I was an idiot when I was a teenager. You were an idiot when you were a teenager. If you're still a teenager, well, you seem nice, and thanks for coming to the site, but you're about to do something really stupid. You should probably put down those car keys and sit on your hands for a couple of years.
So in retrospect it was more than a little silly we were focused on Bryce Harper's personality when he was a 17-year-old prospect. He wasn't doing things that should have led to an arrest; he was just being brash and excitable. Since he's come up, though, he's been the epitome of professionalism. A couple of weeks ago, Jeff Sullivan wondered where the insufferable jerkwad went. We were kind of looking forward to an insufferable jerkwad. They make writing fun and easy.
It was just a matter of time before Harper snapped and threw a helmet like Brett Lawrie, possibly with an opponent still wearing the helmet. Someone was going to do something -- an umpire, an opponent, a fan -- and Harper was going to unleash a stream of fury and teenaged testosterone on the world.
Then Cole Hamels threw at Bryce Harper for existing. Harper's response? Nothing. At least, nothing juicy. Harper had measured, veteran-like comments for Hamels and nothing more.
Now it's Ozzie Guillen as agent provocateur, trying to goad Harper into doing something stupid.
Guillen complained to umpires that Harper had applied pine tar above the label of his bat, the limit for how high the sticky substance can be spread...
In his next at-bat, Harper, who finished 0 for 4, used a new bat. But Guillen did not like something about how Harper walked to the plate. Guillen began yelling at Harper from the dugout, even grabbing a bat and shaking it in the direction of Harper
I'm not sure how I feel about Guillen plagiarizing the crazy of other managers. The pine-tar thing's been done. This is just a weak cover version by a band at the county fair. Guillen didn't just yell at Harper on the field, either. He had his typical deluge of post-game crazy too, saying that he was yelling at Harper to tell him "how cute he was" and that Harper was being "unprofessional."
On the Marlins' broadcast, the announcers said …
Yeah, I think that Bryce Harper did something getting into the box there that Ozzie Guillen didn't care for.
… then they cut to a replay of Harper getting into the box. A little silence, and then …
… tough to see from that.
The timing was perfect. And the cameras cut to Ozzie in the dugout, quiet and sullen, like someone drinking in the corner of a bar and watching someone hit on his ex-wife. On the Nationals' broadcast, they got a clear shot of Harper asking "For what?", presumably in response to someone telling him that Guillen was pissed off.
Guillen would later say that Harper did something with the bat as he approached the plate. You can't see it here, and whatever it was, it doesn't look like either broadcast caught it. Here's Guillen's reënactment of Harper's crime against baseball:
It was the perfect storm for Harper to go off. If he didn't do anything intentionally, it was a great chance to flip out and defend his integrity against the accusations of a crazy man. If he did troll Guillen on purpose -- which would be awesome -- this was a chance to finish what he started and provoke Guillen more.
Instead, Harper finished his at-bat, ran out a grounder, and went quietly to the dugout. After the game, Harper said this:
"He battles for his team, and that’s the type of manager Ozzie is," Harper said. "He’s a great manager to play for. He’s going to battle for you, no matter what. That’s a manager you want to play for."
I mean … is Harper running for Senate? We're just getting over the fact that he might not be a Barry Bonds-sized asshole, but now he's exhibiting the media savvy and restraint of a 15-year veteran?
What if … I mean, this is hard to type … but what if Harper is boring? Not on the field, of course. But where we were expecting a Bonds -- or even a Jeff Kent, Pete Rose type -- he might end up being a guy like David Wright, known only for what he does on the field. That's much better for Harper and the Nationals. But, aw man, I wanted a jerkwad.
Harper had another test on Sunday, and he passed it with top-of-the-class marks. Turns out he's at least a 60 on the 20-to-80 scale when it comes to keeping his emotions in check, maybe even a 70. Good for him. Bad for us. Because we've all been tired of Guillen's brand of crazy for a while. The sport needs some fresh crazy, and for a brief time, we were all sure it was going to come from Harper. Instead, he's been exactly what you wouldn't expect from a supremely talented, ahead-of-his-time teenager.