Saturday, May 12, 2012

Harper Dugout P.T.A.

So Bryce Harper, wunderkind, had himself an 0-5 night tonight, and in response, he took a swing at the clubhouse tunnel wall. This is, of course, being jumped on by various folks as proof that Harper is a "punk" - that memorable word that got mild-mannered Lenny Randle to punch out his manager - and seventeen kinds of horrible human being. The same reaction, from a different player, might be cast as "competitive" or "he really hates to lose" or "fiery". But with Harper, it's more proof that he's Jerkimus Maximus, because, hey, that's the narrative.
I think it was Bill James who once famously described titanically noggined former Phillie Dave Hollins as "intense", and then added that you're intense only as long as you're playing well, you're the same guy, only now sportswriters feel free to call you a jerk. One gets the feeling that if Harper were hitting over .300 and had blown up after a bad night, some of the people now burying him would instead be lauding his "intensity" and his "fire", and talking about how it brought a needed spark to a veteran team that could use some of that energy. It's happened before, after all. Ask Dave Hollins.
It's not surprising that the knives are out for Harper. He's been touted as The Next Big Thing since he was young enough to unironically like Justin Bieber, his prodigious talent and career-minded upbringing have kept him from being anything like a normal teenager, and he's making a lot of money. Also, he's done a few jerky things, some of which appear far less jerky in full context.
But really, the most important number here is 19. As in, the kid is playing, and holding his own, at the highest level of competition in the world at the age of 19. How many of us would have done so well? How many of us were still trying to figure out when exactly you started "Dark Side of the Moon" in order to sync it up perfectly with The Wizard of Oz at that age, not shrugging off a Cole Hamels fastball to the meat?  How many of us wouldn't have punched something if we got frustrated at failing, especially after failing at something that we've been able to do effortlessly our whole life?
That's not to say that I think it was brilliant of Harper to accidentally Stoudamire his face. He is going to have to learn to control that temper if he wants to achieve the greatness his talent seems to promise. At the same time, he's 19. I'm not quite willing to consign someone to the reflexive hatred bin because he's got his emotions on his sleeve two years before he can legally drink. At least he's not writing bad poetry, right? A dugout tantrum is one night, a bad rhyme scheme is forever.
So come on. Look in the mirror. Then think about yourself at 19, and cut the kid - and he most surely is a kid - some slack. And while you're at it, try to be a little less "intense".
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