Bryce Harper has lived up to the enormous expectations of being a sports prodigy ever since he donned the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2009, crowned as baseball's LeBron. He was a 16-year old who could hit the ball 500 feet and was touted as more advanced than Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr.
His career has been filled with a lot of ups, some downs, but ultimately he's reached the type of accomplishments you'd expect of a generational talent.
He won the Golden Spikes Award in 2010, given to the top amateur baseball player in the country. He became the first position player to win Rookie of the Year as a teenager and three years later became the youngest MVP winner in MLB history (22), before adding another in 2021. In 2019, he signed the largest contract (13-year/$330M) in major North American Sports history (at the time), leaving the Nationals for the divisional-rival Phillies.
The only thing that hasn't come ahead of schedule is postseason success. The pressure only ramped up after the Nationals won the World Series in Cinderella fashion in 2019, the season after Harper left, with the help of their new phenom, Juan Soto.
Harper entered 2022 without a playoff series win under his belt but all that pressure evaporated about as quickly as Harper's Pennant-clinching home run left the ballpark on Sunday. It's the biggest swing of his life to this point and will be one of the game's iconic home runs.
His legend is now secured, but what lies in front of him is something no one has accomplished in baseball history. He can become the first number one overall pick in MLB history to win a Rookie of the Year award, MVP and championship.
The MLB amateur draft began in 1965, and number-one picks include names like Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Darryl Strawberry and Stephen Strasburg. None of them did this.
Strawberry was very close, winning NL Rookie of the Year in 1983, a World Series title with the 1986 Mets, before finishing runner-up in the 1988 NL MVP vote behind Kirk Gibson. In a lot of ways, he had a better statistical profile than Gibson that year too.
Chipper also just missed this feat. He finished runner-up in the NL Rookie of the Year vote in 1995 behind rookie sensation Hideo Nomo. He won a World Series ring that year and won NL MVP in 1999. Kris Bryant and Justin Verlander also just missed the club. Both won Rookie of the Year, MVP and a ring but were drafted second overall.
It's most common in basketball, where prospects' games have translated the best to the pros, and where the best players have a greater chance to influence championships.
No. 1 picks to win Rookie of the Year, MVP and championship
WNBA: Six players
- A'ja Wilson
- Breanna Stewart
- Nneka Ogwumike
- Maya Moore
- Candace Parker
- Diana Taurasi
Six have accomplished this in the WNBA, which dates back to 1997. A'ja Wilson most recently joined a club that includes Breanna Stewart, Nneka Ogwumike, Maya Moore, Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi.
NBA: Five players
- LeBron James
- Tim Duncan
- Shaquille O'Neal
- David Robinson
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
It's happened five times during the NBA's common draft era (since 1966), most recently by fellow prodigy LeBron James. Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, four of the greatest big men in league history, also did it.
NHL: Three players
- Alex Ovechkin
- Patrick Kane
- Mario Lemieux
Three players have turned the trick in the NHL since their first amateur draft in 1963.
NFL: Zero players
Surprisingly this has never happened in the NFL, despite the number of all-time great QBs drafted with the top selection like Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning. Cam Newton is one of the closest. He won the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and 2015 NFL MVP before losing in Super Bowl 50. Lawrence Taylor and Marshall Faulk checked off all the boxes, except they were the second overall picks in their respective drafts.
MLS & NWSL: Zero players
This has yet to happen in the 26-year history of the MLS or 9-year history of the NWSL. There haven't been any close calls either. Landon Donovan is a perfect example of why. He is considered the greatest MLS player of all-time, but was never drafted since he broke into the league after being loaned to the San Jose Earthquakes from the Bundesliga.
Harper's feat in baseball might be the most impressive though, outside of an athlete accomplishing this in soccer. You see more draft picks fail in baseball compared with most sports due to the challenges of developing prospects. Plus, winning a title in baseball is probably less dependent on one person than any other sport. Just look at Mike Trout (and now Shohei Ohtani). A position player in baseball has fewer opportunities (and swings) to directly influence the outcome of a game.
Harper made the most of his swings on Sunday and now baseball's "Chosen One" stands four wins away from a prophecy fulfilled.