Bryce Harper has taken his share of criticism in his young career, some of it justified and some of it not. He comes across as a punk, wears John Randle-esque eye black, has a silly haircut, and blows pitchers a kiss (sometimes) after going yard.
But he also hits the tar out of the ball and has a rocket arm from the outfield, and given the hype that has followed him throughout his formative years, I’d say he’s handled himself pretty well.
This was further evidenced the other night when Cole Hamels drilled Harper with a pitch and, after the game, said something along the lines of hitting him intentionally “simply because that’s the way the game was played in the old days. It’s just, ‘Welcome to the big leagues.’”
Hm. I think there are a LOT of things that were done in the old days that are no longer relevant. It’s called “evolving” and “adapting to the times.” Kind of like football cracking down on helmet-to-helmet hits. Or hockey cracking down on fighting. Or NASCAR improving safety precautions, especially after Dale Earnhardt’s death.
I respect the old school as much as anyone – I wish more players wore their socks high, and I wish there were more pitchers willing to throw a spitball. But to me, this action just shows that Hamels doesn’t appreciate “history” as much as he claims to. The old days featured 19-year-olds making a splash on the scene much more regularly than they do now. The old days featured Ray Chapman being killed and Tony Conigliaro’s career ending because of being hit by pitches. The old days featured 18-hour train rides and wool uniforms on hot, humid July afternoon games in St. Louis.
Nowadays, rookies are welcomed to the big leagues by wearing pink nightgowns on the bus, or carrying a Hello Kitty backpack wherever they go.
However, to me the real story within the story is how Harper handled himself. You’d think that someone with the reputation of being a caustic, knee-jerk reactionary might throw the bat, glare, point, and otherwise gesticulate. But instead, Harper hopefully surprised his many critics and trotted on down to first.
And in perhaps the ultimate form of revenge, Harper stole home later that inning when Hamels lobbed a pickoff throw over to first. Sure, the Phillies won easily, and yes, Hamels will miss no starts because of his toothless five-game suspension, but the end result is that Harper showed that he has moxy, is not easily intimidated, and has a bright future.
So, here’s hoping that Harper is learning, maturing, and understanding his role and place in Washington, and the league as a whole, and has a successful, productive, and injury-free career. Seems like he’s off to a good start.