Bryce Harper, Rookie of the Year, And More
Bryce Harper was named the National League Rookie of the Year this evening. It is a great award for the Washington Nationals and their fans. It is a great decision for the game. But as much as it means to the fans of DC and the game, there is the very personal issue of what it means for my refrigerator, for the six-pack of Anchor Steam beer that a fellow writer will have to cough up as a result of this award. So in the interest of full disclosure, my perspective on the award is completely colored by self-interest.
I was not a big Bryce Harper supporter when he first appeared on the scene and I was not won over in the early going, during his minor league career. I heard the noise about his competitive nature and his absorption with his talent. Yet when a friend suggested a bet that Harper would not only fail to win the ROY Award, but would not even beat out Todd Frazier, I was all in quicker than George Case one-on-one with a race horse. “A lousy beer? Make it a six-pack”
The issue was Harper’s stats in mid-September. Frazier had better numbers in quite a few categories. Miley was a quality starter, no question about it. But that was before Harper hit overdrive during the pennant run. “The Kid” is one of the reasons that the Nationals won the NL East. His slash line for the final month of the season was .330/.400/.643 with seven home runs. When the stress of the pennant run quieted many of the Nationals’ bats, Harper caught fire and motivated his cohorts with his flame thrower presence.
Standing on second base after another hustle double, there were numerous times when an excited Bryce Harper pointed to his team mates in the dugout trying to motivate a rally. I wondered more than once how those who are many years his senior would take his enthusiasm. How did his fellows take to being called out by a 19-year old? I don’t know the answer. But I do know that the “34” Harper jersey is one of the most pervasive you will see at a Nationals game. After only a single season he is as much a fan favorite as Ryan Zimmerman or Stephen Strasburg. Harper is excitement in action. Washington needs that and the game of baseball needs it as well.
Frazier may be a fine ball player for years to come. His stats may continue to run parallel with those of Harper’s. Miley may win 20 games in 2013, but regardless how well either or both of them perform in the future neither of them will provide the game with the level of excitement that Harper does.
Any Nationals fan who saw many of Washington’s games this season can tell you about Harper the star in the making. They saw the daring steal of home in one of his early games, the countless times he took extra bases on pure hustle. And that is what the Baseball Writers Association of America finally went with–the obvious star quality to a young man who eats the game of baseball for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
So maybe writers and fellow players don’t like him as much as the other guys. I know the feeling. But I have watched Harper up close. I have seen his devotion to the game and the un-matched level of play. They made a believer out of me. Say what you want, but there are few who put on the uniform who can excite fans during the game like he does. In awarding Harper the ROY, the BBWAA did the game a favor. Rather than get sidetracked by the peripherals, the stats, or the noise, they acknowledged Bryce Harper the player who excites fans and is building a presence within the game itself.
Harper’s special status may never be fully captured by the stats, even when he begins to realize his full potential in coming years. But he will remain a fan favorite and I cannot help but believe he will be a source of excitement for many seasons to come.
Maybe Harper will never be one of those beloved figures in the game. There are numerous players on the Nationals who are more approachable, do more in the community, and exude “Nice Guy” vibes. Harper may grow and mature and become one of them But if not there is plenty of room in the game for other types of stars.
Ted Williams was called “the Kid” early in his career. The correlations between the two players are not hard to find. Neither was well-liked, but no one worked harder at the game than Ted. Until Harper maybe. Both are figures totally driven and consumed by the game. Ted was never known for his hustle, just his bat. So the two players are very different in that regard. Yet there are so may parallels.
Will Harper have that kind of Hall of Fame career when he hangs up his cleats decades from now? No one knows. But he has that kind of potential. Todd Frazier does not. And that is why this was a good decision by the BBWAA. It is a good decision for baseball, for the Washington Nationals and their fans, and for my refrigerator. Like I said. I am all in.