Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Was Harper kiss a big deal?
Bryce Harper's home run trot from last night's game against Greensboro has drawn considerable attention from all over the sporting world today. The video of the 18-year-old blowing a kiss toward pitcher Zachary Neal has shown up on ESPN, MLB Network and countless other TV stations and websites and drawn reaction from ex-ballplayers, baseball executives and talking heads.
But how big a deal was this? Did Harper's actions constitute a major breach of baseball etiquette or signal a major underlying issue about his maturity level? Some say yes, but I'm not so sure.
First of all, we don't know what exactly Neal and other Greensboro players were saying or doing before the home run or as Harper rounded the bases. We do know he has been on the receiving end of plenty of taunting and assorted jabs from opposing teams and fans during his brief time in Hagerstown, as you might expect would be the case for an 18-year-old phenom playing in the minor leagues for the first time.
Second, the Nationals aren't treating this as though it's a major infraction of any kind. Though team officials have spoken to him, he hasn't been benched or otherwise punished.
This, though, is the reason all that talk about Harper catapulting his way through the Nationals' farm system and reaching the major leagues this season was silly. There's a lot more to becoming a big-leaguer than hitting .350 at low-Class A. There's learning how to deal with the mental and physical grind of playing every day, of taking long bus rides, of playing under poor conditions and -- yes -- of learning what actions are and aren't appropriate in professional baseball.
A major-leaguer blows a kiss at the opposing pitcher, and both benches empty. A minor-leaguer does it, he gets talked to by his manager and learns his lesson. This stuff probably happens all the time to plenty of players. They just don't have cameras following every one of their at-bats, nor do they have the entire baseball world pontificating on what their actions mean.
Was Harper right to do it? No. And he probably knew it very soon thereafter. But was his blown kiss evidence of a deeper maturity issue, or worth being analyzed by every media outlet from Washington to Walla Walla? Probably not.
Posted by Mark Zuckerman at 7:24 PM