When Manny wore Phillies pinstripes: Revisiting Machado, Harper and Phils' game-changing decisions

Decisions made three years ago led us to this point in time and the 2022 NLCS.

ByBrock Koller WPVI logo
Monday, October 17, 2022
Sold out! Tickets for NLCS games at Citizens Bank Park go fast
Fans who want to see the Phillies take on the San Diego Padres during the National League Championship Series here at home got a chance to purchase tickets.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Bryce Harper and the Phillies. Manny Machado and the Padres.

That will be how the national media will summarize the upcoming NLCS matchup between the two wild card teams.

All-Star vs. All-Star.

After signing a 13-year contract with the Phillies, Harper has earned his spot amongst Phillies fandom. There is no question that he belongs at Citizens Bank Park wearing that now-famous Phanatic headband.

But, let's take our DeLorean back to winter 2018-2019, just before Harper signed that $330 million contract. His future in Philly was not a certainty.

In fact, there was another star the Phillies were pursuing. His name: Manny Machado.

And this was also the time of "stupid money."

Phillies owner John Middleton told USA Today in Nov. 2018, "We're going into this expecting to spend money...and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it."

While everyone was jamming to Ariana Grande's '7 Rings,' Machado and Harper were weighing their options as free agents, hoping to get a World Series ring.

As moviegoers were flocking to see "Glass," the latest flick by Philly's own M. Night Shyamalan, the Phillies were looking to make Machado or Harper one of their own.

You get it - we're in the past.

Machado, who made it to the 2018 World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers and came back empty-handed, went across the country to South Philly in December 2018 to meet with the team's front office.

"Just happy to be here. Enjoying this," Machado told our 6abc cameras.

He was greeted by then-Phillies General Manager Matt Klentak.

The Phillies welcomed Machado with open arms - even showing what the major leaguer would look like in Phillies pinstripes with a mock-up image on Phanavision.

It wasn't long after that meeting when the Phillies owner and GM met with the other sought-after free agent. Middletown and Klentak spoke with Harper in his hometown of Las Vegas in January 2019.

Philadelphia Phillies owner, GM meet with Bryce Harper in Las Vegas. Watch this exclusive report from Action News at 11pm on January 12, 2019.

Action News caught up with the two executives as they returned home to a snowy Philadelphia.

"I think it was really positive," Middleton said. "We really got to see the man. We watched the player for years, but we got to understand the man, what he'd be like in the dugout, the clubhouse, the community."

The fate of Phillies' baseball hung in the balance and everyone wanted a say in the matter, including the Philadelphia Police Department.

The department tweeted a photo of Officer Harper - a photoshopped image of the star slugger wearing a police uniform.

The message read, "The rumors are true*: Bryce Harper* is coming to Philadelphia [police]*. It's a multi-year deal worth $51,245 per year to start, with a city option to increase annually. Please refer all questions regarding Manny Machado to @PhillyFireDept . (*not actually true.)"

Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins and pitcher Aaron Nola were confident at least one of the free agents would become a teammate.

"I have a gut feeling we'll get one of them. I don't know where that comes from. Maybe some of the comments that have been made throughout the off-season," Hoskins said. "But I'm excited for the off-season to be over, so we'll know. And, obviously, that means baseball has started."

Rhys Hoskins has a gut feeling Phils will get Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Report from Action News at 11 p.m. on January 22, 2019.

"I think we'll land one of them. But it's out of my hands, I don't make that decision. If we get either one, it'll be good," Nola said.

Even Millville, New Jersey native, Angels outfielder Mike Trout was asked about the Harper-Machado drama.

As the saga dragged on, ESPN was wondering if the big-name batters would make a decision around Super Bowl Sunday. That didn't happen.

The talk continued.

But the Phillies were not waiting any longer to make a big move. They acquired All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins.

ESPN speculated this could have been a way to make the team look more attractive for the free-agent outfielders...or it was just the Phillies growing impatient.

Whatever the true reason was with the Realmuto signing at the time, Phillies leadership was not fueling any speculation when it came to Harper and Machado.

"There's been no shortage of brainpower devoted to trying to size up players that are available to us and what they bring," Phillies president Andy MacPhail said. "We are uniquely poised right now because they are some great talents out there. They could go to any club and make a significant difference."

Then Machado struck first. He signed a $300 million, 10-year deal with the Padres on Feb. 21, meaning our only chance at seeing Machado in a Phillies jersey would be to look again at that Phanavision image.

Two weeks later, Harper signed the $330 million, 13-year deal with the Phillies.

A few days after that, it was Harper sporting the Phillies pinstripes at a press conference in Clearwater, Florida. For real.

The first meeting between the two stars who kept Phillies fans guessing for months occurred in June 2019 in San Diego. Machado hit a grand slam in the Padres' 8-2 victory.

After the game, Machado had some words about the journey he and Harper took to get to their respective teams.

"It's always good to find a new home. He found one and I found one myself. That's the most excitement that we could get, knowing that we're going to be here for a long period of time," Machado said.

After the signings, USA Today asked Middleton about his choice of Harper over Machado.

Middleton said Harper's popularity with the Phillies fans steered him in that direction - as well as, Machado's comments during the 2018 NLCS.

Machado said that he was "not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle' and run down the line and slide to first base." That response came after he was criticized for not running out a groundball in the series.

"In Philadelphia, they want their athletes to play hard," Middleton said, "and Bryce plays hard. Frankly, I think Manny hurt himself in Philadelphia with some of his postseason comments. When he said, 'I'm not ever going to be Johnny Hustle,' that doesn't play well in Philadelphia.

"It's not that they don't recognize that he's a great player, they do. But by the same token, they say, 'If you're going to choose between great players, let's choose the guy who runs into the walls rather than the guy who jogs down to first base and says I'm not 'Johnny Hustle.'"

Machado addressed the controversial comments during the free agency period in an interview on MLB.com.

"When I was asked that question, I was definitely on the defensive, and I was wrong to answer it the way that I did, because looking back, it doesn't come across how I meant it," Machado told MLB.com. "For me, I was trying to talk about how I'm not the guy who is eye wash. There's a difference between fake hustle for show and being someone who tries hard to win. I've always been the guy who does whatever he can to win for his team.

"But I know how I said it and how that came across, and it's something I take responsibility for. I look forward to talking with each GM and owner that we meet with about that, or any other questions they have."

And now the DeLorean takes us back to the future to 2022 as Harper and the Phillies tangle with Machado and the Padres in the National League Championship Series.

The what ifs, what could've beens and if onlys are no longer relevant. It's about the now. It's about two All-Stars leading their teams into the NLCS to get closer to their World Series ring.

It's about two men who found their new homes and embraced the cities that signed them.

It's also about a goose and a Calum Scott cover song...but that's a different story.

Things could've ended up differently. But you can't change the past.

Harper vs. Machado.

Phillies vs. Padres.

All roads have led to this moment.

It's anyone's guess what the future will be as the postseason continues.