Bryce Harper needs to grow up

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There has been quite a response since the post of that Bryce Harper home run trot this morning (the video is embedded below).  It has me thinking about the curious beast that is Bryce Harper and what, if anything, we can take from that little episode.

First, let me be clear: I’m not trying to be a moralizing old coot here.  The blow-the-kiss thing is not, in and of itself, a big deal. I know he’s 18. I know that 18-year-olds are brash and arrogant by design and that Harper himself is known to be that way too.  But Bryce Harper is a different kind of 18-year-old than one usually sees and he’s even different than one baseball usually sees. This makes him a special case whether he likes it or not.

Baseball has a socialization process. Many players play in college and have had a couple of years to learn to live as a quasi-adult. The ones who don’t go to college have at least had a year or two more of high school than Harper has had, and they start out in half-season leagues, only getting up to the South Atlantic League, where Harper plies his trade, when they’re 20, 21 or even older.  During that journey, these kids have a chance to mature a bit.  It’s a chance that Harper has not had.

But his age and lack of professional or college experience doesn’t excuse Harper’s behavior either.  Indeed, by virtue of his talent, and by virtue of the considerable efforts of himself, his parents, his advisor Scott Boras and others, Harper has leapfrogged the normal socialization process to get where he is now. It was his choice — and a smart one given his talent — to put himself in league with boys bigger than he.  And he has been rewarded handsomely for it.

But it is incumbent upon him, therefore, to do everything he can to act the age of the player he’s being paid to be, not the age he really is. That just seems like part of the deal to me. Big boy bucks for big boy production and, by extension, big boy behavior.

Harper is a very special talent and, as such, people are going to be gunning for him.  Testing him.  A teammate of the pitcher he blew that kiss to hit Harper with a pitch the other day.  That sucks, and it certainly explains Harper’s response yesterday.  But it was the wrong response. The way to fight back is by depositing pitches in the seats and showing those who would try to take him down that he can’t be intimidated and that they — as insignificant barriers on his way to glory — don’t even show up on his radar screen.  That’s a kind of high road that does not require false humility or the dulling of an edge. It’s the kind of thing, actually, that would turn him into a cold-blooded assassin.  It’s also how he will be expected to handle this sort of thing when he reaches Double-A, Triple-A (if he even stops there) and the majors. Which he’ll be doing well before any of his peers, assuming he has some.

I don’t know who the biggest adult or the former player with the most gravitas is in the Washington Nationals organization. But whoever he is, he needs to have a friendly talk with Harper about how, for as unfair as it may seem, he is a unique case and as such, he has to leave his brash and arrogant 18-year-old self behind and let his bat do the talking for him.  Because if he doesn’t, he’s going to represent a serious case of arrested development by the time he reaches the bigs.

And again, this idea doesn’t appeal to me because I’m an old man who wants arrogant punks like Bryce Harper off my lawn. It’s because I want to see Bryce Harper fulfill the promise he has with as little bullshit as possible.  I want this kid to be everything he can be and more, because if he is, he’ll be able to do things no one else has ever done.

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Kevin Kiermaier on Rays’ recent moves: “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset.”

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On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”

Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.

The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.

When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.