During Bryce Harper‘s rise through high school, his one year of college, and the minor leagues with the Washington Nationals, there was a lot of talk about how the future major league star had a major attitude problem.
It’s hard to overlook the incident in the final game of his short college career at the College of Southern Nevada. While trying to lead his team to a National Junior College World Series title, Harper struck out on a called strike and drew a line in the dirt to show the umpire where he thought the pitch was. He was ejected, his second of the year, and drew a two-game suspension, which resulted in his team losing their next game and ending their chance at a championship.
It was pretty clear that Harper really didn’t care about his team. It was a one-year stint to gain eligibility for the 2010 major league draft, where everybody knew he would go first overall.
Harper’s rise through the minor leagues occurred pretty quickly, but he made national headlines in May of 2011 for another childish act.
After hitting a home run, he blew a kiss at the pitcher as he circled the bases. The incident added to his reputation as a punk kid who only cared about himself and marched to his own beat. Look at his wacky hairstyles and excessive display of eye black and you’ll see what people mean.
In fact, one scout said that Harper had one of the worst attitudes he’s ever seen, calling him “a bad, bad guy; basically the anti-Joe Mauer.”
Since his arrival in the major leagues this season, Harper has been watched closely by virtually everybody in baseball, and he’s remained completely incident-free.
You have to wonder if Harper is finally starting to grow up. He’s still only 19 years old. His previous run-ins with his attitude come with the territory, some would say, of being the most highly touted baseball prospect in the game’s history.
It doesn’t help Harper to grow up in the era of social media, where everything an athlete does is analyzed by 300 million people across the country.
Let’s look at how Harper has responded to three incidents this season, all of which drew major headlines.
First, there was the beaning in the back by Phillies’ pitcher Cole Hamels, an act that Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo called the most “classless, gutless, chicken-bleep act” in his 30 years in baseball. I think anybody would agree that Rizzo exaggerated but it was still a low move by Hamels, which he later admitted to doing intentionally.
How did Harper respond to the situation? He said nothing, and then promptly stole home on Hamels later in the same inning. Hamels ended up getting suspended by Major League Baseball. Harper 1, Hamels 0.
Second, there was the now famous “clown question” incident in Toronto. After a reporter asked him if he was going to take advantage of Toronto’s young drinking age. Harper, who is a Mormon and doesn’t drink alcohol, responded to the reporter by saying, “That’s a clown question, bro.” The phrase has now exploded and Under Armour is even making shirts with the saying. Harper’s legal team even arranged for him to get a patent on the phrase. Harper 1, Toronto reporter 0.
And third, there was the incident with Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, one of the most controversial men in the game, on Sunday. Guillen accused Harper of having too much pine tar on his bat (calm down, George Brett), and called him “unprofessional.” Guillen unleashed a torrent of profanity at Harper as well. Harper’s reply after the game? All he did was compliment Guillen for battling for his team, also adding that he is a great manager to play for. Harper 1, Guillen 0.
That’s three incidents this season where Harper could have found himself in a controversial situation. With the way the media twists things around these days, it wouldn’t have taken much at all in any of those three inicidents for Harper to have made himself quite a few more enemies.
But he rose to the occasion each time, and is showing that he’s becoming a class act. We’ll see how the 19-year old continues to respond in difficult situations throughout the next two decades of his major league career.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for Eagles Central and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.