Baseball lost a true icon when hall of famer Stan ‘The Man’ Musial died last Saturday at the age of 92. Every team’s fans should be able to claim one truly great player and Musial is it for the St. Louis Cardinals. Maybe outfielder Bryce Harper will turn out to be that person for the Washington Nationals and their fans.
Harper is the 20 year old phenom that Washington called up last season after only one full season in the minor leagues. He immediately took over the center field position and went on to win NL Rookie of the Year honors. Along the way, Harper became a crowd favorite with his hustle and dedication to the game.
Last season, Harper showed everyone that he is ready for the big leagues and, God willing, will be around for a long time to come. Now, he has to live up to the potential and promise that he showed in his rookie year. There is no reason to believe that he won’t.
In almost every obituary about Musial, mention is made of how nice a guy he was. This may be true, but a photo taken of him in the early 1940’s shows him staring into the camera with one of the most intense looks seen by any ballplayer, anywhere. Cardinals hall of fame pitcher Bob Gibson was known for his stare, but he had nothing on the Musial who took that picture. ‘Stan the Man’ may have been a nice guy, but on the field he was an intense competitor. No one could be as good as he was and not have a burning desire to win.
This is not to say that Harper is, or will ever be Stan Musial. Nor should he be compared to him. However, when watching Harper play, one can see that same intensity that Musial had. Many think that, at times, Harper is too serious and may be wound too tight. If this were the case, he would not have been able to make the jump to MLB successfully. He, also, would not have been able to make adjustments to his game that made him the Rookie of the Year.
Harper has all of the tools to be a superstar. He can run, hit, and throw. Harper has the ability to manufacture a run with his legs or do it with his bat by hitting one over the fence. He can start a rally or hit the three run homer. Harper still needs to get used to the outfield, but his arm is one of the best in the game right now.
Only time will tell if Harper lives up to his potential. So many things can and will happen during his career. Unlike Musial, Harper lives in a world where almost everything he does on and off of the field will be scrutinized extensively and immediately for his entire career. Harper’s world is one of social media and 24/7 cable television which means he may never be able to build the goodwill that Musial did. If people look for flaws in Tim Tebow, then they will do the same with Harper.
However, for fans of the Nationals, there is the chance that Harper could be to them what Musial is to the Cardinals and their organization.
Harper could become the one true star that shines above all the others for eternity.