There are dueling and diametrically opposed memes at work with Washington Nationals’ rookie Bryce Harper.
He’s been compared to the greatest baseball players in history for what he can do on the field and described in vulgar street vernacular on the social media sites for his behaviors and attitude.
In what appears to be more of an act of contrarianism for the sake of it rather than an impassioned belief that Harper’s misunderstood, the lukewarm defense of Harper’s arrogance is defended by his age, 19.
It doesn’t work that way.
Age is not an excuse any more than talent is a justification. Harper has benefited from the attention he’s attracted since he burst onto the scene after taking his GED so he could go to junior college early, compete against a higher level of competition and start his career fast. A prodigy who reaps the rewards for his skills doesn’t get the pass that a normal teenager does. The oft-mentioned and comic book style lament of “with great power comes great responsibility” holds true.
What precisely is the benefit of turning Harper into this egomaniacal and reviled monster? Wouldn’t it be better for him to have a Tim Tebow-style story of likability, charm and dedication combined with something Tebow doesn’t have—actual on-field upside commensurate with all that attention? Why would anyone want to be seen as an obnoxious, arrogant and spoiled brat whose behaviors have been glossed over as a nod to expediency to maintain the façade and hold true to the brand?
He’s not even a charming bad boy about whom the masses chuckle and nod in a “boys will be boys” acknowledgement that he’s not really hurting anyone.
On the one hand, we hear about his age, abilities and anointing as a future megastar going back years; on the other we have his age presented as a reason to give him a break for acting entitled.
Is it all his fault? No. When someone is held to a different set of criteria because of a series of gifts that are so unique, it’s going to affect his actions. He is a kid; he is 19 and immature.
Those who are saying how stupid they were at 19 probably weren’t in the position where their stupidity was baited, recorded and analyzed by outside influences 24/7.
In short, nobody cared enough about what you or I were doing at 19 to pay attention to it as the foundation of a debate as to propriety.
Harper doesn’t have that luxury.
There’s no reconciliation between the blatantly transparent and crafted biography of Harper, a Mormon who utters self-deprecating and tiresome baseball clichés and the person who engages in interviews like this GQ profile in which his personality comes blasting out as if a cage had been unlocked and, for a brief moment, he was able to be himself.
Based on what?
Rose was disgraced and banned from baseball three years prior to Harper’s birth; Mantle was a legend who, to Harper, could just as easily have been a fictional character out of Lord of the Rings as much as a real human being.
These are his heroes?
It strikes of intent; of what sounds good; of what’s salable.
He’s not going to discuss the posters he may have had on his wall as a kid, he’s going to try to fulfill the legacy and become comparable to one of the greatest and most revered players in history, Mantle; or one of the hardest-working, intense, maximizers of finite limits like Rose.
Is his favorite actor Laurence Olivier? His favorite singer Elvis Presley? Is he in love with Bettie Page?
Where does it end?
It’s a story. Nothing more.
The rarity of Harper’s ability automatically removes him from the overwhelming masses of 18-21-year-olds who are allowed moments of formative stupidity. He’s one-in-a-million on the field and that automatically implies that he’s not categorized among those masses. On his first major league hit—an impressive line shot double over Dodgers’ centerfielder Matt Kemp’s head—Harper sprinted around first and halfway between first and second flung his helmet off with quick upward flick of his hand.
It was indicative of attention-getting behavior because he’s “special”; because he’s enabled to do what he wants as a result of the things he can do on the field.
It has to be addressed and checked.
He’s held to a different standard, as he should be. That he’s 19 is not an acceptable excuse. For no other reason than to maximize that talent, he needs to be reined in. And that’s before getting to his still-developing brain and future as a human being.