Comparing and contrasting Joe Mauer and Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper2.jpgI’ve been critical of Bryce Harper skipping two years of high school in order to become draft eligible this year. I’ve done so as a father who has been kind of freaking the hell out recently over just how fast his kids seem to be growing up and as a man who wonders from time to time what happened to his youth.  It’s subjective, I know. I don’t know the first thing about Bryce Harper the young man and even less about his parents. He may wind up being the most well-adjusted guy on the block.  I have no idea, really. When I write about Harper’s life choices I’m fretting, and I admit that.

FOX’s Jon Paul Morosi frets too, for many of the same reasons, and channels his fretting into a compare-and-contrast between Harper and Joe Mauer, concluding that, all things being equal, Harper shouldn’t have left school early:

Harper is probably a nice kid. I don’t know. I’ve never met him. But I
am certain of this: Right now, he is one terrible role model. And that
has nothing to do with the fact that he was recently ejected from a game
for taunting.

In baseball, “staying in school” used to refer
to college juniors who elected not to sign and instead returned for
their senior years. But here comes Harper, bolting from high school
before he could park with the upperclassmen.

It’s not right.
But it’s legal under the current basic agreement. If baseball isn’t
careful, Harper might inspire a legion of followers — and few, if any,
will possess the same ability. That is bad for the game and worse for
the kids. They will be like the teenagers who skipped college to chase
their hoop dreams … only to wind up with the Fargo-Moorhead Beez.

I worry less about the copycat thing than Morosi does, simply because it’s probably a lot harder for a GED-taking high school kid to latch on to a college program than it is for a high school basketball player to simply declare for the draft, so to the extent this is about example-setting I think Morosi is overstating the concern.

Beyond that, I’m not overly-impressed with the Mauer comparison.  I’m sure Mauer is a great guy and everything, but as I read through Morosi’s take on it, I couldn’t help but think that everyone’s situation is different and we’d probably be better off not judging the decisions parents and their children make. At least the not obviously-ridiculous ones. $25,000 sweet sixteen parties are unadulterated evil, but I knew a couple of people who went into engineering school at age 16 and they turned out OK (I’m sure they would have remained virgins at 30 even if they had played out the full high school string). A baseball player who is clearly ready for the next step should be allowed to do it too.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m officially flip-flopping on the whole “let’s beat up Bryce Harper and his folks over putting him into the draft early” thing.  It’s inconsistent I know, but as I tell my children, I always reserve the right to change my mind.

Hunter Strickland says he doesn’t have an anger problem

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Giants closer Hunter Strickland struggled in the ninth inning Monday against the Marlins, surrendering three runs en route to a 5-4 loss. Strickland took issue with Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson, who tied the game with a single and celebrated as he rounded first base. When Strickland was yanked from the game, Brinson was on third base, so Strickland had some parting words on his way to the dugout. Then, in the clubhouse, Strickland punched a door in anger, breaking his pitching hand. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result.

Strickland posted to his Instagram on Tuesday, taking responsibility for his actions. He wrote, “To my family, my teammates, my coaches, this organization, and our fan base, I am truly sorry that one split second, stupid decision has caused so much harm and now set me back from being out there with my team to pursue our goal.”

Speaking to the media for the first time since breaking his hand, Strickland said (via Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports), “I don’t think I have an anger problem, but sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me.”

Well, if that emotion is anger, and you let it get the best of you, then you have an anger problem. This isn’t an isolated incident.

In the 2014 NLDS against the Nationals, Bryce Harper had Strickland’s number. In Game 1, Harper hit a solo home run ioff of Strickland, putting the Nationals on the board trailing 3-1. Strickland gave up another home run to Harper in Game 4 which tied the game at 2-2. Though the distance made it a no-doubt home run, the ball went down the right field line, so Harper was watching the ball in the air and didn’t immediately run the bases, which irked Strickland. The Giants still went on to win the game and advance to the NLCS, but Strickland carried the grudge with him into the 2017 season. The 2017 season! It just so happened that Strickland never faced Harper at all in the 2015-16 seasons, which makes sense because the two clubs only meet for two series per season and Strickland only pitches one inning per game if he gets into one.

The Nationals and Giants met in San Francisco at the end of May last year. In the first game of the series, Strickland entered with the Giants trailing 2-0 in the eighth inning. He got two quick outs, bringing up Harper for their first meeting since Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. With his first pitch, Strickland nailed harper on the hip with a 98 MPH fastball. Harper didn’t like it, so he charged the mound and the two threw punches at each other as the benches and bullpens spilled onto the field.

In the 2014 World Series, Strickland had a beef with Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Strickland gave up a double to Perez, then a two-run home run to Omar Infante. As Perez crossed home plate, Strickland started yelling at Perez. He appeared to yell, “Get in the dugout, boy.” The term “boy” carries a racist connotation when used by white people towards men of color. It’s unclear why Strickland was upset with Perez, but Perez said Strickland started jawing at him when he was on second base after hitting his double.

So here’s what we know about Strickland:

  • He gets angry when players look at their home run balls in the air, even if that player is unsure if it will stay fair
  • He gets angry if you get a double off of him in an important game
  • He gets angry when players pump their fists and yell in celebration after getting a big hit in the regular season
  • He gets angry a lot
  • He sometimes gets violent when he’s angry

Short of hitters not showing any emotion at all and not getting hits off of him, it’s not clear what kind of behavior satisfies Strickland and won’t make him angry. So, essentially, anything a batter does could potentially set Strickland off. I’d call that an anger problem. If this weren’t in the context of sports, Strickland’s behavior would be problematic.

Strickland’s behavior doesn’t come off as particularly unique because he’s far from the only player to injure himself punching something in anger. He’s far from the only player to get ticked off when batters get a hit off him and celebrate. This anger is part of baseball culture, part of sports culture at large, and embedded in masculinity — what it means to be a man. We teach men, particularly athletes, to repress a wide range of emotions. As a result, many men resort first to anger — one of the few emotions we allow men to express openly — when dealing with any type of adversity.

If Strickland were a well-adjusted person with high emotional intelligence, he would realize that throwing a baseball close to 100 at someone with the intent to injure them is not a good way to resolve a conflict. Strickland could have gone to the Marlins’ clubhouse after the game and had a level-headed chat with Brinson, saying, “I felt embarrassed and emasculated when you got a hit off of me and celebrated the way you did. Perhaps in the future, you could tone it down.” But we don’t teach men and allow them to discuss and express their emotions in healthy ways, so Strickland lashes out at Harper and Perez and Brinson instead.