There’s not much worth emulating about “Hit King” Pete Rose, but Bryce Harper looks to copy at least one of his accomplishments this season with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Some comparison, huh?
To be clear, there is very little about Pete Rose that Bryce Harper — or any self-respecting person — should want to emulate. Maybe the sheer enthusiasm with which ol’ Charlie Hustle played the game of baseball is the only saving grace, but even that is tainted by the things that led to his lifetime ban.
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Still, stay with me here, Pete Rose did pull off something in Philadelphia that Bryce Harper should be trying his utmost to match.
He won the World Series in his second year with the Phillies.
Granted, the situations aren’t identical, but they are at least comparable in the sense that both Rose and Harper were bold moves by this franchise and an announcement to the rest of the league that the Phillies viewed themselves as true contenders. They were going for it.
A history lesson here would be appropriate.
Following the conclusion of the 1978 season, 16 years deep into his major league career, Pete Rose left the Cincinnati Reds and signed with the Phillies. The deal made Rose the highest-paid player in baseball at that point, and the Phillies effectively broke the bank to make it happen.
Rose had already won a pair of World Series with the Reds. In the view of Phillies management, his “win at all costs” style of play was crucial to getting the current Phils over the hump after they had suffered playoff disappointments in three consecutive seasons.
So, with Rose in tow, the Phillies began the 1979 season with hopes of finally breaking through.
They finished in fourth place.
Rose wasn’t the problem; he collected 208 hits and led the league in on-base percentage. But it just didn’t happen for that Phils team. 1980, however, would be a different story. Rose’s numbers that year weren’t as good as they had been in ’79, but he did lead the league in doubles. Ultimately, he proved himself to be the proverbial final piece to the World Series puzzle that the Phillies had been working on for almost a century.
Flash forward to 2019. Bryce Harper didn’t work miracles in his first season with the Phillies. He wasn’t even particularly good in the early going. But by season’s end, he showed why the team had dug deep and paid him the largest overall contract in MLB history (though he doesn’t make the most money annually).
Harper’s presence didn’t suddenly elevate this current crop of Phillies, as they managed just one more win than they had the previous year. Hey, nobody is going to confuse Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins with Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt.
Yet Harper gives the Phillies a legitimacy going forward, and it feels like he and the city are a great match. He was an exemplary player in his first year with the team, exhibiting a style of play that might even make Pete Rose smile. Again, sorry to besmirch Bryce, but I think you get my point.
Let’s all hope that Bryce Harper can repeat the feat that the Hit King managed in his second year in Philadelphia, even though 2020 won’t be “make or break”. Unlike Rose, who was already 37 when he came to the Phillies, Harper has plenty more time to get this right and trigger a parade down Broad Street. Just don’t tell any impatient Phillies fans that.