As someone who spends a good bit of time writing on the internet, I was taken aback a bit watching Bryce Harper cite critical articles about him during this week's hour-long "Bryce Begins" documentary on ESPN. The beginning of the program dealt with the Washington Nationals' 2010 no.1 overall pick's rapid ascent from Sports Illustrated cover kid as a high schooler to no.1 pick, highly-scrutinized minor leaguer and MLB star-in-the-making. There was the blown kiss episode with (finally) some context provided (on a national level) by Tom Verducci, who pointed out that the opposing pitcher (what's his name again?) had been taunting Harper and his teammates throughout the game leading up to Harper's regrettable (but kinda hilarious) gesture. There was Harper walking by eager autograph seekers who trashed him when he said no. There was great footage of Harper before and after his MLB debut. It was a great behind-the-scenes look, honestly.
Harper hasn't been a model MLBer at all times since his debut. There was that incident when he hit himself in the face with a bat slammed into a brick wall at one point in a rare display of immaturity (or just anger maybe, he's hardly the first one to do that) but for the most part a lot of the stories about his bad attitude and arrogance seem overblown in retrospect. So, watching him look at the critical articles mentioned in the documentary and remembering that he's taken some abuse on his way up at times for no other reason than that he was better than the competition at most stops on the way up, really hit home.
If it hadn't hit me watching Bryce himself, it certainly did when his father broke down momentarily talking about the pure joy he felt during Harper's D.C. debut when the then-19-year-old wunderkind was greeted with a standing ovation during his first at bat in Nationals Park. After years of watching grown men, kids and (possibly drunk) fans berate his kid, it was clear that his father knew his son had finally found a home in the nation's capital. It's hard to find a fan of the Nationals that doesn't full-on love Bryce Harper right now. NatsTown grimaced along with the now-20-year-old outfielder when he appeared to have suffered an injury last night in Atlanta. Luckily, there wasn't any broken ribs or oblique issues when doctors had a look at him. The mere thought of a Nats' lineup without Harper right now might cause a panic.
Davey Johnson, Joey Votto, Chipper Jones... any number of people have praised Harper's work ethic and determination to be one of the best to ever play the game and he's on his way to becoming just that early in his MLB career, but is there inevitably going to be a backlash against the kid? Opposing teams and no doubt plenty of fans around the game already dislike Harper and find him brash and arrogant. He's a media darling right now. Will it last?
Will Leitch, of Gawker, Deadspin, New York Magazine and now Sports on Earth fame, stopped by the MLB Network studios recently to talk to Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds on MLB Now about whether or not a LeBron-esque backlash of hatred for Harper is, in fact, inevitable. Check out what Mr. Leitch had to say below: