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Is Bryce Harper a jerk? And does it matter?

Apr 23, 2010, 10:11 AM EST

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.

  1. Simon DelMonte - Apr 23, 2010 at 10:33 AM

    I think the big question is whether there is enough of a reason for concern that the Nats should avoid paying Harper his Boras-powered signing bonus a year after spending $$$$ on Strasbaugh.
    Though I am not up on how this works – are players fresh out of high school given the same kind of money as college athletes? Either way, I have to feel that the money unproven teens command (in all sports) skews things in many ways.
    If money isn’t an issue, though, Harper is worth the risk. Someone is going to take the chance on him. And taking Harper to follow Strasbaugh would send a message to the fans and to the league that the Nats mean business.
    Ironic captcha: union molded

  2. Patrick - Apr 23, 2010 at 10:34 AM

    There are two types of baseball jerks though; there’s the lazy, self-indulgent jerk who doesn’t listen to anyone and doesn’t bother working, and then there’s the maniacal, obsessive driven do-anything-to-win jerk. The former category is any number of top prospect flameouts, the latter is people like Barry Bonds and A-rod.
    If Harper’s the former I could see the Nats getting spooked, especially given the likely sky-high signing on fee, but if he’s the latter than sign that boy up.

  3. Joey B - Apr 23, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    “The question is, assuming he is a jackass, does it matter?”
    Of course it counts. That’s beyond doubt. The real question is, how much does it count, and can it be quantified?
    Boras was right when he said that the single biggest factor that teams overlooked was character. See how quickly ‘I’m Matt F’ing Bush’ turned into ‘Matt f’ing who?’. There has been an enormous amount of talent flushed down the system over the years from unteachable players. There are lessons that need to be learned at the A level that could escape a prospect simply because he can kill pitching at that level.
    Against that, you have to the spread between the #1 and #2. It’s a lot easier to make a character call when differentiating between a #17 and #18 than the difference between a #1 and #2.

  4. jg - Apr 23, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    A college sports star, that thinks he’s entitled to the world and is possibly a jerk? Why I never!
    Heck my school only had Division II baseball players and almost every single one of them was a meathead.

  5. Jason @ IIATMS - Apr 23, 2010 at 10:51 AM

    so he’s the next ARod, in every sense of the word…

  6. duck - Apr 23, 2010 at 11:09 AM

    Two words that ought to scare Nats fans if they draft Bryce Harper: Billy Rowell.
    Dude was big-timin’ it all though the HS ranks and tried that crap in MiLB. Now he’s on his third position in his third year at High-A ball. O’s writers typically start the second paragraph of every story about him with the phrase “But he’s still young, he’s only…” and fill in the age for that year. An they’ve been dong it for almost 4 years now.
    Buyer beware.

  7. Largebill - Apr 23, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    Hopefully this is the first of many negative stories on this kid and he falls in the draft. Let him drop enough that my team can draft him.
    Unless he is world class jerk it isn’t even newsworthy. I have two teenagers in my house (and I hate to admit it, but I was a teenager a few decades ago). Based on living with teenagers I think they are all moody, narcissistic, snotty, somewhat deranged at times and so on.

  8. BC - Apr 23, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    Why do I have the distinct feeling that this is going to end badly? I mean, like Todd Marinovich-badly.

  9. ditmars1929 - Apr 23, 2010 at 11:53 AM

    That’s really funny, BC. As a Yankee fan, if the kid is a major asshole who can’t behave himself but gets a huge signing bonus and never pitches in the majors, I’m having visions of Brien Taylor.

  10. ditmars1929 - Apr 23, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    Ah crap, I know Harper is not a pitcher, so he’ll never pitch in the majors, so I meant to say if he never plays in the majors, but I’m sure you know what I meant.

  11. Darryl - Apr 23, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    Ladies and gentlemen: meet the American professional athlete of the future. We are raising entire generations of jerks like this, so why should we be shocked and shaken when they turn out like this guy? I see more and more youth league kids (10-14 yrs old) behaving like this – it’s very disturbing.

  12. YANKEES1996 - Apr 23, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    He may indeed conduct himself like an a$$ now but that is probably largely due to being a big fish in a small pond, the further he embarks on his journey to the Major Leagues I’m quite sure there will be a number of humbling experiences. When he arrives at AA or AAA he will be a small fish in a large pond and his attitude may very well change. In professional sports it seems that the ill-behaving and the supposed entitled players usually get treated better until the enevitable fall from grace, just as guys like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Allen Iverson and Tiger Woods.

