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.