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Bryce Harper needs to grow up

Jun 7, 2011, 9:32 AM EDT

Bryce Harper

There has been quite a response since the post of that Bryce Harper home run trot this morning (the video is embedded below).  It has me thinking about the curious beast that is Bryce Harper and what, if anything, we can take from that little episode.

First, let me be clear: I’m not trying to be a moralizing old coot here.  The blow-the-kiss thing is not, in and of itself, a big deal. I know he’s 18. I know that 18-year-olds are brash and arrogant by design and that Harper himself is known to be that way too.  But Bryce Harper is a different kind of 18-year-old than one usually sees and he’s even different than one baseball usually sees. This makes him a special case whether he likes it or not.

Baseball has a socialization process. Many players play in college and have had a couple of years to learn to live as a quasi-adult. The ones who don’t go to college have at least had a year or two more of high school than Harper has had, and they start out in half-season leagues, only getting up to the South Atlantic League, where Harper plies his trade, when they’re 20, 21 or even older.  During that journey, these kids have a chance to mature a bit.  It’s a chance that Harper has not had.

But his age and lack of professional or college experience doesn’t excuse Harper’s behavior either.  Indeed, by virtue of his talent, and by virtue of the considerable efforts of himself, his parents, his advisor Scott Boras and others, Harper has leapfrogged the normal socialization process to get where he is now. It was his choice — and a smart one given his talent — to put himself in league with boys bigger than he.  And he has been rewarded handsomely for it.

But it is incumbent upon him, therefore, to do everything he can to act the age of the player he’s being paid to be, not the age he really is. That just seems like part of the deal to me. Big boy bucks for big boy production and, by extension, big boy behavior.

Harper is a very special talent and, as such, people are going to be gunning for him.  Testing him.  A teammate of the pitcher he blew that kiss to hit Harper with a pitch the other day.  That sucks, and it certainly explains Harper’s response yesterday.  But it was the wrong response. The way to fight back is by depositing pitches in the seats and showing those who would try to take him down that he can’t be intimidated and that they — as insignificant barriers on his way to glory — don’t even show up on his radar screen.  That’s a kind of high road that does not require false humility or the dulling of an edge. It’s the kind of thing, actually, that would turn him into a cold-blooded assassin.  It’s also how he will be expected to handle this sort of thing when he reaches Double-A, Triple-A (if he even stops there) and the majors. Which he’ll be doing well before any of his peers, assuming he has some.

I don’t know who the biggest adult or the former player with the most gravitas is in the Washington Nationals organization. But whoever he is, he needs to have a friendly talk with Harper about how, for as unfair as it may seem, he is a unique case and as such, he has to leave his brash and arrogant 18-year-old self behind and let his bat do the talking for him.  Because if he doesn’t, he’s going to represent a serious case of arrested development by the time he reaches the bigs.

And again, this idea doesn’t appeal to me because I’m an old man who wants arrogant punks like Bryce Harper off my lawn. It’s because I want to see Bryce Harper fulfill the promise he has with as little bullshit as possible.  I want this kid to be everything he can be and more, because if he is, he’ll be able to do things no one else has ever done.

  1. bjavie - Jun 7, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    Entitled. Entitled. Entitled.

    Nothing despises me more than a lack of respect for your opponent. There are no excuses for this. Saying he was previously hit by a pitch does not make an acceptable excuse. Chase Utley is always amongst league leaders in HBP, and you would NEVER see this kind of reaction from him. Why? Class.

    This is nothing that a good ass kicking couldn’t cure. As opposed to the ass pampering he has clearly received his entire life.

    • halladaysbicepts - Jun 7, 2011 at 9:57 AM

      If I were the Nats, I would send down Jayson Werth and his can of whoop-ass down to the minors, lock Werth and Harper in the same room for an hour, and have Werth teach the kid a little humility.

    • bronxbomber213 - Jun 7, 2011 at 11:32 AM

      oh please…utley a class act?! the same utley who gets up and yells “world fucking champions” at the phils victory parade in 08?? everyone knows there’s only one guy who embodies all it means to be a class act and thats jeter.

      • bjavie - Jun 7, 2011 at 11:49 AM

        Not exactly the conversation, but as a Yankee fan I am not surprised to see you try and make it about the Yankees. Nonetheless, fine, how would Jeter react then? Not like this harper dude did, I would bet.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Jun 7, 2011 at 11:56 AM

        Jeter would just whine and pout to the media.

      • harmbry - Jun 7, 2011 at 1:00 PM

        Class acts know how to fake getting hit by a pitch.

      • cktai - Jun 7, 2011 at 1:41 PM

        The Jeter who refused to give up his spot for the best fielding shortstop in the league after a season where he was the worst fielding shortstop? Or the Jeter who went way over his market value and squeezed every last penny out of a team that wanted to keep him for sentimental reasons?

