At the age of 12, Bryce Harper was already on his way to becoming one of the most hyped prospects in history. His story is the stuff of legend. He left high school early in an effort to become eligible for the draft as quickly as possible. Every baseball fan knows the story. Every baseball fan is also aware of his perceived shortcomings. He can be hot-headed and impulsive. His emotions can get the best of him, made evident by last week’s outburst, which resulted in a one-game suspension. But, it’s those same emotions also make Harper one of the most polarizing players in the game. Everyone has an opinion on him. People either love him, or hate him, but they pay attention to him.
Baseball has historically been more subdued than the other major sports in the United States. Celebrations and displays of emotion are much more commonplace in basketball and football. Yet, people question whether that type of stuff has any business on a baseball field. Harper made waves in the off-season when he spoke out against the “tired” state of the game, challenging those ideas. Now, he’s taken it upon himself to “make baseball fun again.” In his opinion, if a batter flips his bat after hitting an important home run, that’s okay. If a pitcher gets a big strike out and pumps their fist, that’s okay, too. There’s nothing wrong with surrendering to the moment.
None of this would mean anything, though, if Harper didn’t prove that he is one of the game’s premier players. He put up historically great numbers in his age 22 season, and has continued to do the same this season. While his average has been down, he’s still getting walked at a ridiculous rate, resulting in a major league leading .444 OBP. He’s hit 11 home runs and is slugging .590. The Cubs walked him six times, three of which were intentional, in a single game. And in his only other plate appearance that game, he was hit by a pitch. Barry Bonds is the last player to instill that kind of fear in opposing teams.
Still only 23 years old, and with an MVP season under his belt, Bryce Harper, has become one of the faces of Major League Baseball. He attracts people due to his transparency. His emotions are on his sleeve. It’s clear when’s he’s angry. It’s clear when he’s pumped up. And it’s clear that Harper isn’t going to change. He is who he is, and that’s a good thing for baseball.