The other day, as I was perusing around the “Truth and Rumors” portion of Sports Illustrated’s website, I came across a headline that caught my eye: “Harper’s call-up may not last long.”
The blurb quoted Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo as telling The Washington Post, “there could be a step sideways to take a leap forward.”
As baseball fans know, Bryce Harper—the baseball super-prospect once labeled by Sports Illustrated as baseball’s “chosen one” and “the most exciting prodigy since LeBron” at age 17—has finally gotten his first taste of the big leagues with the Nationals, who drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010 on the promise of a once-in-a-generation, five-tool player.
Since being called up from Triple-A in late April, Harper is batting .308 (8-for-26) with five doubles, three runs batted in, only four strikeouts and an on-base percentage of .424 to already earn the No. 3 spot in the Nationals’ batting order. He’s shown off an impressive arm and solid, sometimes spectacular, defense, from his converted outfield position (he was a catcher in high school). He even stole home Sunday against the Phillies when pitcher Cole Hamels made a pick-off throw to first base, a pretty ballsy move for the 19-year-old to make for his first career stolen base.
Harper, as was expected of him, has taken Major League Baseball by storm. At an age where most kids are still toiling in their second year of college trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, Harper seems perfectly comfortable in a major league lineup facing major league pitching. I mean, yeah, the guy came in with sky-high expectations, but didn’t we think there would be at least some adjustment period? Not for Bryce Harper I guess.
So my question is, at this point, why would Rizzo and the Nationals even consider the idea of ever having the kid return to the minors?
Harper should be here to stay because he’s exactly what the Nationals—and baseball as a whole—needs.
There are a lot of parallels between Harper and the Nationals and Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. It may be hard to remember with them in their current state as one of the premier teams in the National Hockey League, but it wasn’t too long ago that the Penguins were a fledgling franchise languishing near the bottom of the standings.
Then Sidney Crosby came along with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. Hockey’s “chosen one,” the one Wayne Gretzky predicted would break all of his records, Crosby re-energized the Penguins’ franchise and as soon as the next season—along with the also highly touted Evgeni Malkin—helped make Pittsburgh cup contenders.
Crosby quickly established himself as hockey’s premier player. He recorded four 100-point seasons in his first five seasons, won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2006-’07, and led Pittsburgh to its first Stanley Cup since 1992 two seasons after that.
If you’re a hockey fan you either love or hate Sidney Crosby. He’s either the greatest thing that has ever happened to hockey or an overrated crybaby douche who gets far more attention than he deserves. But no matter what you think of Crosby, he’s good for the game of hockey. Fans pack road arenas to watch him when the Penguins come to town, whether to cheer or boo, and national TV ratings are never better than when he’s playing. His presence makes hockey more compelling and exciting to watch, in part because of the intense fan emotions he evokes.
What Sidney Crosby has done for hockey, Bryce Harper can do for baseball.
You’re probably going to hate Bryce Harper, in part because of all the hype surrounding him, or because he’s going to own your team’s pitching for the next 15-20 years. It might be because he carries a cocky swagger with him each trip to the plate, or maybe it’s because of whatever the hell that hairdo he’s rocking right now is. Whatever the reason is, Harper’s role as a polarizing presence in baseball was already evident as he was being vehemently booed in his first major league game at Dodger Stadium April 28.
But if you’re a Nationals fan or a fan of compelling baseball, you’re going to love Bryce Harper. He’s the type of talent and personality that people will pack ballparks around the country for—something baseball hasn’t had in a long time—and he has the ability to make Washington a contender. The Nationals are in first place in the NL East right now, and with pieces like pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg (think of him as Malkin in this analogy) already in place, the future of baseball looks bright in the nation’s capital, and with Harper playing a role in that potential success, the sport of baseball as a whole will be better off for it.
This is Ryan’s final column for The Daily Cardinal. He would like to thank all of the people who have supported him during his five semesters as a sports writer and three as sports editor at the Cardinal, including his two co-editors, Mark Bennett and Matthew Kleist, as well as Nico Savidge, Parker Gabriel and the rest of the Cardinal staff during his time there. Thanks for making the bowels of Vilas Hall feel like home. What are your thoughts on Bryce Harper and the future of baseball? Any final parting words for Ryan? Let him know via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit him up on Twitter @ryanmevans.