An Open Letter to Bryce Harper Begging Him to Never Change
You don't know me, but I feel like I know you well enough. Like many others, I'm a fan. Also like many others, I feel like I know you a little better now after having watched the documentary ESPN did on you. Bryce Begins was good stuff. A real humdinger.
It also got me to thinking that it's high time I asked a favor of you, one that I believe most others in galaxies both known and unknown would find agreeable.
Do us all a favor and don't ever change, bro. Always be yourself.
I can't believe I'm sitting here asking you to never change. When you were still making your way toward the major leagues, I recall anticipating that you were going to be just another insufferable prima donna.
You remember the article Tom Verducci wrote about you for Sports Illustrated back in 2009? You know, the one that portrayed you as baseball's LeBron James?
Yeah, that one. There were plenty of flattering words in there about your off-the-charts talent and your love of the game, but your own words painted you as being more arrogant than confident.
Seriously, what teenager actually says his goal is to be "considered the greatest baseball player who ever lived?" You sounded like you had no concept of how easily the game of baseball humbles people, no matter their talent level. Major League Baseball isn't the NBA or the NFL. Even the best young players (i.e. guys like YOU) have to earn their way.
You also remember that the negative buzz was still building when the 2010 draft was getting closer. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus published a scouting report that included some not-so-nice things in the "Makeup" section:
It's impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn't blown away by Harper's ability on the field, but it's equally difficult to find one who doesn't genuinely dislike the kid. One scout called him among the worst amateur players he's ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents.
"He's just a bad, bad guy," said one front-office official. "He's basically the anti-Joe Mauer."
You saw that scouting report got picked up by Yahoo! Sports and subsequently digested by draft-eager baseball fans like myself, and you know we used it to form opinions. Who were we to disagree with the scouts, you know?
The negative buzz didn't quit after the Nationals picked you No. 1 and you were thrust into the minors. There was that time you blew a kiss to an opposing pitcher after you hit a home run off him, which prompted Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk to write a "Bryce Harper needs to grow up" column.
And what was the deal with you telling MLB.com in early 2012 that you wanted to be like Joe Namath? You sounded like you couldn't wait to get to the big leagues and then run wild. This time, it was Jason Reid of The Washington Post who was writing a "Bryce Harper needs to grow up" column.
When you got the call to the big leagues last April, we were all worried about you. You were only 19, and you hadn't answered the question as to whether you were really ready for the big leagues or the life that comes with it. Honestly, I braced for a train wreck.
Before long, I found myself asking: Who is this guy?
It was like a switch had been flipped. You weren't arrogant. You were confident, and it was a unique kind of confident. The right amount of swagger mixed with a shocking dose of humility. Turns out you had some after all. So much for scouting reports.
On the field, you didn't always keep your emotions in check. But you didn't let anybody push you to your boiling point either, even though there were some who tried pretty hard.
You didn't charge the mound when Cole Hamels acted like a punk and hit you on purpose (your subsequent steal of home was a nice touch). You looked like the better man when Ozzie Guillen got ticked off about the pine tar on your bat. You didn't punch Angel Hernandez's lights out even though you had a reason to after he effectively picked a fight with you.
You didn't look like a 19-year-old out there, Bryce. Nor did you look like a problem child. We were all tipping our hats.
You were pretty good off the field, too. Baseball writers can be a tough crowd, but you handled them far better than expected. You didn't give them stock answers. At the same time, you didn't give them any reasons to rip you. Not an easy trick, that.
The one time you did get snippy, you put a guy asking a dumb question in his place by telling him he was asking "a clown question, bro." That was perfect, and it looks damn good on a T-shirt (I'm a proud owner of one).
Your swagger has shown through in other endearing ways. I loved the "Suns Out Guns Out" shirt. The eye black is ridiculous, but it fits. The mohawk is equally ridiculous, but it fits.
Your beard, meanwhile, is way thicker than most 20-year-old beards. Must be that Harper swagger.
Don't lose the swagger, Bryce, but hold on to your humility too. That balance is going to be important. It's going to keep the media on your side, which will ensure that you stay likable. Hence the reason it's part of our agreement.
But our agreement isn't that simple. A likable personality isn't worth jack without the play to back it up. Your game has the same kind of balance as your attitude, and it needs to stay that way.
There's the insane natural talent part of your game. That's the part that allows you to crush the baseball on a regular basis, which is a sight that's not getting old. Please do keep it up.
Then there's the hustle part. You don't play the game like an entitled superstar. You don't loaf around the basepaths. You destroy them. You don't jog after balls in the outfield. You jet after them.
I'm confident that the first part isn't going away. You're a damn good hitter now, and you should be a damn good hitter for a long time.
It's the second part I'm not so sure about.
You're not going to be 20 years old forever. You're going to get old. Your body is going to break down. Your energy level is going to come down. It's going to be a lot harder for you to keep hustling, and there are going to be days when you just don't feel like doing it.
But you've gotta keep doing it. Plenty of guys are talented for a long time. Not that many guys are both talented and relentless for a long time. That's Pete Rose territory. Derek Jeter territory. It needs to be Bryce Harper territory too.
Between maintaining your personality and continuing to play the game the way you play it, a lot is going to go into being Bryce Harper. Asking you to never change is no small favor, and I realize that.
You brought it on yourself, though. When we were first introduced to you via Sports Illustrated, you told us you were going to be an all-timer. Ever since you arrived in the majors, you've demonstrated in more ways than one that you weren't kidding.
Asking you to never change is asking you not to let us all down.
Best of luck, bro.
If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.
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