Bryce Harper

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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Are the current Collective Bargaining Agreement talks too friendly?

Scott Boras
Associated Press
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Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1. There have been comments from both commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA director Tony Clark suggesting that progress was being made and there has been no suggestion thus far that there are sticking points which could lead to a work stoppage. Heck, even a few acrimonious rounds of negotiation before it’s all said and done seem unlikely.

That’s good news for fans, but it’s not making certain agents happy. Smooth labor sailing likely means a new CBA that is pretty close in most terms to the current CBA. Agents — especially agents who represent veterans — don’t like that because they believe that the current rules regarding free agency, draft pick compensation, luxury taxes and qualifying offers penalize the players they represent. Today Ken Rosenthal has a story about that anger, talking to both anonymous agents and super agent Scott Boras about how baseball’s middle class is disappearing and baseball’s median salary goes lower and lower.

Major League Baseball counters that while the median salary is going down, the average salary is going up. And baseball is right about that. But it’s also the case that the average is propped up by a handful of superstar contracts while the somewhat less lucrative but still nice mid-level contracts for mid-level veterans are disappearing. The financial landscape of the game is morphing into one with a small upper class with nine-figure contracts and a large lower class of pre-arbitration players and veterans on shorter, smaller deals, squeezing the old veteran middle class out of existence.

Sound familiar?

Baseball, of course, is not the American economy. There are some good reasons why those mid-level contracts have gone away. Specifically, because they tended not to be very good deals for the teams who signed them. At the same time, baseball is far better able to tweak its rules to spread the wealth than the U.S. government can, and those rules — like the qualifying offer and luxury tax — have had a harsh impact on a lot of players.

There’s not a clear answer on what the best system is for free agents, draft pick compensation, draft bonus pools and the like actually is. I tend to favor the fewest restrictions on a player’s right to negotiate freely with teams, but I’ll also acknowledge that there is a less than perfect market at play in baseball given revenue disparities between teams and the need to maximize, within reason, competitive balance. It’s not an easy trick even before you get into the B.S. team owners tend to spew about pocketbook matters.

But it’s also the case that an all-too-friendly relationship between the union and the league — one in which a given set of rules is rubberstamped from CBA to CBA — is not an ideal situation. No one wants acrimony, but the fact is that the players and the union are slicing up a pie. If the person you’re slicing up a pie with is all-too-happy to keep slicing it the same way, it probably means that they’re getting a bigger piece than you. Maybe, if it’s your job to grab a bigger piece?

The agents Rosenthal talked to, who represent a good chunk of MLBPA membership, certainly think the union should be doing some more grabbing. I wonder if their clients do too.

Four baseballs autographed by Jose Fernandez wash ashore

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 03: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins looks on during a game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on August 3, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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This is just . . . ugh.

WSVN-TV in Miami reports that a black bag containing Jose Fernandez’s checkbook and four baseballs signed by him washed ashore on Miami Beach. Probably a bag to keep stuff dry while out on the water.

The bag was given to a lifeguard. Hopefully the bag finds its way back to Fernandez’s family quickly.