Bryce Harper is a jerk — is that supposed to be shocking?
At 16, Las Vegas wunderkind Bryce Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “Baseball’s Chosen One,” and became the subject of the first post of a certain True/Slant youth sports blog you happen to be reading. He left high school after his sophomore year to get his GED so he could play at the junior college level in order to get better competition and a spot as the No. 1 pick of the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. So at 17, he is tearing things up at the College of Southern Nevada, Through 47 games, playing catcher, third base and outfield, he has hit (with a wood bat) .410 with 21 homers, 59 RBI and a 1.414 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging.)
Harper’s status as the No. 1 draft pick (held by the Washington Nationals) seems assured. Not only does Harper have the superstar numbers, but he also apparently has the superstar attitude: raging fucking asshole. Apparently major league teams are completely put off by his personality, which is saying something, because it’s an upset when an elite athlete isn’t a raging fucking asshole.
After all, your top athletes have been pampered since the first day they flashed that ability, given breaks in the classroom, in life and in shagging the opposite sex (of course it’s the opposite sex — these are athletes, right?) that no other child has. Many of your top athletes are known to be raging fucking assholes. Michael Jordan was never considered anybody’s picnic, Peyton Manning is infamous for outbursts to teammates, and Tiger Woods — well, what more needs to be said?
Baseball Prospectus recently established Harper’s raging fucking asshole M.O. in a recent piece.
When you’re this good this early, people are going to look for flaws in your game and makeup that might turn you from prodigy to failure in the blink of an eye. Fair enough. Baseball Prospectus recently did just that, and found, physically, there was no reason for Harper not to be the GREATEST FUCKING PLAYER WE’VE EVER SEEN! OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but the worst Baseball Prospectus could find was that there is a slight chance the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Harper could get too big too early in life, and thus become slow and have little range in the field. That won’t be enough of a risk for the Nationals to turn him down.
However, this what got tongues chattering:
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.
To be fair to Harper, he has mega-super-duper-agent Scott Boras as an “adviser,” so he’s been able to learn arrogance at the feet of a master. Also, being the prodigy he is, Harper has had a wide clearance to be as much of a raging fucking asshole as he chooses to be. As Baseball Prospectus noted, teams let their superstars be any personality they want. The benchwarmers who are raging fucking assholes are the ones who get tossed for their bad attitudes.
You might say that perhaps Bryce Harper’s parents should pull him aside and tell him to be a little nicer, and maybe they have. But I’m sure a parent of any 17-year-old would say it’s an immense chore trying to stop their own child from being a raging fucking asshole, much less a child who has Scott Boras in his pocket and an assured spot at the top of the Major League Baseball draft.
Mark Zuckerman at Nats Insider quotes a Nationals team official who says the organization is not concerned about Harper’s less-than-jovial personality.
“Is he confident? Yeah,” the team official said. “Is he cocky? Yeah. Does he think he’s the best player on the field at all times? Yeah. But find me a great player who doesn’t think that about himself.”
Whether Harper’s raging fucking asshole act fizzles after he’s drafted depends on two key points, and they’re applicable even if your child is a raging fucking asshole making the superstar move up from 9-year-old basketball to 10-year-old basketball.
The first is how that attitude plays out the first time Harper runs into hard times. That could be a hitting slump, a fielding slump, a teammate who is fighting to keep his own place as big dog of the roster, a coach who hates him. If Harper shows he can adjust and make it through a difficult time without completely melting down, he’ll do well, not only as a player, but also as a person with his teammates and coaches.
Jeremy Tyler, the 18-year-old who left high school early to play pro basketball in Israel, is still a huge (6-foot-11 huge) talent, but NBA scouts have to be asking themselves now if his horrible experience there — a lack of playing time exacerbated by his own immaturity and an inability to listen to coaches — portends any trouble in their league. Tyler probably will get drafted high, but he’s going to get asked a lot of questions about his troubles in Israel, because a team is going to want to know that the next time the going gets tough, Tyler won’t quit on his team again.
The second factor is whether coaches and teammates believe Harper’s raging fucking asshole act is, in the end, good for the team. Michael Jordan was no picnic, but his teammates learned that if you did what he said, he would make you famous and win you championships. Same thing with Manning. (Woods, being in an individual sport, doesn’t apply to Harper.) Below is a widely circulated clip of Manning screaming at his center, Jeff Saturday, after Saturday criticized Manning for calling nothing but pass plays close to the end zone. Manning lets him have it — but Saturday also knows that, in the end, any screaming will result only in the team getting better.
No doubt, when Harper gets to the pro level, there are going to be people more than having to shove his raging fucking asshole act back down his throat. Harper can turn that around by continuing to play well. But he also can turn that around by showing his teammates that the raging fucking asshole act is all for everyone’s own good.