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Bryce Harper faces Jackie Robinson-level scrutiny? Um, OK

Jul 26, 2011, 4:30 PM EDT

Jackie Robinson

A half hour ago I referenced Godwin’s Law and Smoltz’s law, which are rules designed to keep people from making inapposite or inappropriate comparisons.  While I quibble with them — like I said, they place off-limits signs on certain areas of comparison for no compelling reason — I understand them.  After all, they exist mostly to help keep you from making a fool out of yourself via bad analogies so it’s probably worth making your peace with them.

I think the same can probably be said of comparisons to Jackie Robinson.

To be clear: I don’t think anything should be off limits when it comes to the general discourse, so don’t go crazy on a guy simply because he compares something a current ballplayer faces to that which Jackie Robinson faced. But do understand that 90-95% of the time you make such comparisons to Jackie Robinson, your comparison is going to be a profoundly poor one that is going to cause you no small amount of trouble. And that’s even if your point isn’t about race (if it is about race, God help you).

That’s the lesson that a couple of Washington Nationals front office people are going to learn pretty soon, as they said the following about what Bryce Harper’s march to the major leagues entails to Tom Verducci in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Here’s Nats’ minor league coordinator Tony Tarasco:

“Jackie Robinson … You have to go back to Jackie Robinson to find anybody who goes through this much scrutiny. It wasn’t like this for [Stephen] Strasburg. Wasn’t like this for Alex Rodriguez.”

Here’s Nats’ director of player development Doug Harris:

“This is really unfair and it’s totally different, but if I can make a comparison to one guy that has been scrutinized like this, it would be Jackie Robinson. And it’s unfair because it was a different standard. He was under a microscope in an era when we didn’t have Internet, didn’t have cellphones … Now, Jackie Robinson had his life threatened. I’m not comparing Bryce to that. But as far as nonstop scrutiny? Absolutely. Day to day.”

I’m sure Bryce Harper faces a lot what with being so young and having such expectations placed on him. But I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that the Jackie Robinson comparison is a bit too much.  And either way, these guys are going to probably get murdered by the chattering classes for invoking the name of Jackie Robinson with respect to this kid.

  1. skerney - Jul 26, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    When people threaten Bryce Harper with lynch mobs and Snipers, then I’ll feel for him.

  2. dbick - Jul 26, 2011 at 4:35 PM


    that is all.

  3. duvisited - Jul 26, 2011 at 4:36 PM

    And it’s unfair because it was a different standard. He was under a microscope in an era when we didn’t have Internet, didn’t have cellphones …

    I guess Harris is trying to say that Harper actually had it *worse* than Robinson!

    Nice work, Nats.

  4. natstowngreg - Jul 26, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    The problem with analogies isn’t making them. The problem is that so few people aren’t capable of making appropriate analogies, or just don’t think before making them.

    • jimbo1949 - Jul 26, 2011 at 5:46 PM

      I was wondering where they moved the guys responsible for the Natinals jerseys.

    • GrillChiller - Jul 27, 2011 at 2:18 AM


      I totally agree with the point I think you were trying to make….

      I believe you were trying to say that “few people ARE capable of making appropriate analogies”. But instead you effectively said that “a lot of people are capable of making appropriate analogies”…which doesn’t prove the point you were trying to make.

      Sorry bro…

  5. 5thbase - Jul 26, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    If people gave the benefit of the doubt by default and just tried to understand what others were saying, merely giving credit on the points that were meant and not taking analogies too far, I think the statement would have been fine. Inasmuch as the last player facing tons of scrutiny in the minors was #42, it would seem reasonable to note that.

    However, since people are naturally disagreeable and love to mock others by injecting what they didn’t mean into what they said, it was a really dumb move to make any such comparison. The failure to recognize the obvious fact that you’ll look dumb every time making analogies using Robinson, Ruth, Jesus, etc., is a big enough offense to merit the scorn he shall now receive.

    • skerney - Jul 26, 2011 at 5:16 PM

      I don’t believe people are naturally disagreeable. People are disagreeable more easily in near anonymity on message boards. Or if they root for a certain baseball team from Pennsylvania.

  6. danberman4 - Jul 26, 2011 at 5:01 PM

    A ridiculous comparison. And of course there’s the scrutiny Hank Aaron was under during the home run chase. The Nats and Harper need to grow up.

  7. ditto65 - Jul 26, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    Two people from the same organization making the comparison? Is this a concerted effort by the Nats front office?

  8. crankyfrankie - Jul 26, 2011 at 5:12 PM

    What an incredibly silly thing to say. Since I was not alive I just know from everything I’ve read on the subject but what Jackie Robinson went through is something so above and beyond any internet/twitter scrutiny this is just amusing and horribly sad.

  9. hittfamily - Jul 26, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    Unfortunately, this might stick with Harper for a long time. I can’t help but think of JD Drew. People said he was the next coming of Mickey Mantle. He has had a very successful career, but because of what other people said about him, it has hurt him long after the comparisons were made. There have been much bigger busts who have never had the scrutiny he has had.

