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.

Columnist bashes Bryce Harper’s fundamentals, “write it,” says Nats player

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Tom Boswell of the Washington Post wrote a column over the weekend about how the 2019 Nats are looking really, really good. And for the most part it’s a column that makes a lot of sense. The Nats added some key pieces this offseason and, because so much of their underachieving 2018 season was based on health, particularly in the bullpen, there is reason to be optimistic this coming year.

There is one weird passage in the middle of the column, though: a swipe at Bryce Harper, his fundamentals and his attitude. The upshot: Boswell is arguing that losing Harper to free agency is addition by subtraction:

Though few mention it, subtracting Harper, while it will cost 34 homers, a .899 career OPS and some amazing hair flips, would help any team improve its attention to fundamentals. When the most famous player on the team can’t go 10 days without failing to run out a groundball or overthrowing a cutoff man by 15 feet or throwing to the wrong base or being caught unprepared in the outfield or on the bases, it’s hard to demand total alertness from the other 24.

“Write it,” one prominent Nats vet said.

The “Write it” is what has me most fascinated.

It could possibly be read in two different ways. One way would be for that to be the non-committal reaction of a player when Boswell bounced his Harper-is-a-slacker theory. Saying, in effect, “you write that if that’s your take.” It seems far more likely to me though, that Boswell is echoing the off-the-record sentiments of Harper’s former Nats teammates and the “write it” is an encouraging plea to give public voice to that which the player has chosen not to.

If it is the latter, this would only be the latest of many anonymously-sourced disgruntled sentiments from the Nats clubhouse over the years. Former manager Matt Williams had a full-scare revolt on his hands that made it into the media. Last year Dave Martinez’s clubhouse had someone saying negative things to the press as well, and it was so bad that GM Mike Rizzo sent off a useful reliever — at a time when the Nats really, really needed a useful reliever — because he was the suspected source. If Boswell is giving voice to some anti-Harper sentiment in Nats camp, it’s just more soap opera from a bunch that, historically, can’t seem to handle their issues in-house.

As for the substance: I don’t watch Harper as much as Nats fans do — and I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anyone describe him as some sort of lazy slacker — but sure, there are players who are more fundamentally sound than him. It’s also the case, though, that Harper has always been judged more harshly for his deportment than a lot of players in the league, so I’m not prepared to totally defer to word of mouth — especially anonymous word-of-mouth — to someone slamming him on that stuff.

It’s still pretty interesting, though, that in an offseason in which the average fan’s take is that Manny Machado is the no-hustle slacker who should be avoided, that Machado’s former teammates have had no complaints about him, while Harper’s former teammates seem to have the knives out for him.