Don't Showboat

Hey, Pitcher: Bryce Harper Sends his Love

At this point, the minor leagues are a mixed bag for Bryce Harper. On one hand, he has to deal with long bus rides and crappy clubhouse food.

On the other hand, accounts of the firestorm he ignited yesterday by blowing a kiss to the pitcher who had just served him up a home run are inevitably concluded with a caveat along the lines of, “It’s the minor leagues; this is all part of the learning process.”

(Of course, were he in the majors, the video of his little discrepancy wouldn’t be embeddable, and thus watched across countless Web pages this morning.)

After Harper smacked his homer against Greensboro’s Zach Neal, he stood in the box, then slowly—slooooowly—walked up the line as he watched it clear the fence. That alone would have earned him a drilling at the big league level, but as he crossed the plate he upped the ante, turning his head toward Neal and puckering his lips.

It was stupid. It was juvenile. But ultimately those caveats were right: it is what the minor leagues are for. Harper is 18 years old. His actions indicated neither class nor respect, but those things are not necessarily inherent in teenaged humans.

Duane Kuiper was on the radio in San Francisco yesterday, before this story broke, talking about the MLB draft. Had he signed a pro contract straight out of high school, he said, moving from his family’s Wisconsin farm directly to the minor leagues, he would have ended up right back on that farm inside of two seasons. Some kids are ready at that age to make such leap, but by his own admission, Kuiper (who ultimately graduated from Southern Illinois University) of was not one of them.

Harper might not be one of them, either. Going back to the farm, however, is not an option. The $9.9 million contract he signed has placed him higher on the food chain than peers and coaches alike. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 16, and has had his ass kissed on a fairly consistent basis for the bulk of his teenage life. This is not his fault (nor is it even necessarily a bad thing), but it hardly encourages appropriate development of socialization skills.

He’s clearly aware that a quick ascension to the big leagues is all but assured, no matter how boorish his behavior.

Greensboro’s response—in Harper’s next at-bat he was backed up by an inside fastball—had about as much teeth as anything else the guy will face as long as he’s the biggest fish (by a wide margin) in a comparatively small pond. He will become socialized some day—when veterans whose status and contracts exceed his own put him in his place.

“At some point the game itself, the competition on the field, is going to have to figure out a way to police this young man,” said Mike Schmidt on SportsCenter. “If indeed his manager won’t, the game will end up taking care of it.”

That’s the way of the Code. Until Harper reaches the big leagues, however, let’s see him for what he is: a clueless 18-year-old who deserves a chance to figure things out.

– Jason

Update (June 8): Oh, my. Now there’s this.

6 thoughts on “Hey, Pitcher: Bryce Harper Sends his Love

  1. The game may police itself, but as a Nationals fan, I don’t want that policing to result in other players on the team getting injured.

    Based on his attitude, I wonder if a drilling would even register with Harper as something he ‘deserved’ or ‘earned’ or was just some unwarranted grudge the other team had against him. He doesn’t seem the type to abide by any kind of unwritten rules, so I could totally see him charging the mound if he gets drilled, even if it was just retaliation for a previous code violation.

    On the subject of the Nats and the code, though, any thoughts on Sunday’s Nats/Diamondbacks game? There’s probably a lot to say about that whole game, but I’m most curious as to whether you would consider it a code violation for Wilson Ramos to comment afterwards that his slow HR trot definitely was intentional and that he wanted to make the Diamondbacks angry. Do you think it’s more likely to escalate or fizzle when the teams meet in Washington in August?

    1. You nailed it, Lawrence. Harper is going to have to figure these things out at some point; when that is will go a long way toward figuring out how quickly he matures.

      As for your second question (thanks for asking), that trot was over the top. That topic is in my queue, and will get its due soon enough. The fact that he admitted it was over the top; one of the key pieces of the Code is to never admit to intentionally doing anything. Pitchers don’t admit to drilling hitters, primarily because they face suspension if they do; Ramos, however, put himself and his teammates in jeopardy.
      It’s kind of hard to play it like it wasn’t intentional, but addressing it afterward only served to fan the flames.

  2. In the previous day’s game (against the same team), Harper was drilled in the knee on the first pitch of his first at bat, knocking him out of the game. So while this response was certainly over the top, I don’t think it came out of the blue.

    1. He was certainly provoked, although that’s not quite the right word to describe it. More like “inspired to act.” The point of learning the unwritten rules, however, is to figure out what’s an appropriate response to provocation (real or imagined) and what is not, and pretty much everybody agrees that the kid has a long way to go.

  3. As a competitor, I would plunk him every time I saw him.

    This type of attitude is just generally disrespectful. I understand egos have grown in sports, but it makes it refreshing when you see a hard-working and polite player succeed, to make up for guys with behavior like this. It really makes it hard to respect them as a person. Maybe I’m just sensitive? Let your performance speak the loudest, I say.

  4. Is that a mullet AND a porn ‘stache? I like the kid already! It takes moxy to pull off both. I hope when he gets to the Show, he still has both, plus some mirror shades and the Geronimo face paint. Classy.

    I wouldn’t read too much into this. It was a dick move, but much like ESPN is prone to do, it’s much ado about nothing. I’m sure the pitcher was chirping at him after Harper went all Barry Bonds star-gazing at the plate. If Harper weren’t playing, it wouldn’t have been on TV, no one would know about it, and Harper could learn this lesson anonymously, just like everyone else. Just in case though, I hope for the safety of his earhole, he doesn’t try blowing kisses to Roy Oswalt, Brett Myers, Carlos Zambrano, or Kyle Farnsworth.

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