The Bryce Harper and LeBron James comparisons have been around for years. Both high school phenoms were proclaimed the best prospect in years in their respective sports and so far they have not disappointed. I don't need to inform you of what LeBron has done, but what Harper is doing in the Washington Nationals' farm system is worth noting.
Harper is batting .338 with a .434 on-base percentage while also bashing 14 home runs in Single-A ball. This all at the age of 18. This kid is a freak talent and the sky is the limit for his potential at the next level.
Harper, like James, knows that he is the best. When you are told from the time you are 16 that you will be the next big thing, you start to believe the hype and it starts to show itself. While LeBron is celebrating a rim-rattling dunk in the Finals, Harper is blowing kisses at opposing pitchers after hitting a home run.
And this is exactly why he is good for the sport.
If we learned anything from the NBA Finals, it's that polarizing stars sell. Ratings were through the roof with people with people wanting to see what LeBron and the Heat would do. It will be the exact same way for Bryce Harper.
You can argue that his amount of cockiness and showboating is exactly what baseball is not about. I would agree, but it sells. You either love them or hate them, either way you will definitely be watching what they do.
Let's look at how Harper's career will play out if he fulfills all the promise and hype of being the LeBron James of baseball.
He will be in Washington playing right field for the Nationals by the end of next year. At 19 years old everyone who cares about baseball will be tuned in to see what he does in his first game, much like the Stephen Strasburg hype—except larger.
Baseball analysts will dissect every at-bat and we will watch. Remember how they would do this for Strasburg? Now imagine that every day since Harper will not play every fifth day.
Being the youngest player in the majors, and playing on a historically bad team, will make quick fans of casual baseball enthusiasts. Attendance will sky-rocket for Nationals games both at home and on the road. Harper jerseys will be a top-five seller within two years. Same thing happened with LeBron and the Cavs.
If he sees immediate success like James, Harper's cockiness will start to take center stage. Showboating monster home run after monster home run, he will begin to draw a few haters. Old school baseball fans hate the hot-dogging and he is sure to get a little heat about it.
If the Nationals become playoff contenders, all the talk will be about Harper. How will he perform? How will he handle the pressure? Can he win a championship in Washington?
Get ready for it folks, it's coming soon and MLB will enjoying the revenue stream.
Remember "The Decision"?
Of course you do, even if you're not a basketball fan you heard about LeBron's free agency. Harper hopefully will not make his free-agency decision an hour-long made-for-TV event, but it is guaranteed to dominate headlines in 2018.
Are we really talking about his free agency that is seven years away? Well the Nationals are already thinking about it. That's why Harper will not be in the big leagues at the end of this year. Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo can tell you all day it's about his development, but he's not fooling anyone. It will delay his free-agency status a full year.
Anyone who believes that Harper will undoubtedly stay in Washington is kidding themselves. New York will definitely think that a Yankee jersey would look good on him. So would every other team. One thing about Washington, though: They have proven they have no problem spending money.
Assuming Harper fulfills the promise of his stardom, he will be the most sought after player in the history of baseball. If Albert Pujols decides to test free agency this upcoming winter he would obviously dominate the headlines, but it would just be a fraction of the coverage for Harper, who will be entering his prime at the age of 26.
Also assuming he leaves Washington for New York or Boston or whatever team will offer the largest contract ever, the backlash he sees will be comparable to what James has faced. Harper will become the villain, much like A-Rod except on an even greater scale.
If there is any correlation between the two events and Harper reaches the World Series, MLB is set for a huge payday and big ratings. From sportingnews.com:
"ABC earned a 15.0 overnight Nielsen rating for Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, meaning that 15 percent of homes with a television in 56 U.S. markets watched the game. The 15.0 marks the highest overnight rating ever for a Game 6 on ABC, as well as a 22 percent increase from a 12.3 for Lakers-Celtics Game 6 last year, which aired on a Tuesday night."
Those are incredible numbers and the reason they are so good is because James became the villain. Harper could definitely become that same guy and MLB needs an increase in ratings to bring America's pastime back to the forefront of American sports.
Above every reason Harper is or is not good for baseball, it all comes down to how he impacts the next generation. They will be the ones who will be carrying on the legacy of the sport.
And guess what? Kids love players like Harper.
They want to be LeBron throwing down a tomahawk dunk. Just like in the '90s when kids wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. and Michael Jordan. They are drawn to the big personalities who let everyone know how good they are. The kids are the future and if Harper's antics and other-worldly skill can infuse a growing interest in baseball amongst the youngsters, Major League Baseball wins.
Of course for all of this to happen, he will have to perform. This is a huge task for an 18-year-old to live up to, especially with all of the media scrutiny he is already facing. But if anyone has the tools to become the next big thing in baseball it's Harper.
Like Harper's cockiness or not, this is something that is good for baseball.