There should be no doubts. Bryce Harper was the best player in the National League and deserves to be named the Most Valuable Player.
He finished tied for first in home runs, second in batting average and led the league in WAR, runs scored, on base percentage and slugging percentage. For most of the second half, he was the only player on the Washington Nationals that looked to be actively engaged in their playoff quest.
So, why did one of his teammates take a swing at him in the dugout? When Jonathan Papelbon lunged towards Harper, the conversation about Harper’s attitude reopened.
The numbers, however, only tell a small portion of the story for Harper. Since his arrival to the capital in 2012, Harper has been one of the most controversial figures in all sports.
Harper graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in the spring of 2009, at the ripe age of 16, under the headline “Baseball’s Chosen One.” That is high praise from the preeminent news source in the sports world to bestow on a kid that didn’t even have a driver’s license. Naturally, that sort of attention went to Harper’s head. It would to any athlete.
Ego is part of sports. Even the most humble of superstars, Derek Jeter, Tom Brady, Tim Duncan, have a maniacal drive to be the best. It’s impossible to succeed at the highest level without a supreme confidence in oneself. Harper has taken that to an extreme.
I’ll say this right now. I had a problem with the way Jonathan Papelbon acted. He’s a closer that has struggled during his two months with the team. His arrival coincided with the Nationals fall to second place. Papelbon has become the face of the disappointing 2015 season. Rumors have circulated that Papelbon and Harper’s feud stemmed from an earlier incident when Papelbon drilled Manny Machado. Harper expressed a concern that the Orioles would look for retribution.
When Harper did not hustle 100 percent on a lazy fly ball, Papelbon took offense. They started barking at each other when suddenly, Papelbon shoved Harper and wrapped a hand around his throat. The scuffle was quickly broken up, but the damage was done. The Nationals failure now had a perfect video clip.
Did Papelbon handle the situation wrong? No question. However, his attitude was right on par. Harper does not hustle on every play. Papelbon, a veteran, has the right to question Harper’s attitude, he just should have done it in the clubhouse away from the cameras.
Anyone who says they wouldn’t take Bryce Harper on their team is a fool. He is one of, if not the best, players in the game. But he isn’t perfect. He’s drawn the ire of teammates, his manager and opponents since the day he came up. He carries himself with an arrogance and attitude that do not yet match his on field accomplishments. In about a month, he will likely receive his first MVP award and it probably won’t be his last.
Yet, if he wants to be a beloved baseball icon, he better change his attitude.