MLB 2012: Bryce Harper Greatest Thing to Happen to Baseball's First Half
Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals has quickly become one of the most compelling young players in sports.
The basics of Harper are simple. He’s blessed with the perfect body for baseball at 6’3” and 225 pounds, and he earned his GED in 2009 after his sophomore year of high school. In that same year, Harper was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
After a year of junior college ball, he quickly became the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. At seventeen-years old, Harper was the beneficiary of a five-year, $9.9 million deal. His agent was iconic baseball businessman Scott Boras. On April 27th of this year, Harper was called up to the MLB.
Within his first ten days of the big leagues, Cole Hamels admitted to intentionally pegging Harper. In that same inning, after being put on the base paths, Harper became the youngest player to steal home plate since 1964. Hamels was suspended after admitting his mistake, and the next week, Harper became the youngest player to hit a home run in the MLB since Adrian Beltre in 1998.
Harper, with his trademark "hip" Mohawk haircut (or his adamant disapproval of Kevin Millar's haircut) and droopingly intimidating eye black, clearly had no intentions of hiding his presence in the big leagues. And frankly, that’s a fantastic thing for the sport of baseball.
The confirmation of Harper being a figure here to stay has only continued through the season.
Bryce Harper, who has shared much of the spotlight this year with American League sensation Mike Trout, has been very impressive in his rookie season. He is hitting .282 with 8 home runs and an OPS of .826. His wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) is currently 127, only one behind Curtis Granderson and ahead of three-time AL MVP Alex Rodriguez (119).
What’s even more eye-catching is the fact that, as The Washington Post reports, his statistics thus far in his first year are alarmingly similar to the likes of former standout 19-year-old baseball stars, Mantle and Griffey.
In 248 at-bats, Harper is hitting .282 with an on-base percentage of .354 and a slugging percentage of .472. Through 238, Mantle was hitting .261 with an OBP of .341 and a slugging percentage of .424 in 1951. Griffey was hitting .279 with an OBP of .343 and a slugging percentage of .472 in 1981. The resemblance, of course, is striking.
His season earned him a spot as an injury replacement for Giancarlo Stanton on the 2012 National League All-Star team.
“I guess that’s pretty cool,” said Harper, his underwhelming tone coming as an utter shock to most of the major sports media.
The sports media had every reason to be confused as to why Harper was not more excited. The only All-Stars younger than Harper were two 19-year-old pitchers: Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets in 1984 and Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians in 1938, according to the Boston Herald.
That made Harper the youngest position player to be selected for an All-Star team.
Aside from the fact that Harper lost a fly ball in the lights and made a base running error between second and third during the All Star Game, Harper proudly showed up to the game as the new guy on the block.
And Harper, not one to go unnoticed, made the most of his evening. His fashion caught the headlines, as he wore golden cleats that specifically caught the special attention of ESPN personality Skip Bayless:
You know what, this was LeBron-esque. LeBron-esque. To me the kid is saying, I’m gonna be a bigger star than any of you guys one day. I’m here, and I’m here to stay. And in the big picture, LeBron did pretty much the same thing coming out of high school.
Let’s not forget that this comparison not be entirely far off. After all, Harper did become the most hyped high schooler in baseball since the 1970s. And much like LeBron, the fate of the sport seemed as if it was in his hands.
“Now Bryce is saying I can do this, and I give him a shot at it. But he has just set his bar seriously high, with his compadres in that clubhouse,” continued Bayless, confirming and solidifying the implications of his comparison.
As usual, some feel that Harper is not up for the weightiness of this challenge.
This is deonstrated with stories like the one about how he tricked out Mercedes with a curly “W” and a glowing bat, the incident in which he was caught blowing a kiss to a pitcher after a homerun, the fact that he Bryce Harper named his new dog “Swag”, that he was caught on Twitter rooting for the Yankees and the legendary “That's A Clown Question, Bro” answer to a reporter.
But often, Harper has found that his demeanor is largely misunderstood:
I don't think it's a cocky thing at all. You don't ever want to go out there and not be the best. You want to be the best cop that you can. Be the best writer you can be. Everybody has their goals. Everybody has their dreams.
This is a beautiful statement coming from Harper, an emerging voice in a community of young baseball players hoping to confirm that their play is supported by a future of legitimacy.
If the hard-nosed and all-around tight style of play and his strong support from other baseball players around the league is any indication, than Harper and his class of ballplayers may in fact represent the next generation of stars in the sport.
“You’re looking at Trout and Harper as being the faces of baseball in their respective leagues,” said Chipper Jones. “For a long, long time.”
“It’s like Bird and Magic,” added Harper, putting his own unique spin on the emerging talent. “I’m Bird.”
“I hope I play with him one day, I can tell you that. Him playing center field and me playing right field, I think, would be a 1-2 punch,” said Harper, on his relationship with Angels rookie Mike Trout.
But what kind of player does Bryce Harper want to become? These are the questions that fans need to contemplate as Harper continues his ascension from adolescence and into stardom.
Which young star do you think will have the more impressive career?
"Jeter's the guy I want to be like,” says Harper. “What I love about him is that he's not just the captain of the Yankees, but he's the captain of baseball. He plays the game a certain way, and he's so good for baseball. Really, he is baseball."
This means that Harper is infatuated with the idea of becoming a part of the global image of baseball.
Much like Jeter, who has earned corporate sponsorships and has become a force of nature as untouchable to the nation as the game itself, Harper wants to transcend the game and actually become a LeBron-esque figure to the sport of baseball.
At this point in time, that’s exactly what baseball needs.
The sport needs someone who not only able to hit 502 ft. homerun in 2009 when he was seventeen-years-old, but also someone who’s charismatic and unafraid to unleash a little bit of Kenny Powers from Eastbound & Down every once in a while with a blown kiss to a humiliated pitcher.
Harper, a devout Mormon who insists that he will never take a sip of alcohol in his entire life, is also a force to be reckoned with for the future. Harper speaks for himself, with a self-confirmed and evolving identity that is taking form with the sport that he plays. In the post-steroid era, we are watching the desperate need for a five-tool athlete like Harper for fans to understand as a star.
For better or for worse, Bryce Harper is acting like a star in a sport that could very much use the confirmation prowess of a young and marketable athlete that kids can look up to and that sponsorships can grab onto. If the success is getting to his head, his play will need to confirm the ego or he will be forced to level himself out like other young stars (including LeBron James) had to do as well.
The future is indeed exciting for Bryce Harper, a baseball sensation who's now continuing to make waves in the community of baseball. Regardless of whether or not his dominance continues for years to come, his potential is something noteworthy that fans across the nation should be paying attention to at-bat after at-bat
In baseball, the rise of a personality as strong, bold and talented as Harper's should only be considered to be a fantastic addition to the league.
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