Bryce Harper is 19 years old. That explains why he has a dog named Swag, a truck that’s one American flag decal short of a Toby Keith wet dream and a patchy haircut that looks like what would happen if you attacked Rod Blagojevich with a weed whacker.
It also explains why, just eight games into his major league career, he’s quickly becoming the most polarizing player in baseball.
Harper’s biggest problem is that his reputation preceded him, his tantrums and taunts RSVP-ing to the majors before he made his April 28 debut. He was the guy who smudged his eyeblack down onto his cheekbones, the guy who cost his team a National Junior College World Series after an ejection and suspension, the one who blew a kiss to an opposing Single-A pitcher as he jogged around the bases. And let’s face it, his name is Bryce. BRYCE. That could only be more irritating if his parents had gone with EdHardyNickelbackCrocs.
And, of course, that's why after all of 23 major-league at-bats — and only 57 games above the Single A level — Harper was intentionally drilled by a Cole Hamels fastball, a gesture only out-stupided by Hamels’ admission that he’d done it on purpose. “I was trying to hit him,” the now-suspended Phillies starter said. “It’s something I grew up watching […] It’s that old-school prestigious way of baseball.”
Harper, unsurprisingly, idolizes Rose. “I want to play the game hard,” he told GQ. I want to ram it down your throat, put you into left field when I’m going into second base.” Who, other than Rose would ever admit that, let alone during an interview conducted while he was struggling with Triple-A Syracuse?
Unlike A-Rod, Jonathan Papelbon or the words that come out of Bobby Valentine’s mouth, Harper is self-aware enough to know he’s antagonizing you. He’s baseball’s version of the guy who sits at a stoplight blasting “Sexy & I Know It” at unholy decibel levels, staring directly at you through the window of your involuntarily rattling Subaru.
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I’ll take Harper’s in-your-face ambition and (sometimes cringeworthy) honesty over other young players who hide their fake humility behind equally forced smiles. Harper’s willingness to tell you exactly what he thinks — whether arguing a call inches from an umpire’s face or admitting he “likes showing up the older guys” — is why he was booed during his debut at Dodger Stadium and why Hamels parked a 93 mph fastball in his back.
Ironically, despite all of the criticism about his own behavior, Harper seems to bring out the worst in other people, whether it’s coming from Hamels’ left arm or out of the mouths of the scouts who evaluated him as a pre-draft prospect.
The kid who has been described as a “once in a generation talent” was also summarized as “just a bad, bad guy” by an unnamed front office official. Baseball Prospectus once wrote there “wasn’t a talent evaluator who didn’t genuinely dislike the kid” because of his “top-of-the-scale arrogance and disturbingly large sense of entitlement.”
What else can he do except try to kill them with confidence, to drown out the negativity with constant reminders that he intends to be the second coming of Charlie Hustle, right down to the regrettable haircut. That’s why in eight games, he's batting .308 with a .424 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage, outpacing his performance in Triple-A.
He's already building a highlight reel of left-field catches — and obviously has an amazing arm from the outfield — and responded to Hamels’ attempt at discipline by becoming the first teen to steal home plate in 48 years.
“Doctors tell me I have the body of a 30-year-old. I know I have the brain of a 15-year-old. If you’ve got both, you can play baseball,” Rose once said. He was 44 at the time. Harper wouldn’t be born for another seven years.
Love him, loathe him, hate him or cross your fingers that he becomes a Hall of Famer. He's still only 19.
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