Bryce Harper faces Jackie Robinson-level scrutiny? Um, OK

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A half hour ago I referenced Godwin’s Law and Smoltz’s law, which are rules designed to keep people from making inapposite or inappropriate comparisons.  While I quibble with them — like I said, they place off-limits signs on certain areas of comparison for no compelling reason — I understand them.  After all, they exist mostly to help keep you from making a fool out of yourself via bad analogies so it’s probably worth making your peace with them.

I think the same can probably be said of comparisons to Jackie Robinson.

To be clear: I don’t think anything should be off limits when it comes to the general discourse, so don’t go crazy on a guy simply because he compares something a current ballplayer faces to that which Jackie Robinson faced. But do understand that 90-95% of the time you make such comparisons to Jackie Robinson, your comparison is going to be a profoundly poor one that is going to cause you no small amount of trouble. And that’s even if your point isn’t about race (if it is about race, God help you).

That’s the lesson that a couple of Washington Nationals front office people are going to learn pretty soon, as they said the following about what Bryce Harper’s march to the major leagues entails to Tom Verducci in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Here’s Nats’ minor league coordinator Tony Tarasco:

“Jackie Robinson … You have to go back to Jackie Robinson to find anybody who goes through this much scrutiny. It wasn’t like this for [Stephen] Strasburg. Wasn’t like this for Alex Rodriguez.”

Here’s Nats’ director of player development Doug Harris:

“This is really unfair and it’s totally different, but if I can make a comparison to one guy that has been scrutinized like this, it would be Jackie Robinson. And it’s unfair because it was a different standard. He was under a microscope in an era when we didn’t have Internet, didn’t have cellphones … Now, Jackie Robinson had his life threatened. I’m not comparing Bryce to that. But as far as nonstop scrutiny? Absolutely. Day to day.”

I’m sure Bryce Harper faces a lot what with being so young and having such expectations placed on him. But I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that the Jackie Robinson comparison is a bit too much.  And either way, these guys are going to probably get murdered by the chattering classes for invoking the name of Jackie Robinson with respect to this kid.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