Word hit the Twittersphere just a few short moments ago.
Prepare thyself, for the Asshole cometh.
Okay, it really read “Nationals place Ryan Zimmerman on the 15 day DL and recall outfielder Bryce Harper from AAA”.
But it might as well have read the way I put it.
By now anyone who follows baseball has heard of Bryce Harper.
You’ve heard about his power to all fields, his ability to hit for average, his arm, his discerning eye at the plate and so on, but unfortunately those are not the only things we have discovered about this young man.
The 2010 season’s No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Nationals was at the center of multiple bench-clearing incidents in minor league games last year.
One of these involved Harper and the opposing pitcher exchanging words after Harper took a called third strike. No punches were thrown and nobody was ejected, but it looked like it was about to get real ugly, real fast.
Harper hit a home run prior to the strikeout and seemed amazed the umpire dared to question his knowledge of the strike zone when called out. When the opposing pitcher reminded him where the bench was located at, the fuse was lit and it was “on”.
Later in the season the young phenom hit a towering home run off an opposing pitcher then not only admired his handy work, but was arrogant enough to blow a kiss at the man standing on the mound.
Hardly the actions of a professional let alone someone whom the Nationals would have us believe is “mature beyond his years”.
Should we be surprised by any of this? Hardly. It never was production that worried people about Harper. It was his attitude.
He showed tendencies to yell at opposing players, teammates and umpires, and he was ejected from a game in the Junior College World Series in 2010 after drawing a line in the dirt in the batter’s box to show an umpire that a called strike was outside. It was his second ejection of the season and earned him a two-game suspension, seriously compromising his teams chances in the event.
None of this can really be described as unexpected.
At 16, Las Vegas wunderkind Bryce Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “Baseball’s Chosen One” .
He left high school after his sophomore year to get his GED so he could play at the junior college level in order to get better competition and a spot as the No. 1 pick of the 2010 Major League Baseball draft.
At the time of MLB draft he was tearing things up at the College of Southern Nevada, Through 47 games, playing catcher, third base and outfield, he had hit (with a wood bat) .410 with 21 homers, 59 RBI and a 1.414 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging.)
Those are numbers only those like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams ever saw people.
But he also had one great, big, gargantuan drawback at the time.
Not only is Harper have the superstar numbers, but he also has the superstar attitude: raging friggin’ asshole. Apparently most major league teams were completely put off by his personality, which is saying something, because it’s an upset when an elite athlete isn’t a raging friggin’ asshole.
(And this is why so many people in baseball love you Derek Jeter.)
There was this from Baseball Prospectus before Harper was drafted:
“It’s impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn’t blown away by Harper’s ability on the field, but it’s equally difficult to find one who doesn’t genuinely dislike the kid.
“One scout called him among 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.”
“He’s just a bad, bad guy,” one front-office official told Baseball Prospectus. “He’s basically the anti-Joe Mauer.”
I want you to let that sink in. The anti-Joe Mauer.
You don’t hear people described in these ways any more.
You just don’t.
And you certainly don’t hear professional scouts take such strong positions on a player’s make-up. Sure it is part of their job to measure such things the best they can and to froward the information on to their organization in order for it to make the best decision possible, but you just don’t see them go this far out of their way question a player’s make-up as a human being.
Now granted, when you’re this good this early, people are going to look for flaws in your game and makeup that might turn you from prodigy to failure in the blink of an eye. Fair enough.
Baseball Prospectus obviously did just that, and found, physically, there was no reason for Harper not to be the GREATEST FREAKIN’ PLAYER WE’VE EVER SEEN!
OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but the worst they could find was that there is a slight chance the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Harper could get too big too early in life, and thus become slow and have little range in the field.
That wasn’t enough of a risk for the Nationals to turn him down. Sadly. Because it damn sure seems like he could stand to be taken down a notch or two.
To be fair to Harper, he has mega-super-duper-asshole-agent Scott Boras as an “adviser,” so he’s been able to learn arrogance at the feet of a master. Also, being the prodigy he is, Harper has had a wide clearance to be as much of a raging friggin’ asshole as he chooses to be.
Most teams let their superstars be any personality they want, at least for about a half decade or so like Boston did with their “oh, that’s just Manny being Manny” bullshit.
The bench warmers who are raging friggin’ assholes, on the other hand, are the ones who get tossed for their bad attitudes.
You might say that perhaps Bryce Harper’s parents should pull him aside and tell him to be a little nicer, and maybe they have.
But I’m sure a parent of any 19-year-old would say it’s an immense chore trying to stop their own child from being a raging friggin’ asshole, much less a child who has Scott Boras in his pocket and was at the top of the Major League Baseball draft.
Whether Harper’s raging friggin’ asshole act fizzles after he gets the big call-up to the show depends pretty much on one thing, and it is applicable even if your child is a raging friggin’ asshole making the superstar move up from 9-year-old basketball to 10-year-old basketball.
How will that attitude play out the first time Harper runs into hard times at the big league level, where the lights shine bright? That could be a hitting slump, a fielding slump, a teammate who is fighting to keep his own place as big dog of the roster, a coach who hates him and so on.
If Harper shows he can adjust and make it through a difficult time without completely melting down, he’ll do well, not only as a player, but also as a person with his teammates and coaches.
If not, then things could “get interesting”.
Some try to argue that one can also ask whether coaches and teammates believe Harper’s raging friggin’ asshole act is, in the end, good for the team. Michael Jordan was no picnic they say, but his teammates learned that if you did what he said, he would make you famous and win you championships.
This one I’m not buying into really.
Baseball isn’t like basketball, or even football, where one incredible player can put a team on his back and carry them to the promised land.
On the off occasion where it has happened it has always been a starting pitcher, a la Orel Hershiser at the end of 1988 and heading into the playoffs that year. While everyone chooses to remember the dramatic Kirk Gibson homerun form that year, it was “The Bulldog” that was absolutely phenomenal.
14 starts, 124.2 Innings Pitched. IP/Start 8.89 (yeah, you read that right), 10 Wins/1 Loss, 1 Save (in the NLCS when he snuck into the bullpen and warmed up on his own), only 73 Hits allowed, 9 Earned Runs yielded, 18 Walks vs 89 K’s and a microscopic ERA of 0.65.
A hitter cannot do that.
They can play a huge role. They can be the leader of a team. But they simply cannot command a game (or even an entire series) like a pitcher can.
If so, Albert Pujols would have 5 or 6 World Series rings so far in his career because THAT guy is not human. (Really Albert? Almost 2000 walks & extra base hits combined in your career and less than 650 K’s in that same period of time?)
Nope, when Harper gets to the pro level, there are going to be people who are well aware of this fact and they will be lining up for the chance to shove his raging friggin’ asshole act back down his throat.
And I for one, hope I get to see it firsthand.
UPDATE: Cole Hamels must have read my mind. In case you missed it, last night Mr. Hamels found himself in the ideal situation to send such a message. Two down, bases empty in the first inning. He did it the right way and didn’t go head hunting, but put one right in the kids ribs. Well, it would have been in the ribs had he not turned as much so it kind of got him in the small of the back. This then led to Nationals GM Mike Rizzo whinin’ & throwing quite the hissy fit.