Is Bryce Harper a jerk? And does it matter?

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Bryce Harper2.jpgThe more we hash over the physical and mental tools of a 17 year-old kid the more creepy it feels, but he’s put himself out there and it’s gonna happen anyway, so there’s no sense in ignoring it.

The latest: Bryce Harper is apparently a jerk. Really. That’s the story according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus who spoke with scouts about the guy, one of whom called Harper “one of the worst amateur players he’s ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with
top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement,
and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents.”

The first impulse is to say “hey, he’s 17, let the kid grow up a bit.” But then you realize that the scout is comparing him to other amateur players, which includes high school players Harper’s age. We have no way of knowing if that report is accurate, but it’s hard for me to fathom why someone would simply invent such a tale from whole cloth. He might very well be a jackass.

The question is, assuming he is a jackass, does it matter?  It’s possible that the alleged sense of entitlement and arrogance stems from the fact that he’s always been treated as something special. Bad thing!  But if he gets drafted by the Nats this summer, signs quickly and is sent to Vermont or Hagerstown, he’ll be out of that privileged environment and placed alongside other kids who, while never the star that he was, were all the cat’s meow back in their hometowns. And he’ll be coached by guys who have seen it all before and will not, assuming the organization has instructed them properly, put up with the primadonna act. How he responds to instruction and correction with respect to any bad behavioral traits he possesses is far more significant than how he acts when he’s the BMOC out in Las Vegas.

But how can the Nats (or whoever) know if he’ll respond?  If I were reading Harper’s scouting reports I’d pay less attention to whether or not he taunted some guy once or showboated and pay more attention to how he responded to negativity.  When he slumped (if he slumped) did he sulk or did he put in more work?  When someone brushed him back did he get agitated and distracted or did he get back up and go back to work? Based on Bryce Harper’s unique
circumstances, it’s entirely possible that no one has ever told him to
quit being a jerk. In light of that, if I was the Washington Nationals
and such reports gave me pause, rather than be scared off, I’d look past
the manifestation of his alleged character traits and look to see
whether the kid is teachable on the most basic level.

Being an idiot is not some unique thing in the world. On some level it’s all a function of a given person’s self-awareness and how they respond to stimuli,and there may be ways to suss out whether the kid is correctable or not. Anyone who simply reads Goldstein’s scout’s comments and writes off Harper is akin to a doctor hearing a patient cough, assuming it’s TB and sealing off the ward. We’re hearing about symptoms here, not the disease.

MLB executive: Bruce Maxwell’s kneeling may keep him from finding work, not his arrest

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In September 2017, former Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major league player to kneel during the national anthem, joining the handfuls of NFL players who had been doing the same to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Maxwell’s effort was laudable, but he got into trouble a month later when he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. Maxwell allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery person.

Maxwell, 27, played sparingly for the Athletics in 2018 and then was designated for assignment at the beginning of September. He officially became a free agent on November 2 and has had trouble finding work in the month-plus since.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Maxwell fired his agent, Matt Sosnick on Thursday because he’s still jobless. According to an unnamed MLB executive Slusser spoke to, “It’s the kneeling thing that might keep him from getting another job, not the arrest. Owners aren’t going to want to deal with that whole anthem issue.”

That makes a lot of since since abusive players haven’t had too much trouble finding new work otherwise. Addison Russell, Jeurys Familia, and José Reyes, among others have either stayed with their teams or quickly found new work. Given the relatively weak catching market, had Maxwell only had the assault charge, there is no doubt he would have been signed to be a backup catcher somewhere.

In the NFL, Colin Kaepernick — who popularized kneeling during the anthem — has remained unsigned even though teams have opted to sign and start clearly inferior quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, and Sam Bradford, among many others. Team owners tend to run conservative in terms of politics, so they may not like the protest to begin with, then there is the public blowback to signing such a player as those who dislike such protesting make up a slight majority in the U.S., according to various polls including one done by the Washington Post.

It’s worth noting that Maxwell has a career .240/.314/.347 triple-slash line in 412 plate appearances. We’re not talking about J.T. Realmuto or Buster Posey here. That being said, there have been 15 other catchers to have put up a lower aggregate OPS since 2016 (min. 400 PA). One of those players, Derek Norris (.600 OPS since 2016), signed a minor league contract with the Tigers just three months after being suspended by Major League Baseball for violating its domestic violence policy. Makes you think.