Grow Up, Bryce Harper

Last week, SC's Jeffrey Boswell covered an altercation in which Cole Hamels purposefully hit 19-year-old rookie Bryce Harper in the back, and then admitted to it, causing a five-game suspension, which, for a starting pitcher, means an extra day of rest. Hamels should simply say, "Thank you, commish!" As a result, Hamels won't even miss a start this season. Well done, Mr. Selig. But if you want to read about Hamels, go to Boswell's article.

I want to talk about Harper. When Hamels hit Harper, there were two outs. Harper then hustled from first to third on a single in the next at bat, then stole home when Hamels threw to first to check the runner. That gutsy decision showed me that Harper was somebody to keep my eye on.

Before getting hit by Hamels' pitch, Harper had a pair of spot on throws from the outfield. Neither resulted in outs, one due to the catcher, one due to the umpire, but nevertheless, Harper came into Major League Baseball ready to play and very eager to impress everybody, playing hard, hustling on the bases, making accurate throws, drawing walks, and doing the little things right. Harper was doing all that and I was paying attention.

In his third major league game, Harper didn't reach base. He went 0-3 with a strikeout. Those games happen. The Nationals lost that game 5-1 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. That was the only game in which he didn't reach base until Friday against the Cincinnati Reds.

In a game where the Nationals won 7-3 and had those seven by the fourth inning, Harper went 0-5 with 3 strikeouts. His worst game of his young career. Those days happen. To everybody. For example, Josh Hamilton is hitting better than anybody in the world right now. But on April 21 at Detroit, Hamilton went 0-5 with four strikeouts against the Tigers.

Bryce Harper reacted to his bad day (which wasn't as bad as Josh Hamilton's) by returning to the dugout after one of his outs, swinging his bat against the wall and having it bounce back and hit him in the eye, an injury requiring 10 stitches. After Friday's game, Harper informed the media that the doctor had cleared him to play on Saturday. National's manager Davey Johnson said Harper would likely miss some time. Harper got his way, going 0-4 on Saturday with 1 strikeout.

This self-inflicted piece of stupidity comes less than two weeks after New York Knicks power forward Amare Stoudemire injured his hand after punching the glass casing housing a fire extinguisher. Stoudemire amazingly missed only one game as a result of his frustration and stupidity, but I doubt his presence would have moved the Knicks any closer to beating the Heat.

Harper's injury is far more stupid than Stoudemire's. Why? Because at least Amare was frustrated with something worth being frustrated about: his team had lost its first two playoff games.

Harper smashed a baseball bat into a wall and consequently into his face because he had a personal bad day, all while his team was destroying the Reds. Harper's frustration and attention were entirely on himself. It's like he didn't even know the Nationals were about to win the game. At the end of the day, a player who goes 0-5 while his team wins should be far happier than a guy who goes 5-5 while his team loses. Personal accolades are insignificant in comparison to your team failing.

Look at Michael Jordan and Karl Malone. They have reasonably comparable career statistics. Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six championships. Malone led the Utah Jazz to zero. A fair number of basketball fans would say that Jordan was the greatest to ever play the game. How many say that about Malone? Not very many, if any.

Or look at Joe Montana and Dan Marino. When looking at statistics, the edge obviously goes to Marino. When looking at championships, the score is Montana four, Marino zero. When people talk about the greatest quarterback of all-time, Montana's name gets more support than Marino's. Nobody will deny that Marino is top-10, most would say top-five, but to put him at number one without rings just doesn't seem right.

Bryce Harper needs to take a cue from these examples and understand a few things. Firstly, the Nationals are very good this year. As of Saturday morning, their pitching ranked first in ERA, quality starts, WHIP, and opposing team's batting average. They are a playoff caliber team based on that alone. The hitting could use some improvement and Harper can be a part of that. He has the tools. He has the talent. He has the passion. But right now it's pretty obvious to me that he doesn't have the patience. Bryce Harper can be a part of a playoff team that has a relatively decent chance to advance to the World Series. In your rookie season, that should be the biggest deal to you as an athlete. Professionally, nothing else should even compare to that reality.

Secondly, Harper needs to take the following advice: calm down.

Harper is not Matt Kemp. He is not Josh Hamilton. He's not even Michael Cuddyer or Billy Butler. And he's certainly not Ted Williams or Stan Musial, so he seriously needs to calm down.

Yes, Harper has the potential to be one of the best players in the history of baseball, but he never will be if he continues to act in such a selfish, arrogant, immature, and idiotic way. And furthermore he will never even be considered a good player, much less one of the best, if he doesn't stop putting so much pressure on himself to perform. The only thing Bryce Harper seems to understand right now is that Bryce Harper has potential. He has no idea how to harness that potential, nor what the point of being a great player is (winning championships).

