Bryce Harper claimed his second Most Valuable Player Award on Thursday, edging out Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. and several others in what seemingly became a wide open race in the National League.
Harper captured 17 of the 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Soto (six first-place votes) and Tatis (two) finished second and third, respectively, in the vote tally, which also adds points for second- and third-place finishes. San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford received four first-place votes and Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Trea Turner got one.
Harper, 29, became the fourth player since 2000 to win multiple MVPs before turning 30, joining Mike Trout (three), Albert Pujols (three) and Alex Rodriguez (two). Mike Schmidt, the Phillies legend who was crowned MVP three times, presented the award. Harper raved about that moment, as well as his Phillies teammates and the entirety of the organization.
Most of all, he raved about the ardent, hard-nosed fans in the city of Philadelphia.
"All they want you to do is work hard," said Harper, who completed his third season of a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies. "They want you to play hard, they want you to work hard, they want no BS. They just want you to work hard each night and try to win and try to be a great player every single night. I respect that, and I love that. They let you know how they feel each and every night, and I love that as well."
Harper, a unanimous MVP while playing for the Washington Nationals in 2015, kept a flawed Philadelphia Phillies team in the hunt for the postseason right up until the very end in 2021. He ultimately led the NL in slugging percentage (.615) and park-adjusted OPS (179) while accumulating 6.6 FanGraphs wins above replacement, tied with Soto for second in the NL behind Turner.
Harper won the award with a monstrous second half in which he batted .338/.476/.713. Soto was right there with him, batting .348/.525/.639, but was seemingly hurt by playing on a Nationals team that spent most of that stretch out of contention.
Tatis, meanwhile, led the NL with 42 home runs and added 25 stolen bases, all while playing the more demanding position of shortstop. But his San Diego Padres faded dramatically down the stretch, and Tatis' numbers fell off just enough to deny him an MVP he appeared to be running away with by midseason.
Soto overcame a lack of lineup protection that left him with few pitches to hit; Tatis overcame a left shoulder that troubled him all summer; Harper overcame a 97 mph fastball to his face on April 28. Less than seven months later, while surrounded by his wife and other members of his family, Harper tried his best to remain stoic while being announced as the MVP.
"I don't think people understand -- we don't know until they know as well," Harper said when asked to describe his emotions in that moment. "Not knowing, understanding that two guys next to me had unbelievable years, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis -- two great years that shouldn't go unrecognized -- and knowing that I'm looking at my wife, looking at my kids, knowing that my family is there, it just makes me emotional.
"Being able to play baseball in Philadelphia -- you wanna do so well for your organization. You wanna do so well for the people around you, but also you wanna do well for yourself. Knowing the work that had been put in this year, knowing that I got hit in the face and that was a hard thing to come back [from], understanding that playing day in and day out for those 72, 73 games in that second half, aches and pains and things like that, didn't matter, it was just something I wanted to do. I think it was just ... everything combined."
Harper didn't turn 29 until Oct. 16, which means he has technically put together two MVP seasons before his 29th birthday. The others to do that, according to research from the Elias Sports Bureau: Trout, Pujols, Bonds, Musial, Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Juan Gonzalez, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Dale Murphy, Hal Newhouser and Frank Thomas.
Harper led the NL in ESPN's version of win probability added (4.69) and finished with a .309/.429/.615 slash line, 35 home runs, 84 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and a major league-leading 42 doubles. He became the fourth outfielder in major league history to combine at least 100 runs, 100 walks, 40 doubles and 35 homers in the same season, joining Babe Ruth, Stan Musial and Bonds.
Harper made it a point not to look at his numbers throughout the year. When he drew his 100th walk in the regular-season finale against the Miami Marlins, Phillies bench coach Rob Thomson told him he needed to secure the baseball. When Harper asked why, Thomson informed him of the aforementioned stat and read off the short list of names that went with it.
"Being able to look back on it, understanding kinda what I did as a player this year, I'm definitely gonna remember it and understand the value that I had on this season," Harper said.