Right or wrong, the more visible your profile in today’s society, the more impact your words will have. Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has basked in the spotlight since he was 16 and is one of the game’s most talented individuals. He doesn’t speak in a vacuum, and he should be aware of this by now.
When he stood at his locker and expressed his opinion on the Nationals lineup construction, it unequivocally affected every man in that clubhouse in one way or another. An offhand comment has turned into what will undoubtedly be weeks of fallout, countless questions unrelated to baseball and extra work for Nationals officials throughout the organization.
Whether or not Harper’s remarks reflect immaturity or selfishness is up for debate. What is not in question is that making these remarks displayed a serious lack of awareness. How veiled were his eyes? So much so that he was unable to see the impact of his actions on his baseball kin. Let’s role-play.
I’m Nationals outfielder Denard Span (the odd man out in Harper’s suggested lineup). Since the beginning of last season, I have the fourth highest WAR of any full-time center fielder in the National League. I know I’m not Andrew McCutchen; I may not even be Bryce Harper. But I’m pissed. I’ve been publicly disrespected by a man who is supposed to be standing by my side. Now I have to swallow a substantial gulp of pride and take the high road. Every writer in and around DC will be shoving microphones in my space, knowing full well I’m standing in front of my hanging jersey quietly fuming. Thanks, teammate.
I’m Nationals manager Matt Williams. I played 17 years of major-league baseball. I was blessed to shine in All-Star Games. I’ve given my life to this sport and worked my ass off to be managing one of the most well constructed teams in the land. Every time I hit a home run during my career as a player, I respected the pitcher by putting my head down and running around the bases. For that, my teammates looked up to me. I have earned the right to fill out the lineup card without having our best athlete undermine my authority and force me to look the other way in front of the other 24 men in our family. Yeah, I’ll say I have his back, and I do, but it’s going to take a miracle for him to re-earn my respect.
I’m Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with my teammates at all costs. If one of my guys goes down, somebody on the other team goes down. Every time Harper makes himself the center of attention for something unrelated to the game on the field, he becomes more of a target for opposing pitchers. Now I’m put in a position to have to retaliate because he’s my brother and that’s my job. But what happens when I drill someone for you, they come out to get me, and I separate my shoulder? Are you going to replace me at the top of the rotation as we move towards October?
Now that we’ve gone through the exercise of seeing what it feels like to be in the ring as participants in an unwanted circus, we can step back into our own cozy slippers.
I’m Gabe Kapler, and I hate the idea of sharing unchallenged philosophies. I reached out to two of the best, most highly respected teammates I’ve ever been around. These guys who have been immersed in the game for a long time, have played for multiple managers during the regular season, the postseason and in the Midsummer Classic. They’ve showered with a myriad of colorful characters and know what it’s like for the Nats players dealing with the ripple effect of their young stud’s comments.
To make sure this was fair and balanced, I asked both a right-handed and a left-handed batter the same question. “What do you think of the Bryce Harper situation?”
The righty stated emphatically, “I think it’s absolutely brutal. Yes, he’s an immature 21 year old. I get that. But as another example, he’s no Mike Trout. Shut up and play. You’re in no position to tell your manager how to fill out the lineup. And if you want to be a superstar leader, then you have your teammates’ back at all times. He better learn from this. His teammates have to resent this s**t.”
From the lefty: “He (Harper) has shown in the past that he’ll act like a child. He thinks he’s a veteran, he isn’t. He thinks he’s a superstar, he isn’t. Not yet, at least. He does not look like a good teammate right now.”
It’s important to illuminate this conversation because it’s real. It is undeniably the exchange that has and will be taking place going forward about Harper, not just in the Nats clubhouse, but in every clubhouse in the majors and minor-league baseball.
Perhaps Harper’s professionalism shouldn’t be compared to Trout’s, but Harper needs to be aware that it will. He may not think of himself as a superstar, with reporters hanging onto his every word. Regardless, that is the perception around the game and throughout the country.
Hopefully, this is the moment the light goes on for Bryce Harper. Only time will tell.