What about Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals drives pitchers up a wall? Is it his cocky, brazen attitude? Is it his frat boy haircuts and ESPN The Magazine Body Issue photo shoots? Is it the fact that he’s a baseball prodigy and was the most hyped amateur baseball player ever? Or is it simply the fact that he dominates them like no other hitter in baseball?
The world may never know. But it’s definitely worth looking into. Harper has been hit by a pitch 17 times in his career and quite a few of those pitches (whether the pitchers admitted it or not) were likely intentional. Relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon even fought Harper during a game…when they were on the same team.
Yesterday’s incident involving a pitcher openly expressing disdain for Harper took the cake, however, as Hunter Strickland of the San Francisco Giants evidently held an epic grudge against Bryce that is almost too ridiculous to believe. It has been well-publicized by now that Strickland intentionally dinged Harper in the thigh, thus inciting a fight on the mound between the two. What’s incredible about the incident, though, is that is took place because of a deep-seated grudge held by Strickland over something that happened over two and a half years ago.
In the 2014 MLB Playoffs, with the Giants taking on the Nationals in the NLDS, Harper hit two home runs off of Strickland and evidently ogled them a little too long for Strickland’s liking. The two exchanged some glares during the course of that series, but nothing serious came of it. In fact, Harper and the heavily-favored Nats came out on the wrong end of that series, as the Giants upset them and went on to win the World Series. Fast forward to three seasons later, and Strickland still holds a grudge over it.
It takes some serious loathing to throw at someone nearly three years after the original incident that sparked the loathing. Furthermore, Strickland’s premeditated plunking of Harper occurred in the eighth inning with the Giants trailing 2-0. So this didn’t occur in the fifth inning with the Giants winning by six runs or something like that. This occurred in the eighth inning while Strickland’s team was trailing. Again, it takes some serious loathing to do that.
But, seriously, what is it about Harper? Sure, he’s a hothead. He throws tantrums after he grounds out in critical situations. He doesn’t always run out fly balls. He’s constantly doing those stupid hair flips in the dugout like he’s starring in a cologne advertisement. Harper’s not exactly the every man’s baseball superstar. However, could opposing pitchers’ deep disdain for the hothead pretty boy wearing a Nationals uniform really be the primary reason why he always seems to have a target on his back? Apparently so.
Pitchers need to get over their hatred of Harper. As do umpires, fans and even jealous teammates. Get over it. He’s the face of the new generation of baseball players. Sure, Mike Trout is awesome, but he can’t be expected to generate the level of sheer excitement and intrigue that Harper can. Okay, so Harper’s a little melodramatic. But so is pretty much every superstar athlete in every other sport nowadays. If baseball is going to increase in popularity with millennials, Harper must be the man that MLB is built around.
Unfortunately, the ever-stoic Derek Jeter is no longer around to carry the league on his back through his play alone. A cocky wannabe frat boy is exactly the right person to carry MLB now. And pitchers can either accept that by manning up and attempting to put hotshot Harper in his place or they can continue to take the cowardly way out by throwing at him. Until then, MLB pitchers will have to continue living in denial that Bryce Harper, whether they like it or not, is the golden boy of 21st century baseball.