      • Utley's Hair - Jun 7, 2011 at 3:48 PM

        Well, Jeter was the one to fake being hit, Utley just accepted the base—no acting there.

    • Sultan of Stat - Jun 7, 2011 at 4:39 PM

      So this kid had a silver spoon his entire life right? His parents are a steelworker and a paralegal.

      And, if this were high school or college, yeah it could be looked down upon. In the pro’s there’s a simple way to remedy this…Get him out.

      For what it’s worth, your entire comment became null and void once you brought up a Phillie as “Classy”.

      • Utley's Hair - Jun 7, 2011 at 4:51 PM

        Got anything to back up your assertion about Phillies? If not, STFU.

      • kcq101 - Jun 7, 2011 at 7:01 PM

        Your comment alluding to “class” or lack there of is a reflection of our Philadelphia fan base, not the players who play for the Philly teams.

        So, for what it’s worth, your entire comment became null and void once you idiotically characterized your opinion on the extent of Utley’s “class” based upon your perception of the fans.

  2. NCStuff - Jun 7, 2011 at 9:52 AM

    Frank Robinson?

    • echolmberg - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:19 AM

      Frank Robinson was he first person I thought of too, but I don’t think he is actually with the organization anymore. Also, I wonder if an 18 year old would really listen to 76 year old Frank Robinson, though he should.

      • natstowngreg - Jun 7, 2011 at 1:55 PM

        True, Frank Robinson is no longer with the Nats’ organization.

      • nixonotis - Jun 7, 2011 at 2:34 PM

        Am I the only poor sap that would be scared shitless by a 76 year old Frank Robinson? Do you people remember that stare down with the umpire?

      • natstowngreg - Jun 7, 2011 at 5:10 PM

        I was at RFK when Frank Robinson talked the umpires out of a home run call. (Seeing it on instant replay after the game, Brian Jordan of the Braves had indeed homered.) Obviously, I couldn’t hear the conversation (sitting in the lower deck beyond 3B), but it didn’t seem Robinson was at all angry.

        The next day, he confirmed that he just had a polite argument. Robinson commented that, from his time as MLB’s enforcer, he learned the importance of persuading umps, rather than showing them up. On this occasion, persuasion worked.

  3. asianstalkingsensation - Jun 7, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    Please…was it stupid? Yes…but superstar or not…he’s EIGHTEEN. Do you have kids that are that age? Cause I do and blowing a kiss in a pitcher’s direction is pretty tame compared to some of the things my kids do on a weekly basis.

    I do not condone his behavior, but give him a nice talking to, let him know the error in his ways and move on. This is NOT a big deal.

    • drmonkeyarmy - Jun 7, 2011 at 9:54 AM

      I think that is pretty much Craig’s point.

    • bjavie - Jun 7, 2011 at 11:10 AM

      I am 36 years old and when I was 18 “being young” was never an acceptable excuse for lude and/or classless behavior.

      If you want to go back another 18 years I am pretty sure the likes of Yaz or one of those guys would have whooped his ass for this kind of behavior. Nolan Ryan would have put one trough his left nostrel.

  4. shaggylocks - Jun 7, 2011 at 9:54 AM

    Still, if he could stay the hell off my lawn, that’d be nice too.

  5. Old Gator - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    Unfortunately, as a karmic payback for his lopsided advantages and accelerated career progress, Harper’s “socialization” process is likely going to be administered by baseball – not the game per se but by those rawhide-covered rocks that are going to be finding their ways into his ribcage, thighs and derriere at a higher rate of impact than his batting stance alone would perhaps engender. And one of these days, a cracked rib or fractured hamate bone will finally communicate the lesson in more efficacious form. He’ll get the point sooner or later, or the point will get him.

  6. Max Power - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    If anything, someone should have a talk with him about that mustache.

    • rebarratige - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:24 AM

      Rod Beck says: “Shoot for the moon, kid!”

      • hwentworth - Jun 7, 2011 at 11:34 AM

        Why the Rod Beck quote doesn’t have more thumbs up votes confounds me to no end. To no end, I say.

  7. fonzo2 - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    Looks to me like the pitcher was eyeballing him or staring him down as he was trotting around the bases, and definitely staring at him around 3B and then Harper blew the kiss. I’m glad that’s all he did, and kinda low key as a retaliation goes. Why should any player have to take any eyeballing or staring BS? To satisfy the non-athlete nerd geek bloggers and media from Dr. Cocteau’s pussy-whipped, humus-eating, Brady-bunch critics. h\He’s 18, he’ll learn about the body language (walking admiration after the hit). It shouldn’t be made a national story from those news-hunting, mountain-making from mole hill sensationalists at ESPN. Leave the kid alone. A coach will sure say something to him, bet he doesn’t do the walking HR watch again, but because a coach or his agent will say something, not because of the old-coot writer or blog geeks.

