SAN DIEGO — The Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres had been at every different’s throats, making every different’s lives depressing, desperately in need of the different to leave.
It used to be the iciness of 2018, and two of the youngest, biggest place gamers to ever hit unfastened company had been concurrently on the marketplace.
The Phillies, with proprietor John Middleton telling the global that he had “stupid money’’ to spend, wanted Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but it was an errant telephone call by his 5-month-old grandson that might have been the deciding factor.
The Padres, with owner Peter Seidler trying to be discreet about their free-agent wishes, wanted Machado or Harper, too, with the tranquil San Diego community, and even Seidler’s young daughters, playing a key role.
These two franchises spent the winter wining and dining each of them, throwing around $200 million, then $250 million, and finally $300 million contract proposals, trying to entice them to their respective cities.
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The Phillies got Harper for $330 million, the Padres landed Machado for $300 million, and here they are going at it again four years later in the National League Championship Series beginning Tuesday (8:03 p.m. ET, Fox) with the winner awarded a berth in the World Series.
“This is the way it’s supposed to be, right?’’ Middleton told USA TODAY Sports. “That was quite the time. We loved both of the players. But I couldn’t be happier with our choice.’’
Ditto, the Padres.
“We were close to both of these incredibly young, gifted, superstar players,’’ Seidler said, “that we were kind of joking, ‘Hey, if we can’t get one, let’s get them both.’
“But I’m absolutely thrilled to death having Manny as the No. 1 rock of stability on this team. He has been perfect for us.’’
Really, the way it’s played out for the past four years, with both players beloved in their communities, leaders in the clubhouse, and stars on the field, it couldn’t have worked out better.
“I believe that it worked out perfectly for both players, I really do,’’ says Dan Lozano, Machado’s agent. “Philadelphia did a really nice job of recruiting Manny, but I think after Manny met with the Padres, and saw their vision, he felt like San Diego was the place he wanted to sign.
“I think both guys ended up where they were supposed to be.’’
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Scott Boras, Harper’s agent, says his client would have been happy either place, but the fit between Harper and this blue-collar city goes hand-in-hand like the Liberty Bell and Philadelphia.
“It has worked out extraordinarily well,’’ Boras said. “Bryce wanted to be assured the ownership would be committed to winning annually, and John has done that. They’ve followed through with it. Bryce loves Philadelphia, the audience, the fanbase, and let’s be honest, there’s a lot to like about him.’’
Harper and Machado have been linked almost since the day they were born just 101 days apart, 30 years ago. They played in youth tournaments together, were drafted the same year, reached the big leagues the same year, played 41 miles apart on the East Coast, hit free agency at the same time, so it’s only fitting that they are back on center stage together.
“We’ve gone way back,’’ Machado said. “Obviously, I signed with Baltimore, and he was in D.C., so we were right up the road, and played against each other for a long time. And then leading up to free agency, we were two of the top free agents.
“He went to a city that wanted to bring a championship back, and I went to a city that’s never won a championship. Here we are a couple years later, we’ve done that, two organizations, and we’ve helped the organizations out big-time.’’
There was natural trepidation by the two ownerships handing out the biggest contracts in franchise history. Sure, Harper and Machado were gifted talents, with Harper winning an MVP and earning six All-Star appearances with the Washington Nationals while Machado had two top-five MVP finishes and four All-Star berths with the Baltimore Orioles.
Well, they have been worth every single penny to their franchises, and more.
Harper, in leading the Phillies back to the postseason for the first time since 2011, has hit .282 with 101 homers and a .940 OPS since his arrival, winning an MVP with two All-Star nominations.
Machado, in leading the Padres to their first NLCS since 2008, has batted .280 with 108 homers, an .855 OPS and two All-Star berths since coming to San Diego. He is expected to finish in the top three of the MVP voting for the second time.
No wonder Boras got a recent text message from Middleton telling him that the 13-year contract to Harper was the greatest investment he has ever made.
“When you sign someone for $330 million,’’ Middleton says, “character matters. Do you have the character to handle the pressure? Can you handle the pressure of the environment? Are you going to be hungry? Are you going to be hungry every single year of that contract?
“Some guys sign big contracts and say, “OK, I made it.’ Subconsciously, they let up. Bryce has never up. He never will. He has that ambition to be great.’’
The Phillies, who made their first offer to Machado before Harper, look back and openly wonder if Machado could have handled the hardcore, blue-collar fans of Philadelphia. They demand great performance, and if not, will certainly let you know it. Harper wasn’t even with the Phillies for a week until he got booed by the Phillies’ faithful.
“We seriously pursued Machado, made an offer, but we were concerned about the fit,’’ Middleton said. “Philadelphia is such a demanding town. Bryce has the intensity to not just deal with that, but to really relish that, and motivate himself.’’
When Harper was booed his first year in Philadelphia, sometimes unmercifully, he was asked what he thought of the crowd reaction.
He responded: “I would boo myself, too.’’
“That was a perfect answer,’’ Middleton said. “He wasn’t happy where he was, and he knew he wasn’t delivering. But instead of saying, “My thumb hurts. I’m adjusting. I’m not sleeping well in the new house.’ He could have said all kinds of things, but never had an excuse.
“That’s what it takes to win in Philly.’’
