WASHINGTON — I originally said I didn't care where Bryce Harper ended up, to just get the drama over with before he stomps on Washington's burned-out graveyard of a sports heart anymore. That if he wants out, to let us know and stop playing games.
I said this was the most drawn-out breakup since, I think, Bobby and Whitney. Or Seal and Heidi Klum. Or maybe Kermit and Miss Piggy, I don't know.
Anyhow, now that the hour is near -- now that Manny Machado just broke Major League Baseball's bank, signing with the San Diego Padres for a reported $300 million over 10 years -- I'm feeling pangs of nostalgia for Bryce Harper.
Like some warped fan in a co-dependent relationship, I'm reversing course and running past all the red lights on this one. I'm overlooking the fact that these long-term, crazy deals hardly ever work out for the teams involved, be it Anaheim throwing millions at Albert Pujols or the Orioles going ga-ga over Chris Davis. In point of fact, Max Scherzer, whom the Nationals signed to an unheard-of, seven-year, $220 million deal in 2015, is one of the only outliers who has actually delivered the goods thus far.
I'm ignoring that Harper hasn't had numbers like his MVP season in three years. I'm ignoring his often-spotty defense in the outfield, his base-running blunders and his impatience at the plate last season.
I'm especially ignoring that the Nationals are excited about Juan Soto replacing his bat in the lineup, and a starting rotation that just keeps getting deeper and stronger with each acquisition.
Finally, I'm ignoring common sense: when a player already balked at $300 million for 10 years, when he didn't bat an eye at signing the richest free agent contract in American sports history, why in the world would he commit to the Nationals now, at this late stage in the game?
I don't know. Everyone whom you talk to in baseball says the Phillies have the inside track, followed by the San Francisco Giants. They both have the payroll to accommodate crazy years and crazy numbers more than anyone. They both have a need for Harper that would vault them into NL pennant contender status immediately. At this juncture, they almost make more sense.
I do know what Harper has given Washington and beyond the first seven years of his Hall-of-Fame trajectory career. Beyond the Bryce bombs, the hair bobbing like a souped-up spoiler on the back of Ferrari, the angry intensity that's at times hurt him as much as it's helped him, Bryce Aron Max Harper has given D.C. sports a swagger it hasn't had in a long time.
You almost have to go back to John Riggins to find a devil-may-care competitor like Harper. His unpredictability, his boom-or-bust persona and play -- swinging wildly at ball four or sending a moonshot into the right-field upper deck -- is part of what made Harper so alluring and must-see drama since his rookie season.
There is no one like him on the horizon. If Alex Ovechkin is the greatest team sport athlete in Washington's history -- and I believe he is -- Bryce Harper is maybe the most compelling, his mammoth swing still the most exciting millisecond in all of baseball.
In a sport unable to market its stars effectively, he's one of the few whom teams can sell and whom kids come out to see play. He is a star, and the fact is we just don't have many of those left in Washington right now.
Ovechkin is getting older. John Wall will not return from an Achilles tear until this time next year. Bradley Beal is it right now for the Wizards. Alex Smith may never play quarterback again. If Jordan Reed and Josh Norman for some reason become salary-cap cuts, there is almost no Q-rating to be had for D.C.'s NFL team.
This is hard to admit so close to Bryce Harper making his decision to stay or go, but it's the truth: we need Bryce more than he needs us. We need his star power, his Sultan-of-Swat-like swing, his shenanigans, all of it. He gives us something to talk about on even a bad day.
And let's be honest: for the dyed-in-the-wool DC fan, wouldn't it feel so good if Bryce Harper spurned Philadelphia to come back to the Nats? He'd be vilified every time up at bat in Philly, tortured with profanity and all the ugliness a Phillies' crowd could bring. And he'd probably love it. Because he's Bryce Harper. He's a star. And we don't have enough of those in this town anymore.
And as he gets closer to making his decision, I thought he should know that most people actually do care if he comes back or not. And most people in Washington would be happy if he did. If the Phillies are offering $10 million or more over the life of a contract, I'm not sure we could blame him for leaving. But we would. Because he was our star before anybody else's. And that counts for something, no?