    • spindervish - Jun 7, 2011 at 2:05 PM

      Hey now…hummus is delicious. You don’t have to be a pussy to appreciate that.

    • nixonotis - Jun 7, 2011 at 2:35 PM

      Maybe he was staring at him because it took Harper about 10 minutes to get out of the batter’s box.

  8. sportsdrenched - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    Things like this have a way of taking care of themselves. Mostly by teammates, opponents, or maybe @OldHossRadbourne

    Just like Richard Childress going Nolan Ryan on Kyle Busch.

    • kopy - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:44 AM

      @OldHossRadbourn has already spoken on the matter:

      “Bah! This B. Harper incident is nothing. I once fired a poisoned dart from a blowgun at an enemy hurler. RIP.”

  9. royhobbs39 - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    As a Nationals fan, I am one to realize that perhaps right now the Nats do not have someone with that sort of clout. I have a feeling Harper already thinks of himself as bigger than Zimmerman. Perhaps they need to reach out to some former players. Ripken, Gwynn, Robinson, Aaron, whoever. Or even reach across the leagues. Get Jeter, Pujols, or Ortiz to make the call. (If Harper becomes the star people think he is going to be, he will probably end up on one of their teams anyway). Have a big name quietly give Harper a call and let him know that this is not the way you want to prep your arrival to the big leagues. With a Hamels fastball near the ear or a Johnson pitch between the buttons.

    • echolmberg - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:20 AM

      If you could pick any one person to make the call I’d think it’d be Griffey Jr. Who else has been in Harper’s position before?

    • royhobbs39 - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:21 AM

      Or they could get Livan to talk to him. It would not be a very productive conversation, but it would eat up a phone call and at the end everyone would say it was another “solid phone call by the veteran Livan Hernandez.”

      • natstowngreg - Jun 7, 2011 at 2:00 PM

        If Livan called at the pace he pitches, the call would last 5 hours.

      • nixonotis - Jun 7, 2011 at 2:37 PM

        So the conversation would last about as long as it took Harper to reach home plate.

    • 78mu - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:22 AM

      Except that Pujols and Ortiz have been know to admire their blasts (watch Pujols last Sunday) so they might not be the best role models for Harper. Of course Pujols and Ortiz did off major league pitching and weren’t doing it in A ball.

      Better to get someone like Scott Rolen who never took his time around the bases after a HR or tried to show up the pitcher.

  10. henryd3rd - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    Baseball players have a way of policing themselves. The next time that chump gets up she should find a high hard one in her ear-hole or in her ribcage. A real man even a young man of 18 should understand that one never shows up one’s opponents

  11. dbick - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    It’s always been funny to me that even though baseball is the most individual based team sport, it’s the sport that frowns upon being an individual the most. Especially when it comes to celebrating or “showing someone up”.

    • nps6724 - Jun 7, 2011 at 11:15 AM

      Except football has a PENALTY for it. Baseball just makes a frowny face.

      • dbick - Jun 7, 2011 at 12:45 PM

        or requires a 90mph to be directed at your rib cage

  12. Old Gator - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    What was it that Ty Cobb said near the end of his life – if I had it to do all over again, I would have made more friends?

  13. xnumberoneson - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    As others have said, the game will police itself and Harper will learn his lesson. I suspect this is one of the reasons he continues to play in low-A ball even though he has proven beyond doubt that he is too talented for that level of baseball. He has major-league talent and high school brains. The Nationals would like to avoid a repeat of what happened with Gregg Jeffries and the Mets. The Nationals don’t have a clubhouse full of All-Star veterans like the Mets had in the late ’80s, but the lesson still applies. Being really, really good at baseball is not good enough.

    • umrguy42 - Jun 7, 2011 at 11:28 AM

      Bull Durham’s expression of a “million dollar arm and a 5 cent head” comes to mind…

    • Old Gator - Jun 7, 2011 at 11:30 AM

      I still remember that anguished and incoherent “open letter” to Mutts fans that Gregg Jeffries authored to excuse his obnoxious behavior when all the journalistic fecal matter was coming down on him in the press and by way of “unnamed” team sources who smeared him behind his back. It was painful to read – and Jeffries had at least finished high school, so I doubt if anyone is looking forward to a similar epistolary spasm out of Harper.

  14. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    The lion should not concern himself with the opinions of the sheep.
    – Tywin Lannister

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jun 7, 2011 at 12:18 PM

      Game of Thrones? Anyone? Bueller?

      • tomemos - Jun 7, 2011 at 1:44 PM

        (I got it, but I think you’ll find the baseball-GoT crossover is not very high. Though higher than it was a couple years ago I’m sure.)

    • tomemos - Jun 7, 2011 at 12:36 PM

      Niiiice.

  15. hcf95688 - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    I see a Todd Marinovich scenario for Harper.