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Machado, who isn’t under nearly as much scrutiny as Harper in “America’s Finest City,” is viciously booed on the street. He feels the hatred each and every time he is going to Los Angeles, the place he used to be traded at the closing date in 2018, and struggled in the postseason. Nothing in opposition to Philadelphia, he says, however it used to be a no brainer opting for the Padres.
When requested if he used to be happy with his selection, he became round, and regarded again at the NLCS banner Monday over his shoulder.
“Where are we at, the NLCS?’’ Machado stated, breaking into a smile. “I feel it labored out lovely excellent, proper? This has been the imaginative and prescient all alongside. I feel going again to the assembly once I sat down with [GM] A.J. [Preller] and he satisfied me to come back over right here. I noticed the imaginative and prescient. I noticed what he had and what this group supposed.
“Obviously, the town used to be considered one of the absolute best towns in the nation and considered one of the most pretty ballparks all throughout the country. It used to be a question of popping out right here and looking to do one thing particular.
“Here we’re these days.’’
Harper, who spent his complete time in the National League East prior to unfastened company, used to be all the time fascinated with the Phillies. He cherished the wealthy historical past of Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton. The town used to be hard and intense, matching his personal persona.
“It used to be one thing that used to be easiest for me and my circle of relatives,’’ Harper stated. “We attached rather well with John Middleton, attached rather well with the town of Philadelphia, with the enthusiasts, with the group, roughly their plan, what they had been going to do at the time.
“I knew John Middleton used to be going to do the whole lot he may to win in any respect prices. So having the ability to are available in right here and play for a corporation like this, it is been a large number of amusing. It’s been really easy for me to roughly simply be Bryce as a result of I do not wish to be the rest than myself on account of the guys that I’ve round me and the circle of relatives that we do have in that clubhouse.’’
Harper met with the complete entrance workplace for seven hours right through his recruiting consult with to Philadelphia, and 4 days later, Middleton introduced his spouse, Leigh, to meet with Harper and his spouse, Kayla, for dinner in Las Vegas.
They walked away understanding they had been supposed for some other.
“John Middleton did a great activity with Harper,’’ Boras stated. “They mentioned Philly, and his dedication to successful. Bryce used to be so inspired that he stated if I signal right here I don’t need an opt-out [clause]. I stated, “Bryce, that is going to price you some huge cash, let me put it in there? He stated, “Nope. I don’t wish to transfer round. No opt-outs.’’
Middleton couldn’t consider it both, and used to be extra satisfied than ever that Harper used to be the supreme option to spend the remainder of his occupation in Philadelphia.
“We had been all surprised through that,’’ Middleton stated, “appearing how dedicated he used to be to us. We advised him that we’re no longer going to only signal you and be accomplished. We’re going to herald different gamers, encompass you with skill, and hope to reach your purpose of successful a World Series identify in combination.
“It’s like while you get married. We proposed, Bryce stated, “I do,’ and right here we’re, ‘til death do us part.
“It’s a perfect marriage, and we’re no longer getting divorced.’’
Really, now that Middleton thinks again, he says, it used to be that misguided mobile phone name on New Year’s Eve that made all of it occur.
They had been at a circle of relatives dinner when Middleton passed his mobile phone to his grandson, Jack, and let him play with it. He locked the telephone, however someway, his grandson figured it out. Next factor Middleton knew, his grandson used to be calling somebody.
“I grabbed the telephone and checked out the title,’’ Middleton stated. “It is Scott Boras. Immediately, I close off my telephone and inform my circle of relatives what Jack has simply accomplished.
“I textual content [then-president] Andy [MacPhail] and [then-GM] Matt [Klentak]. Andy is concerned that we aren’t in a position to interact Scott, which we weren’t. Well, after no longer listening to from Scott for twenty-four hours, I feel the second has handed. Then, I am getting a textual content from Scott apologized for no longer answering his telephone on New Year’s Eve, however he’s to be had to speak anytime. I inform Andy and Matt, ask them now we must reply, and so they each conclude Matt [the 5-month-old] must name Scott to talk about the timing of calls and visits.
“Jack speeded up the negotiations through no less than 3 weeks.
“The relaxation, they are saying, is historical past.’’
In the Padres’ case, Machado virtually in an instant fell in love with Seidler and his circle of relatives, spotting the close-knit courting everybody had in the neighborhood.
“Manny is so superb with youngsters, youngsters gravitate to him, as do adults, Seidler says. “I am getting the sense he’d relatively communicate to my daughters greater than me. Manny simply has a unique center. He simply performs baseball.
“I see him play harm, however he by no means complains, he simply is going out and performs, doing the whole lot he can to lend a hand us win.’’
Now, for possibly the subsequent seven video games, Seidler and Middleton can take a seat again, bask of their good fortune, and watch their $630 million value of investments struggle for baseball’s final prize.
“Frankly, I’m satisfied on a private degree to peer Bryce thriving in Philadelphia,’’ Seidler stated. “He’s the guy in Philadelphia similar to Manny is the guy right here in San Diego. They are each cherished through their enthusiasts and group.”
Only one will be leading his team to the World Series.
“I think honestly, we’ve got the two best teams going against each other,’’ Machado said. “It’s going to be a fun week for sure.’’
Follow Bob Nightengale at Twitter: @Bnightengale.