Boswell: “Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player”

75 Comments

You probably saw that Bryce Harper was benched on Saturday after he didn’t run out a ground ball (it was hit back to the pitcher). Matt Williams called it a lack of “hustle” and made a point to call him out publicly after the game. We already covered this one for the most part, but for what it’s worth — and keeping in mind this is a nitpick — I think “hustle” isn’t exactly the issue here. At least not as we usually think of it.

Generally speaking, Harper is nothing if not hustle (the Nats’ program the very day of that game is evidence of that). Indeed, until Saturday the biggest talking point about Harper was whether he hustled too much and whether he should slow down some in an effort to not tax his body. The play on Saturday, I feel, was less about physical effort than it was about (a) quitting mentally; and (b) Williams sending a message to his team in general, even if Harper was the pretext for it. If Harper slowly jogged all the way to first I’m guessing Williams doesn’t bench him, even if that’s not exactly “hustle” as usually defined. It’s more about just giving up on the play. If the Nats had been playing better baseball lately, I’m guessing Williams doesn’t react the way he did.

That’s not a major point, but feel like “hustle” or the lack thereof has become a proxy for laziness and that so often the “hustle” conversation inspires false hustle and needless hustle in ways that are unnecessary. Williams was trying to make Harper and the Nats in general mentally sharper. To not quit or lose focus. He wasn’t — I hope anyway — trying to instill a culture where guys sprint after ball four and in from the bullpen like Pete Rose or something. For that reason he was fine to bench Harper, even if I take issue with him (a) calling him out publicly like he did, which seems unprofessional to me; and (b) couching it in terms of hustle which is such an amorphous and malleable word in sports these days. One which leads to a lot of dumb and unproductive inferences and incentives.

Anyway, with that aside, let’s look at something less nuanced and far, far dumber. It’s Tom Boswell of the Washington Post going off on Harper about this in his latest column. After several paragraphs of ripping Harper and lauding Matt Williams for sending Harper a message, Boswell uncorks this:

Can we get a grip? Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice. Harper is in a self-conscious, fierce scowl-off with baseball. Rendon dances with it and grins. Baseball loves relaxed.

This is what I’m talking about. You put a guy in the crosshairs like Williams did by calling him out in a postgame presser and you declare this a conversation about hustle, you give people license to take their knives out and go insanely over the top because, hey, not hustling is, like, the WORST THING YOU CAN DO and arglebarglebagleblah!

Boswell famously created a stat called Total Average one time. It has been widely debunked as a useful analytical tool and it’s actually pretty misleading. So, perhaps it is not so shocking to see him totally whiffing on a point of analysis here. But hey, if he can get anyone inside baseball to agree that Harper is some mediocre player because of a mental lapse or that they’d rather have Anthony Rendon than Bryce Harper now, five years from now or 20 years from now I suppose I’ll moderate my stance.

The Marlins are going to reveal new uniforms today

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Miami Marlins’ makeover has led them to get rid of the home run sculpture, add a party section in the outfield and paint the green outfield wall blue. As of today it’s going to include new uniforms.

The Marlins Twitter account has been teasing it for a couple of days now:

Based on that it would seem that the primary colors will be black and that, I dunno, royal blue? Dark aqua? I’m not sure what it is, but it’s not the old teal and certainly not a navy. There will be red and white accents too. There will also, apparently, be a new fish logo, a bit different than the old realistic one and the newer stylized one. You can see what that’ll probably look like here.

We’ll reserve final judgment for the overall look when it’s revealed, but for now I’m sorta torn. On the one hand, no, it’s not like the Marlins created any indelible historical moments in the 2012-18 orange and rainbow getup. And, if the stuff was selling like hotcakes or otherwise taking off locally in Miami, they likely wouldn’t be changing it.

On the other hand: we have too much blue — and red and black — in baseball these days. Most teams have it and far fewer teams than ever go off in some new direction. I wrote this seven years ago when the last Marlins uniform was unveiled:

Said it before and I’ll say it again: the hell with the haters. I like ’em. I like that they’re doing something fresh and new. There was a time in this country when we didn’t look backwards all the time. We looked forward and tried stuff and didn’t care all that much if, in a few years, we realized it was a mistake.

Leave the understated block letters to the franchises crushed under the weight of their own history.  If your team is less than 20-years-old, let your freak flag fly.

I stand by that, both with respect to the old Marlins uniforms and with the philosophy in general.

Like I said, I’ll give the Marlins’ new uniforms a chance, but I fear that it’ll be a look backward into some sort of baseball traditionalism that, while a lot of people seem to like it, doesn’t suit a team with such a short history and doesn’t attempt to be terribly creative. I hope I’m wrong.