Before I get into my topic du jour, I want to give a shout-out to the Cleveland Indians. The team that should be managed by Sandy Alomar, Jr. (but is not!) is only half a game out of first place in the AL Central behind the Detroit Tigers, and have a record of 7-3 in their last 10 games. No, this is not the team of years past, with stars like Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, and Jim Thome, but they have Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop and rightie Justin Masterson (6-2, 3.14 ERA) on the mound, and they mean business. Now, please don’t get TOO good, because we’re going to a game at Jacob’s Field in August, and I don’t want tickets to be too hard to get!
OK, so now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about this Bryce Harper kid who keeps bashing himself into outfield walls. I know I’ve said this before, but Harper has to be one of the most intense baseball players I’ve ever seen. He looks and acts like he should be playing rugby or ice hockey or participating in one of those “Strong Man” competitions. Not that Bryce could pull a bus with his teeth, but he is all-in, all the time. This kid sprints to first base after every at-bat, even if he just hits a dribbler to the pitcher. He will try to stretch a single into a double if the ball is hit deep enough. He will dive headfirst into home plate even when it’s not a close play. In one year in the Majors, Harper has stolen home off the Phillies’ Cole Hamels, hit 32 doubles, and 10 triples. He is so competitive, he doesn’t know when to ease up.
So here’s where the big debate is: If your team is leading 6-0 in the fifth inning and your pitcher is throwing heat, do you risk your body to try to catch a fly ball? This was the scenario in Monday night’s game between the Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers, where Bryce Harper slammed into the outfield wall and ended up leaving the game and requiring 11 stitches to his chin. Some seem to think that Harper should have taken the ball after it bounced off the wall – he could have dislocated his collarbone, gotten a concussion, or sprained his shoulder and would have to be out for at least four to six weeks (and they don’t call that strip of dirt out there the “warning track” for no reason!). Others believe that Harper is Harper, and he would have done the same thing whether the Nationals were losing by five runs or leading by twenty. This is the way Bryce has always played, and he’s not about to bring his intensity down a notch.
What do I think? I love Harper and the way he hustles (the fact that he’s not cute and gets bad haircuts does not affect how I feel about his playing ability). I love his drive, his determination, and his work ethic. He’s part Rose, part Clemente, part Dykstra (without the potty mouth and jail time) and part Griffey (junior). If more guys played baseball like Bryce does, it would be a more interesting game to watch. But then again, he’s only 20. His body is not always going to be so forgiving when he slams into a wall ten or fifteen years from now (wait until he plays at Wrigley Field, where the outfield wall is solid brick!). Harper grew up as a catcher, and the Nationals switched him to the outfield so he wouldn’t suffer so much wear and tear and get so beat up. If they really want to keep him bubble-wrapped, then perhaps they can move him to the bullpen and have him pitch one or two innings every couple of days. J
For now, I don’t think you can tell Bryce Harper to ease up and hold back a little. After all, the kid makes over $1 million a year, so he’s going to earn his paycheck and give fans their money’s-worth. Let’s just hope the Nationals’ athletic training staff has enough bandages and Steri Strips to keep Bryce Harper put together for years to come.