Monday, July 1, 2013
Put Bryce Harper on the All-Star team
By David Schoenfield
Dear Bryce Harper,
Welcome back. I know the Washington Nationals missed you during your absence. They went 15-16 while you were tending to your bad knee. Bursitis, they called it? Sounds like something an old man would get, or maybe Jason Giambi, but not a 20-year-old. Hopefully you learned a lesson about staying away from walls. I know you're a max-effort kind of guy and we all appreciate that, but one potential catch isn't worth the risk of a long-term injury.
Anyway, like I said, the Nats are glad to have you back, and we know you were obviously pumped to return -- loved your tweet Sunday when you wrote, "Probably going to sleep in my uniform tonight since I am really excited and ready to be back! Little league days!" The Nationals hit .245 without you, and the left fielders filling in for you were much worse, hitting a collective .200 with two home runs and eight RBIs in those 31 games. Their .540 OPS was second-worst in the majors over that span, ahead of only the Yankees. Think Davey Johnson was happy to write your name in that No. 3 spot on the lineup card? Does a dog like protein?
Even better was that first at-bat in Monday's 10-5 win over the Brewers. The home fans gave you a nice standing ovation; the TV broadcast flashed to a young girl holding up a "Welcome back Bryce" sign. There you were in that familiar stance, your back elbow cocked high, your eyes staring intensely out at Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo. The first pitch was a checked swing for a ball, and then Gallardo threw a fastball on the outside part of the plate that you drilled to left-center. Just enough. Into the bullpen for a home run. How sweet that must have felt. Then the high-fives and smiles in the dugout from your teammates and coaches -- you're one of the best high-fivers around -- and the curtain call standing O from the fans. It was a Reggie Jackson kind of moment: a flair for the dramatic.
Reggie once called himself the straw that stirs the drink, and that might be your case with the Nationals as well. We all know the Nats have disappointed so far this season, and the offense has been the primary culprit, scoring more runs than only the Dodgers and Marlins among National League teams. But the talent is still here for your club to go on a 20-5 run and make the Braves nervous. We'll see; our playoff odds gave the Nats a 28 percent chance of making the playoffs at the start of Monday evening. You'll have to deliver a few more curtain calls for that to happen.
You might want to stop reading now, however, because I have some bad news. While you were out, there was a new phenom who debuted, and I'll be honest here even if it hurts your feelings a little: We kind of forgot about you for the past month. You should see this kid. Well, I mean, he's older than you. His name is Yasiel Puig, and he's something to watch. Big, strong, powerful, with speed and a cannon for an arm. Maybe a little reckless around the edges, but he's still learning so we'll cut him a little slack. He has already become the energizing focal point of the Dodgers, and, believe me, they need that. All that remind you of anyone?
A lot of people are touting Puig for the All-Star team even though he has played only a month in the major leagues. I don't know about that, though. He did hit .436, and that was pretty amazing -- I even checked out all 44 of his hits here. He's more aggressive at the plate than you are, but so far pitchers haven't figured out how to exploit that. I'm just not sure one month -- as good as it was -- warrants a place on the All-Star team.
Plus ... what about finding room for you? Your name is just as big as Puig's, you have a longer track record of success and you were "the man" early in the season before hurting your knee (and trying to play through the injury for two weeks before finally going on the disabled list). I think I have to argue you deserve a spot on the NL team more than Puig.
So there you go. I haven't forgotten about you.
Yours in baseball,