  13. scatterbrian - Apr 23, 2010 at 12:46 PM

    The vast majority of professional athletes are douchebags to some degree. We’re talking about a 17 year-old uber-athlete who has probably never sucked at anything in his life and has already made the cover of SI. This is surprising?

  14. JBerardi - Apr 23, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    Honestly, given the life that he’s lived (he’s been The Next Big Thing since he was like 12), if the reports said that he was humble and likable and stuff… I’d just assume that he was a great BSer. Turning a 17 year old boy into an arrogant jerk is pretty easy to do. Like just a Honda Civic with a subwoffer and a coffee can for a muffler will do the trick. I can only imagine what getting a Sports Illustrated cover at age 16 would do. How could he not be a jerk?
    Ultimately, none of this is going to stop him from being drafted first overall. I look forward to seeing him in the Arizona Fall League after Boras inevitability drags his contract negotiations out to the last minute.

  15. DiamondDuq - Apr 23, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    Who cares? Anyone remember the reports of Josh Beckett in high school? Sitting in the back of his high school class reading a magazine and responding to his teacher when questioned about it something to the effect “I throw 100 mph, I do whatever the f*ck I want.” It seems to have worked out pretty well for Beckett and there’s no reason to believe the same won’t be true for Harper.

  16. Rider83 - Apr 23, 2010 at 1:17 PM

    Sounds just like the black players. Lets see, Randy Moss, Terrel Owens, Ray Lewis, and etc! I guess your only allowed to be a big mouth blow hard if your black!

  17. Toz - Apr 23, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    Darryl, what you need to do is get involved. Perhaps you have kids, perhaps you don’t. But if you do, and you see your kid slam a bat down, or mouth off to a coach, or taunt an opponent, do you go to the coach and tell him to pull him off the field? Do you volunteer at your local Little League? Do you umpire games? Do you volunteer at a school?
    I’m a parent of three, but long before I had kids, I did all of these things to help ensure that children are taught properly from the start. The only way to cure the problem is to get involved and solve the problem.

  18. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Apr 23, 2010 at 1:45 PM

    Two words that ought to scare Nats fans if they draft Bryce Harper: Billy Rowell.

    Never heard of this guy, so I checked his info on b-ref.com. His A+ batting line is: .257/.327/.393 over 1538 PA (30HR/190RBI)
    For comparison, Bryce Harper in his first year using wooden bats is hitting:
    .401/.494/.866 with 17HR in 142 AB.
    As to the earlier Brien Taylor comment, people should do some research before bringing up his name. He was doing fairly well in the minors, then he got into a bar fight defending his brother and wrecked his shoulder. After that he wasn’t the same.

  19. Joey B - Apr 23, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    “Ladies and gentlemen: meet the American professional athlete of the future. We are raising entire generations of jerks like this, so why should we be shocked and shaken when they turn out like this guy? I see more and more youth league kids (10-14 yrs old) behaving like this – it’s very disturbing.”
    Do you really think it’s worse than it used to be? I think kids today are better behaved than when I was growing up.

  20. trampslikeus - Apr 23, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    for some reason I immediately thought of Ryan Leaf. Of course, it’s ridiculous to project his personality 5 years or so up the road…but baseball will humble you later if not sooner and when it happens is when we’ll know what it all means. In the meantime, all you jokers spending big bucks on his rookie cards had better have a backup plan.

  21. Skids - Apr 23, 2010 at 3:49 PM

    Hey guys, this is America, where we reward people for acting like a**es. Make him get a real job, see how quick he can clean it up.

  22. Fast Eddy - Apr 23, 2010 at 5:56 PM

    Sorry Church; The two words any club must watch for with this guy are: MILTON BRADLEY
    Maybe these two are two peas in the same pod!

  23. Michael - Apr 26, 2010 at 7:17 PM

    Dude will be right at home in a sport where AJ Pierzynski and Brett Myers can thrive.

  24. AJ - Jun 7, 2010 at 10:14 PM

    I met this kid at JUCO in Grand Juntion, CO. If he is jerk, then sign me up. He was getting jerked around by San Jac and the worthless excuse for a homebase ump. He took exception to what the ump was calling a strike… so did alot of other people… and because he is Johnny Superstar the ump ran him. End of story. I was there.

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