Lots of baseball fans who are not Nationals fans (so: most baseball fans) already hate 19-year-old Bryce Harper for a bunch of the silly things he has said and done as a teenager, which is silly because teenagers should never really be held accountable for the silly things they say and do if they’re ultimately as innocuous as the silly things Harper has said and done.
But I do hope Harper turns into the great baseball heel he appears destined to become. Here’s what I wrote last year:
Take the low road, Bryce Harper. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, by blowing that kiss to that pitcher, Harper flipped over the end of the spectrum from intolerable entitled brat to completely lovable heel. Remember that this is the kid who grew up rooting for the Yankees, Lakers, Cowboys and Dukeand who, when asked to describe himself in one word, first considered “gorgeous” then settled on “Hercules.” This is a Shooter McGavin in the making.
And yeah, you know and I know that he’s just a kid and that kids do and say stupid kid things all the time like we did when we were kids, but at this point — with the hype and the money and the expectations and the eye-black and everything — there’s pretty much nothing Harper can do that will endear him in the eyes of baseball fans outside of DC by the time he reaches the Majors, if and when that happens.
Obviously the big drawback is the beanballs, which will likely only pick up as Harper advances and will probably serve to tone down his act a bit in the long run. But make ‘em teach you, Bryce. Admire your moonshots. Maintain that godawful mustache. And maybe armor up a bit. The baseball world needs bad guys, and due to your unique situation, the crosshairs have apparently settled on you. Smile back and blow a kiss. Here’s hoping you make the bigs in time to have A-Rod pass you the torch.
All that still holds. The pesky thing about Harper, though, is that he still hasn’t hit much above A-ball. It’s a small sample, but he posted a .256/.329/.395 line in 37 games at Double-A last year and a .250/.333/.375 mark in his first 20 games at Triple-A this year. He’s young and purportedly talented enough that it seems a safe bet he’ll be good eventually, but it doesn’t seem likely he’ll do much to help the Nationals in 2012.
Check this out: In the history of baseball, only 10 teenagers have ever proved better than league-average hitters in any season in which they’ve had over 200 plate appearances. Only two have done so in the last 30 years: Ken Griffey Jr., whose Minor League stats trumped Harper’s, and Edgar Renteria, who had a full season of Double-A ball under his belt and who wasn’t again a better-than-league-average hitter until he was 25.