By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Cole Hamels is the best pitcher on the Phillies staff, yet is usually mentioned third behind Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. With free agency on the horizon, he did something to change that.

Sunday night, on national television, in prime time, Cole Hamels hit baseball’s brightest young star in the back with a baseball and then bragged about it afterwards. That really happened.

Almost everything about the Hamels/Harper situation on Sunday night was out of character for Cole Hamels. From hitting Harper, to his admission of its intent of it after the game. Not that I think it was particularly out of line (though the admission was pretty silly), but it just didn’t seem very Cole Hamels, and that was the point.

With one pitch to Bryce Harper and a post-game quote, the narrative regarding the Phillies three aces and Cole Hamels took a drastic left turn. From Halladay, Lee, and Hamels, to Hamels, Halladay, and Lee. That’s a big change, and it’s probably about time. Hamels has become the most dominant of the three, and has age on his side.

A story involving Bryce Harper even over-shadowed what would have normally been the headline involving Bryce Harper. Can you imagine how many replays of Harper stealing home we’d have to watch otherwise?

For the first time since winning the World Series MVP in 2008, Cole Hamels was a national headline. The big story on radio and television sports talk shows was Cole Hamels. Make no mistake, free agency is not just about performance, it’s about sizzle too. It’s about filling seats and it’s about reputation. It’s about being a star. Bryce Harper is not just a star because of how he plays but because of who he is.

Being a great pitcher is the most important, but being a star is pretty important too. Especially when your potential suitors are in Los Angeles. For Cole Hamels to get the largest contract in the history of starting pitchers in Major League Baseball, it helps to make headlines. To think that Hamels isn’t aware of that, is to underrate his intelligence or awareness. $175 million is a lot of money, and Hamels would be smart to make sure his reputation lives up to his skill level if that’s the kind of contract he wants.

Earlier this year, Ruben Amaro Jr. said he didn’t think Cole Hamels would get Cliff Lee money. He’s right. Hamels wants much more than that.

Did Cole Hamels want to welcome Bryce Harper to the big leagues? Maybe. Did he want to fire up his team? I can buy that. But Sunday night was about more than Bryce Harper and the Phillies. For Cole Hamels, Sunday night was about Cole Hamels.

Top Content On CBSPhilly

Watch & Listen LIVE