Before he even played an inning in the major leagues, Bryce Harper developed a reputation for being a brash, cocky upstart who showed no regard for his opponents, no sense of decorum on the field.
He was a loose cannon, someone who would surely be humbled by the rigors of playing in the big leagues. At the very least, the kid would get drilled regularly in the ribs by fastballs if he didn't show respect to the game of baseball and those who play it.
Three months into his rookie season, Harper hasn't played along with that narrative.
Though he's attracted plenty of controversy—due to the magnetic pull of the hype surrounding him—early in his major league career, he's shown his maturity by quickly defusing those situations before they blow up.
People on and off the field will continue trying to make Harper the story. Yet he's done his best to ward off the attention and blend in with the Nationals as they compete for a playoff spot and division title. Even as a presumably punky 19-year-old, Harper knows better than to be a distraction on a team that could finish with the best record in the National League.
Over the past three months, we've seen several incidents in which Harper could have shown he was the hothead so many assumed he had to be.
New School Meets Old School
In early May, Cole Hamels tried to make a statement by throwing at Harper, eventually admitting that he did so intentionally to welcome the rookie to the major leagues in old-school fashion.
Harper didn't stand and glare at Hamels. He didn't take a step toward the mound or point his bat. He didn't jaw at Hamels as he walked to first base. Harper just took first base, made his way around the bases and eventually stole home plate.
Who ended up making the bigger statement in that little standoff?
The Clown Question
How about when a Toronto radio reporter thought he'd catch Harper off guard by asking him if he'd take advantage of Canada's lower drinking age and enjoy a postgame adult beverage on the town? Maybe he thought he'd get Harper to make a joke or say something stupid.
Instead, Harper gave us one of the most memorable lines of the season.
You could see in Harper's expression that he resented the reporter's attempt to mess with him and get him in trouble. No frat-boy hijinks there.
Ozzie and the Pine Tar
Then we have Harper's encounter with Ozzie Guillen. If Harper is a magnet for controversy, Guillen is a black hole for the stuff. Nothing can resist his pull.
During a game between the Nationals and Miami Marlins last week, Guillen accused Harper of putting too much pine tar on his bat. As the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore reports, Guillen yelled profanities at Harper during his second plate appearance, eventually getting a bat and pointing it in Harper's general direction.
In a hilarious bit of irony (or cluelessness), Guillen called Harper "unprofessional" after the game.
If Guillen is to be believed, Harper displayed a little bit of attitude (or "Natitude") as he walked to the plate for that second at-bat. Earlier, Guillen complained to umpires about how high Harper was applying pine tar on his bat. When Harper came up the next time, he supposedly pointed his new bat, with less pine tar, at Guillen.
Was that an example of teenage arrogance from Harper? Maybe, but if he did what Guillen claims, he was also responding to an attempt to rattle him. The gesture was subtle. Harper didn't cause a scene or make a big production out of it. It was essentially a tip of the cap.
Harper went 0-for-4 in the game, so Guillen may have accomplished his objective. But who really showed more maturity on and off the field that day?
Maybe MLB can organize a summit between Harper and Guillen in which the 19-year-old shows the 48-year-old how to properly conduct himself during a baseball game.
From there, perhaps the manager can instruct the rookie on how aggressive he should be and when to risk taking the extra base. That's one area where Harper may have some growing up to do.
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