’re not as pleasant as St. Louis Cardinals fans – who I’ve found to be unfailingly well-informed and nice – but we’re not normally mean.

Except to Bryce.
Yes, when he debuted with the Nationals in 2012, Bryce was brash and immature. He was also 19 years old when he was thrust onto a national stage. How well would any of us have handled that?

Harper won the National League MVP in 2015 at age 22, and left us with many great on-field memories. And he made the phrase, “That’s a clown question Bro” part of the lexicon. He’s one of the greatest players of his generation.

Harper was the best player on those powerhouse Nationals teams of the 2010s. He’s the best Nationals position player in franchise history and the best overall except for the incomparable Max Scherzer. Bar- ring catastrophic injury, he’s a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Yes, the Nationals won their one and only World Series the year after he left, with one of their weaker overall teams of that decade. They got hot at the right time and ran the table – just as Harper’s Phillies, also a wild card team, almost did last year.

I was discussing the boo- ing-Harper phenomenon recently with a friend. Why, I asked, is Harper booed so heartily, while other former Nationals, particularly Juan Soto and Max Scherzer, are showered with adulation, not boos, when they return to Nats Park? She speculated it’s be- cause Bryce left of his own free will, he chose Philly over D.C., whereas Juan and Max were traded.

Maybe.

But the offer the Nationals made to Harper after the 2018 season was considered well below his market value. He apparently wanted to stay here, but got a better deal in Philly. Whereas the Nats only traded Soto last year because he rejected their offer of a reported $440 million – which would have been the largest free agent contract ever. Juan rejected a better offer from Washington than Bryce ever received. Yes, Juan was the star of that magical 2019 team that won it all, and flags fly forever. I still love Juan. But I also like Bryce, and appreciate that he helped make the Nationals first respectable, then good.

It’s time for Nationals fans to stop booing Bryce Harper.

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