  16. hwentworth - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    Ok, ok, we get it. You’re bored of writing about the draft. But come on, an entire article about that? Why is this newsworthy to anyone?

  17. Jonny 5 - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    Nothing to see here folks.. Besides that dang “mustache”.. Why can’t I look away??? WHY?!?!?

  18. cur68 - Jun 7, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    Couple three things;
    1) Is his head really that big or does HAVE to wear Cervelli’s old batting helmet?

    2) Why’s his face so dirty? He been practicing head first slides after pancakes with syrup? If so some’s still stuck around his mouth.

    3) When he was high 5-ing his teammates was there a thought bubble over his head saying “I’m better than you, and you, and you….” or am I just reading too much into his body language and expression?

    …and finally am I getting old or is that display of ‘nyer, nyer, nyer’ best left for some other venue? Like HBT? Where guys merely insult you over the interwebs and not stick a baseball in your ribs?

  19. wonkypenguin - Jun 7, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    Or else it was simply an overture for a romantic evening out on the town. “Let’s get dinner later.”

    To which the pitcher thought, “Hell no unless you shave, dude.”

  20. metalhead65 - Jun 7, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    right he should just take the mature approach of professionals like say the st. louis cardinals and their coach took after pujols was hit in a game against the reds last month right? you know the one in which duncan and some seldom used backup were screaming at the reds pitcher for daring to throw a pitch inside and then hitting him? because we all know he did it intentionally in that situation right? or maybe he should just charge the mound next time like the big boys do every time somebody throws inside right? if the kid did not belong where he is then he would not be hitting home runs there would he? I do not see what the big deal is anyway,if you had not pointed it out would never have noticed it. don’t like being shown up by a kid?then do not let him hit a home run of you. I noticed none of his wiser teammates did not slap him a high five when he came back to the dugout. if it is such a big deal you would think instead of congratulating him they would have told him he can’t do that.

  21. TheNaturalMevs - Jun 7, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    Washington knows his mental makeup is not off the charts, because physically no one doubts the tools. There is something to this story; I’m telling you.

    I get more searches onto my blog that say things like “Bryce Harper, teammates hate him,” and “Bryce Harper is a dick” and “Bryce Harper is a bad person”. Never had those searches for guys like Jason Heyward, Stephen Strasburg, or Jay Bruce who were also mega prospects. Granted, Harper is even bigger than them, but he’s done something that has rubbed a large majority the wrong way at some point.

  22. comish4lif - Jun 7, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    If I was Mike Rizzo (Nats GM), I would have been on the phone as soon as I heard this last night and had Hagerstown Manager Brian Daubach in my office at 9AM – and no, I don’t care if he’s riding a bus all night from Greensboro. And I would have made him explain why Harper is acting like this and what plan does Daubach have to make goddamnsure it doesn’t happen again. There were a few stories in the WaPo this spring about why Daubach was brought in and how he was going to help with the maturation process (yada yada). I don’t see it.

    I agree with Calcaterra, and love the “cold-blooded assassin” comment. That’s exactly what Harper needs to be and if Daubach has to sit him down every time Harper pulls one of these stunts, I’d support him as GM.

    • natstowngreg - Jun 7, 2011 at 2:10 PM

      It’s only the first week of June. Give Daubach a chance. They’re not going to change the kid’s attitude overnight.

      This just shows another reason why the demands to promote Harper are premature, and are based only on his batting slash line. Growing up, in addition to learning how to play the OF and run the bases.

  23. djeter220 - Jun 7, 2011 at 1:48 PM

    In his 18-year-old rookie year I don’t see the big deal. There’s no reason to doubt that his maturity will develop the same as any other raw skill the minors are used to shape in young players. And is it just me, or does hitting a player with a 90+ pitch seem more immature and inappropriate than hitting a homer and making a subtle disrespectful gesture?

  24. ktgooch - Jun 7, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    This is no big deal. If i saw it right in the video, it appeared as the pitcher said something to him as he rounded 3rd. Some mlb players in there 30’s respond the same or worse. He wasnt shop lifting, caught w/ a pipe or beating up anyone. He just blew him a kiss, heck it wasnt even a dating game kiss. Yep i guess that says im old too.

    • Utley's Hair - Jun 7, 2011 at 3:54 PM

      I have never seen a major leaguer blow kisses at the pitcher. Barry Bonds stopped to admire his homers for way too long (I’ll admit Ryno does the same thing). The pitcher was probably taking exception to Harper’s lazy seven step saunter after contact before breaking into a slow jog. It was classless and he could very well have bought himself some rib shots. It’s called sportsmanship and humility, and the kid needs to learn it.

  25. david7590 - Jun 7, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    What did the pitcher say to him? He was jawing at him before he started blowing the kisses. Maybe the pitcher, who unlike Harper will never amount to anything past the minors, needs to grow up.

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