This town is getting a new education in “negative campaigning.”
Bryce Harper is one of five candidates for the final spot on the National League All-Star roster, and the team’s unofficial slogan appears to be: “DO NOT — UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES — VOTE FOR OUR GUY.”
Harper said he wanted future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones — not himself — to win the Final Vote competition at MLB.com. Nationals manager Davey Johnson all but made the same proclamation Tuesday afternoon. And it’s understandable. The All-Star Game is a stressor — albeit a happy one — and we forget that many 19-year-olds are sleeping in their childhood bedrooms right now, working summer jobs at the golf course.
Harper ranked third in the voting as of Tuesday afternoon, behind Jones and reigning World Series MVP David Freese. But Harper is effectively second, since Jones was added to the NL roster as a replacement for the injured Matt Kemp later Tuesday.
In other words, the Nationals have more reason to worry that Harper might, you know, win.
When I asked Johnson if it would be good for baseball to have Harper in the All-Star Game, the manager replied, “It would be good for baseball if you just leave him alone and let him play here. Let him get his four days off, come back and play in Miami (to begin the second half).”
Just in case Johnson wasn’t being C-O-M-P-L-E-T-E-L-Y C-L-E-A-R, he pointed out that Jones, a switch hitter, would be an ideal option off the bench in the late innings for NL manager Tony La Russa.
OK, OK. We get it already. The team’s marketing department reminded Nationals fans to vote for Harper throughout Tuesday’s game. Ian Desmond, the All-Star shortstop, stated his teammate’s case during a pregame news conference. But it’s hard to convey the message effectively when the manager isn’t on board.
Harper’s comments about his All-Star candidacy have further dispelled the notion that the rookie sensation is a selfish player. Jones sent Harper a text message to thank him for the initial show of support, after the Final Vote field was announced Sunday. Harper spoke reverently about Jones again Tuesday, saying he “wanted to be like him” after watching the Braves on TBS while growing up.
Of course, there is an element of self-interest in Harper’s stance. Harper suffered a back injury last month and entered Tuesday with a .203 batting average and four extra-base hits over his past 15 games. He appears ready for a mental respite after facing almost unprecedented hype before and after arriving in the majors April 28.
Harper is so eager to go home to Las Vegas after the first half ends Sunday that he interrupted a reporter’s question about his All-Star break plans. “I’m excited to go home,” he said. “If I don’t make the team, it’ll be good for me to go home and get away from the world and just be Bryce. Hang out with the family, get some home-cooked meals, hit with my pop, just hang out. I want to be in the All-Star Game, of course, but if it doesn’t work out hopefully I’ve got 20 years of my career to get back there.”
Harper, savvy beyond his years, knows he will walk into a media crush if he makes the team. Harper vs. Mike Trout — his 20-year-old American League counterpart — would become a dominant storyline.
To his credit, Harper realizes he may not enjoy all of the questions.
“Physically, I think I’m good. Mentally, I think it’s going to be a grind,” Harper said, looking ahead to the second half. “It’s something you’ve got to deal with. You guys (media) are great people. I love talking to you guys every day.”
The wry line made the reporters laugh. Indeed, Harper has thoroughly entertained us for the past two months, charging about center field while amassing an .819 OPS and eight home runs.