    Over time, people blend what others compare you into what their overall view of you is. Silence those morons before everybody hates this kid.

  10. trevorb06 - Jul 26, 2011 at 5:23 PM

    First off, yeah that’s a stupid analogy. That’s comparing apples to grenades.

    I think the point he IS actually trying to make isn’t the intensity of the scrutiny (obviously Robinson’s was waaaaaaaaaay more) but rather the amount of the scrutiny (as in 10 units of scrutiny a day).

    Yes, I just measured that in units.

  11. royalsfaninfargo - Jul 26, 2011 at 5:25 PM

    I dont understand what these guys are trying to prove. Every “sure fire #1 pick” has been held to a higher level of scrutiny. Look at Brien Taylor back in the day, or Todd Van Poppel, or Joe Mauer, or any number of other high draft picks. It comes with the territory. Comparing anything in baseball these days to what Jackie Robinson went through is pretty sanctimonious and not at all in touch with reality.

  12. minnesconsin - Jul 26, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    acknowledging the fact that harper is highly scrutinized, there remains this reality:

    Jackie Robinson was scrutinized for being born with brown pigment in his skin and having the audacity to play the game of baseball, and play it well.

    Bryce Harper is scrutinized because, by all accounts, the guys is just an incredible douche who appears to be genetically devoid of grace and/or humility. From his inestimable sense of entitlement to the the war-paint to walking out of the batter’s box in admiration of his homers to gracing the cover of SI as baseball’s “chosen one,” this kid is the anti-Jackie Robinson.

    • lannyistigers16th - Jul 26, 2011 at 5:48 PM

      head on the nail has been stroked. the scrutiny Mr. Harper endures is multiplied by the seeming fact that he is, in fact, a db, “devoid of grace and/or humility”. well said.

    • dannie0107 - Jul 27, 2011 at 9:41 AM

      Perfect … thank you.

  13. sdelmonte - Jul 26, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    The only way Harper will face this sort of scrutiny is actually a mutant, and the Sentinels are coming for him.

  14. iftheshoefits2 - Jul 26, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Without even acknowledging the stupifying obliviousness of the Nationals on this one….

    Can someone (ahem) with access to the appropriate news databases even quantify that Bryce Harper has more written about him than say, Jesus Montero?

    Because honestly, maybe its because I don’t live in DC, but this guy is barely on my radar, unless he does or says something stupid.

  15. thefalcon123 - Jul 26, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    I get it. Harper is a lot like Robinson minus the death threats, racism, groundbreaking, galvanizing force for change…

    ….wait, no he’s not like Jackie Robinson.

    (You probably shouldn’t really compare the experiences of anyone not named Larry Doby to Jackie Robinson’s).

  16. macjacmccoy - Jul 26, 2011 at 9:39 PM

    I dont see anything wrong with it. He didnt compare him to Jackie Robinson. He said no one has had to go through so much scrunity since him . He didnt say that he’s going through any where near the amount of scrutiny Robinson is going through either. All he is saying is from the years between when Robinson retired and now no player Bryce Harper has had this much scrutiny on them at such a young age.

    Whats wrong with that? It doesnt down grade what Robinson went through . It doesnt really even have anything to do with him. People are to sensitive they hear a name or a word and want to get all up in arms right away. Without taking to time to really listen to what was being said. Like actually being objective and thinking is to hard or something. If people did stop to listen to what others are actually saying then there would probably be a lot less drama in the world, but I guess that wouldnt make for a good article.

  17. cktai - Jul 27, 2011 at 1:54 AM

    Somehow I feel they may have forgotten about Barry Bonds, who is probably a much fairer comparison when it comes to scrutiny and many of the reasons why.

    • GrillChiller - Jul 27, 2011 at 2:22 AM

      Are you comparing Bonds to Robinson? If so, are you kidding me?

      • cktai - Jul 27, 2011 at 3:26 AM

        Let me spell it out more.

        If they want to compare the level of scrutiny that Bryce Harper is getting, they would probably be better off comparing Harper with Barry Bonds then comparing Harper with Robinson. This is due the lack of similarities between Harper and Robinson, and the abundance of similarities between Bonds. For example, Barry Bonds was scrutinised in first instance for being a supremely talented baseball player who was acting in an unpleasant manner, while Harper is a supreme baseball talent who acts in an unpleasant manner which leads to scrutiny. Robinson on the other hand is a different case from either Bonds or Harper in that he was scrutinised for having a different skin-colour, rather then the way he acted. Furthermore to claim that Harper is receiving a level of scrutiny unprecedented since the days of Jackie Robinson, would either be ignoring the scrutiny received by Barry Bonds, which is not the same as the level of scrutiny that Robinson received, but is comparable to the level that Harper receives now, or it would be overstating said scrutiny level of Harper.

        Alternative comment:

        ***warning this post may or may not contain well hidden sarcasm***

        Nah Bonds hit way too many home runs for that.

        ***sarcasm warning over***

  18. 1historian - Jul 27, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    To compare ANYONE with Jackie Robinson, especially in this context, is not insulting, it is ignorant and just plain stupid.

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