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Bryce Harper needs to grow up

Jun 7, 2011, 9:32 AM EST

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. bobwheel - Jun 7, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    Leopards don’t change their spots. He’ll be just as arrogant when he’s 25, 35 55 etc.

  2. Brian Murphy - Jun 7, 2011 at 3:21 PM

    Yeah, that type of behavior is immature and inexcusable.

    But wouldn’t some microscopic part of you like to have another MLB’er with the mentality of a WWE wrestler in the game again? A real-life Clu Haywood (not to be confused with Pete Vukovich). Sure, it would be aggravating to a lot of players and fans alike, but it would be entertaining in that same aspect and give people such as yourself a lot to write about.

    • bobwsc - Jun 7, 2011 at 4:17 PM

      ‘hey Taylor, how’s your wife and my kids’

  3. bigtrav425 - Jun 7, 2011 at 3:49 PM

    My new favorite player!!….havnt heard anyone suggest that maybe there is a back story to these 2 guys or did the pitcher do or say something to him

    • evanpenn - Jun 8, 2011 at 10:36 AM

      I can’t judge Harper because there’s no camera on the pitcher, we have no idea what he did. If you take two people in a heated argument, and put the camera on just one, that person will always look foolish. Judgement withheld.

  4. berbes - Jun 7, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    of course in my day & age, the next AB would be met with a nice, hard fast ball slightly under the chin.

  5. yettyskills - Jun 7, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    I get a kick outta the whiners
    How about this, tell your pitcher to shut the frack up and you don’t get kisses blown to you
    And ya, bring it on, hit Harper, I promise you and your best hitter will take a fastball to your face.
    What now?
    Ohhhh so scary you would throw at Harper. Start a War and put your teammates in danger because you suck and yap at hitters who take you deep.

  6. augie9 - Jun 7, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    Blowing kisses is fine until the guy hitting behind Harper gets it in the earhole.

  7. baseballstars - Jun 8, 2011 at 4:48 AM

    Well written, and I agree. What’s going to happen if he can’t bash AA, AAA, or Major League pitching? Who’s he going to be blowing kisses to then? And even if he does reach his potential, a lot of teams will want to rid themselves of a clubhouse cancer. He should learn not to act like TO, but learn FROM TO – a very talented player who few teams will take a chance on, even though there’s gas left in the gas tank.

  8. purnellmeagrejr - Jun 8, 2011 at 9:14 AM

    It’s good to see a white guy doing this stuff. I always enjoyed Jeffrey Leonard, Richie Allen Albert Belle.

  9. kage10 - Jun 8, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    He can’t hardly grow hair on his lip…he’s a punk and will be drilled many times by many pitchers better than him.

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