Villain No. 11 Bryce Harper: Don’t dare drag your foot on the ‘A’

Philadelphia Phillies designated hitter Bryce Harper (3) celebrates a solo home run against the Atlanta Braves during the eighth inning of game four of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Saturday, October 15, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Philadelphia Phillies designated hitter Bryce Harper (3) celebrates a solo home run against the Atlanta Braves during the eighth inning of game four of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Saturday, October 15, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

We have dubbed them Atlanta’s Dirty Dozen – the villains of Atlanta Sports. We use the term villain loosely. Some are simply sports figures who proved a thorn in our side, stood in our way or prevented greatness. OK, some are true villains. We’ll let you decide who is who.

In an 11-week series, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will highlight one of the Dirty Dozen. We will present the series in ascending order, from No. 12 to No. 1. Each story will be accompanied by a video with our staff discusses why each made our list.

We invite you to provide your thoughts each week. Email us at sportstips@ajc.com. We will publish some of the comments each week. Finally, at the series’ conclusion Oct. 15, with the No. 1 villain, we will post a poll allowing you to vote on your top villains.

Bryce Harper’s initiation as an Atlanta villain truly began Aug. 10, 2014, when he seemingly deliberately dragged his foot across the Braves’ “A” emblem in the dirt behind home plate at Turner Field. He did it in three of his trips to the batter’s box that evening.

“That’s the last thing on my mind when I’m walking up to the plate,” Harper told reporters after the game. “I really had no idea. When (a team staffer) came up to me, I had no clue that I did anything. Seriously, that’s the last thing on my mind going to face (Aaron) Harang or (Craig) Kimbrel or somebody like that. I had no idea why that was such a big deal. Of course, that’s the last thing on my mind.”

Braves fans boo Harper to this day. In fact, he’s the only major leaguer routinely booed in Atlanta, where he’s been heckled at Turner Field and Truist Park. Braves fans aren’t known for their vocal negativity at games, but Harper brings out their darker side. His early career cockiness, and the disdain Braves fans harbored for his Nationals teams, made him a natural enemy.

It’s not like Atlanta is the only place he generates unwelcoming reactions, either. Fans across the country loath the two-time MVP’s greatness.

Harper on his villain role, via the Philadelphia Inquirer (2021): “It’s just my desire to play in front of fans and love the boos and the hate a little bit. I’ve been hearing it since I was 12 or 13 years old, so it’s kind of normal.”

Following the 2018 season, Harper became one of the more coveted free agents ever. While Braves fans would’ve preferred the Las Vegas native migrate west, he signed with the Phillies, staying in the National League East with a team that has a historic rivalry against the Braves. Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million deal, ensuring he would compete directly with the Braves for his entire career.

The Braves have played an important role in Harper’s Philadelphia tenure. They opened in Philadelphia in 2019, when Harper homered off Jesse Biddle in his debut. But they mostly had gotten the last laugh: The Braves have won the NL East in each of Harper’s four seasons with the Phillies entering this season. They also swept the Phillies in 2021 to clinch the division before going on to win the World Series.

Harper and the Phillies dealt a big blow in October, though. The Braves won 101 games last season and appeared well-equipped to defend their crown. But the Phillies caught fire at the right time and eliminated the Braves in four games. Harper, who led the the Phillies to the NL pennant, was phenomenal in the series, going 8-for-16 (.500) with three doubles, two homers and five RBIs.

The Phillies haven’t hit their stride in 2023 yet, but their star power and spending capability should ensure they remain, at the least, an annoyance as the Braves pursue more titles.

Harper, 30, has eight more years on his contract. In his 12-year career, he’s hit .263/.380/.510 in 174 games against the Braves. Harper’s 40 home runs against the Braves are his most against any opponent (second being 36 homers against Miami). His 99 RBIs against the Braves are his second-highest total against any foe (112, Miami).

When it comes to individuals who’ve opposed the Braves this millennium, there aren’t many who’ve embraced being the villain the way Harper has. And the future Hall of Famer has a lot of battles with the Braves left to go.

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