Nobody is expecting Harper to bat .350 with 35 home runs and 120 runs batted in his rookie year. Alex Rodriguez put up those numbers in his third season. Rodriguez made his debut in 1994 to the tune of 17 games, a .204 batting average and zero home runs. In 1995, Rodriguez played in 48 games, with a .232 batting average and five homers. After those two test pilot runs, Rodriguez finally exploded and became a star. Today Rodriguez is a player who will almost certainly reach 3,000 hits and 700 home runs. In doing so, he'll be only the second player in major league history to accomplish such a feat, along with Hank Aaron. Who knows, maybe Rodriguez will even reach 800 home runs and 3,500 hits.

Harper has that kind of potential if he allows himself to be eased into the game. If he allows himself to learn from his 0-5 games (because Friday's certainly won't be his last), instead of pouting about them and injuring himself through temper tantrums.

Davey Johnson needs to sit Harper down for a couple games in my opinion. Nearly every young player who comes up to the big leagues struggles at first with something. Rodriguez did. So did Frank Robinson (though he overcame it in time to win the Rookie of the Year award). Ken Griffey, Jr., wasn't immediately an MVP threat, either.

Bryce Harper needs to take stock of where he is right now. He needs to understand what he is good at according to major league standards right now, and what he can do to improve those things he is struggling at. The Nationals are good and if he can figure a few things out in time for the playoffs, he could be a major contributing factor to the offense, which really could use a boost.

Obviously, he has a great arm. He's already made people question if they should run on him or not. Obviously, he has that killer instinct. That drive and passion that makes him take risks such as stealing home. Those are really great things to have. No doubt about it.

But obviously, he does not handle personal failure well. Throwing a tantrum about an 0-5 game in your first month in the majors is no way to prove to anybody that you belong where you are. If Harper were a 24-year-old rookie drafted 347th overall instead of a 19-year-old rookie who was drafted first, he'd probably get sent back down to AAA for acting like such a fool.

Careers are not made in one day by one good performance. Philip Humber threw a perfect game last month. That doesn't mean he'll win 300 games or make the Hall of Fame. It's doubtful he will. Likewise, Harper should realize that even if he had gone 5-5 with three home runs in Friday's game, such a change in one game wouldn't affect the legacy of his career.

And while careers are not made in one day, they can be unmade in one day. Kirby Puckett was on his way to 3,000 hits when a high fastball from Dennis Martinez broke his jaw, destroyed his vision, and ended his career. Obviously, that's not the only example.

Imagine if Harper's bat had hit him more squarely in the eye. Do you think he'd be able to ever get a hit again if he were blind in one eye?

And one final thing that Harper needs to understand, consider it a word of warning: all eyes are on you.

When Ken Griffey, Jr., made his major league debut, I was 5 years old and I loved him. He was an icon of what kids like me could be if we worked hard and were blessed with some talent. When Alex Rodriguez debuted, I was 10 and felt the same way all over again. Kids are drawn to young players and they will be watching what Bryce Harper does on the field and they will hear about what he does off the field. And everybody will know more about Harper's successes and failures than Griffey's or Rodriguez's because of the technological advancements of the media.

And I can guarantee this: nobody is going to want to be like Friday's Bryce Harper. That Bryce Harper won't inspire anybody to want to play baseball. He'll only inspire people to laugh at him for doing something even a 5-year-old knows is stupid.

All eyes are on you Bryce Harper and trust me, people will like you a lot more and remember you more positively if you bat .250 with 5 home runs and are gracious and positive and a good teammate than if you bat .350 with 40 home runs and are a complete moron off the field. Grow up, kid. Enjoy the fact that you have been so blessed with talent and opportunity. Don't throw it away because of one bad day.

Comments and Conversation

May 16, 2012

Davan S. Mani:

Let him be 19 first. I like that he cares. I remember Kirk Gibson being a butt early in his career. True with others. He doesn’t have older players to teach him fundamentals from a pro perspective. He has that physical work ethic but he is learning to dance at MLB rhythm and so far he is out of step. It will take about 4 months to learn that. After that is when to dance and what situation to do so.

June 17, 2012

James Pierson:

The fact that Harper is 19 will more than likely be an indicator that he will indeed have bouts of immaturity. However, this said there is NO excuse for acting out of character. He does indeed need to be sat down and for the most part be placed in his shoes. Harper is talented, has a high ceiling and an intensity for the game, but this does not mean that he bypasses the need to show some integrity and respect for the game and the team. Davan, stop the excuses for Harper. Too many times I hear these things. There comes a time in a person’s life when he or she will have to take responsibility for actions. It will not matter about your family life, where you grew up or the people and circumstances around. My take is that Harper be disciplined NOW to make a statement. Blowing a kiss at A-ball, throwing your bat and helmet to the ground to show up an umpire are not examples of gamesmanship or respect. Remember that at 19 you are a legal adult and subject to the same consequences of a 40 year old when committing a crime. Harper is talented and has great potential, but there is no room for his kind of behavior.

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