Bryce Harper: The mouth who roars
March, 15, 2012
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJust 19 years old, Bryce Harper has a chance to open the season with the Nationals.Courtesy of Craig Calcaterra at the Hardball Talk blog, a link to Will Leitch's GQ interview with Bryce Harper. First, great photo of Harper. Second: If it's not already clear, it's becoming more obvious that Harper is going to be one of the game's most divisive figures over the next decade.
Baseball, by its nature, is a humbling sport. Hitters deal with failure a majority of their at-bats. Pitchers can make a perfect pitch and surrender home runs or pitch a gem and lose 2-1. The culture of the game almost demands players keep their cockiness to themselves; the long grind of the season means there will be times you slump and struggle no matter your ability. That tends to keep the chest thumping and displays of success rather muted. (The rare Rickey Henderson or Pascual Perez not withstanding.) Not that a little added confidence isn't a good thing. As Crash Davis tells Nuke LaLoosh in "Bull Durham," "You be cocky and arrogant, even when you're getting beat. That's the secret. You gotta play this game with fear and arrogance."
Right now, Harper doesn't have the fear, which is a refreshing change. He's still a brash young kid who believes he can become one of the best ever. He's interesting. We want to watch him and see what he does. As Craig writes on his blog, "If he lives up to the hype -- or even comes close to living up to it -- he’s going to be one of the most astounding things the game has ever seen. Pete Rose meets Muhammad Ali, maybe."
I imagine Alex Rodriguez is maybe the most disliked player in the majors right now, which I've never understood. Sure, he makes a lot of money and admitted to using PEDs (many would consider that apology an admirable character trait), but the thing about Rodriguez is he's actually rather boring in a love/hate sense. He's an easy guy to take cheap shots at -- the muscular girlfriends, the shirtless photos and the like -- but those things don't make him unlikeable in my book. But for the most part, A-Rod plays baseball and doesn't really say anything interesting.
Harper seems like he'll be different. In fact, while Craig mentioned Pete Rose, Harper reminds me more of Reggie Jackson, the self-professed "straw that stirs the drink." The Jackson analogy even extends to the field. Like Reggie (who played football at Arizona State), Harper is an athletic right fielder who certainly doesn't get cheated on his swing. Like Reggie, the biggest issue with his game might be the strikeouts (Reggie is still the all-time leader).
One thing about Reggie, however: He did, believe it or not, have a small dosage of humility. "When you've played this game for 10 years and gone to bat 7000 times and gotten 2000 hits, do you know what that really means?" Reggie once said. "It means you've gone zero for 5000."
If he's to reach his potential, I believe that's something Harper will eventually learn.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.