Monday, July 2, 2012
Conducting himself like an All-Star
Bryce Harper hasn't played like an All-Star for the last three weeks. Since homering in Toronto on June 12 and then uttering his now famous "Clown question, bro" quote, he's hitting just .205 with one homer, three RBI, 20 strikeouts and a .558 OPS.
Harper may not have played like an All-Star during that time, but he's sure conducted himself like one.
As more and more attention is thrust upon him, and as the Nationals become one of the most-compelling teams in baseball, Harper continues to be tested off the field. And he continues to pass every single test.
He could've snapped at that reporter who asked him what kind of beer he would drink after homering in Canada. Instead, he displayed both maturity and snark with his perfect response that created an instant catch-phrase used even by the majority leader of the U.S. Senate.
Harper could have made a major faux pas when the Yankees came to town and said something that indicated his desire to someday play for his favorite team growing up. Instead, he kept his focus on the Nationals, resisted the urge to hobnob around the batting cage with A-Rod and CC and Derek and eventually professed his desire to spend his entire career in Washington.
And when MLB's All-Star teams were announced yesterday and Harper learned he was among five players on the "Final Vote" ballot, he could have bragged about his own case for a ticket to Kansas City. Instead, he repeatedly insisted the retiring Chipper Jones should win the vote.
"He should have already been in the All-Star Game, no matter what," Harper said following yesterday's 8-4 win in Atlanta. "He's an All-Star and has been an All-Star for 20 years. I think Chip should be there and ... if I had to vote, Chip's going."
Talk about knowing the right thing to say. Harper couldn't have handled that sticky situation any better. Would he like to be an All-Star at 19? Absolutely. But he understands there will be plenty more opportunities to play in the Midsummer Classic before his career ends, and he understands this is Jones' last opportunity to do it.
It's that kind of humility and respect for the game that has made Harper so popular among both his teammates and his contemporaries. Shoot, even Cole Hamels said he voted for the guy he intentionally plunked two months ago on his All-Star ballot.
"19 years old," left-hander Gio Gonzalez said. "That says it all."
Fans have until 4 p.m. Thursday to decide whether to vote for Harper, Jones or the other three NL players on the ballot (Michael Bourn, Aaron Hill, Aaron Freese). Harper's teammates say he's worthy of a spot on the roster.
"I think he's got a pretty good chance," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "Obviously he's a fan favorite everywhere he goes. Even though they boo him, I know they still love him."
Truth be told, a quiet vacation in mid-July might be more valuable to Harper than a whirlwind few days in Kansas City. He's been dealing with some lower back soreness for several weeks. He's struggled at times at the plate. The physical and mental grind of his first big-league season might be starting to take its toll.
Asked yesterday if he thinks Harper has a shot to win the final vote, manager Davey Johnson replied: "Yeah, I do, but I hope not. I hope he gets the rest. I've been playing him everyday, every inning. I hope he gets the rest."
Harper didn't necessarily disagree with his skipper.
"It'd be great," he said of an All-Star selection. "I think it'd be a lot of fun to be out there around guys like that and stuff. But taking some time off and going home for four or five days, I think, would be good also."
As has so often been the case since he arrived in the big leagues, Harper keeps saying all the right things.
Posted by Mark Zuckerman at 11:00 AM