Bryce Harper, the 19-year-old right fielder for the Washington Nationals, made exciting plays during the May 6 game against the Philadelphia Phillies, despite his team's loss. The number one overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft, Harper has made his way to the third spot on the Nationals' batting order. Last night, Harper took a pitch to the back by Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels and stole home, both plays that have the media buzzing. Hamels could face MLB suspension for the pitch that he admits he threw as a way of implementing "old baseball." While millennials may cry ageism on Hamels' play, I frankly do not care to defend Harper.
Harper and Hamels are in the majors, where baseball means business and emotions don't run high until a player sits at a press conference and announces his retirement. Baseball is not as safe from the drama of sports as many people may think it is. Beyond the family friendly cracker jacks and hot dogs, there are still moments of aggression, rumors of performance enhancement drugs, and million-dollar payrolls. The players that become legends earned their spot not just from a few plays, but seasons of them.
Whether Harper is bound for baseball greatness remains on hold, even with his current batting average at a nice .308 for a season that continues to develop. But development is the key word that separates baseball from other sports. Football and basketball many times skip development periods for players, pushing them to play beyond their limits, which can sometimes cut their playing times or careers prematurely. When Jeremy Lin got his big break, the Knicks quickly expanded his playing time, eventually culminating into the knee injuries that currently keep him out of the playoffs.
The media also cuts development time for athletes. They quickly put players on a pedestal, and drop them the second they fail to meet high expectations. Despite a successful college career, Tim Tebow has faced the taunts of sports commentators since his first day as an NFL professional.
Now, the media is trying to cut into Harper's development as a solid baseball player. They are creating a division by making us pick between young, revolutionary Harper (who really isn't revolutionary at all) or the older, experienced Hamels. The media tries to take away our ability as fans to gauge a player's performance on our own. Harper's not a rare case; just look at why fans either love or absolutely hate Alex Rodriguez today. Also drafted first overall at a very young age almost 10 years ago, A-Rod ended the 1996 season with a batting average of .358, but despite all the hype his numbers fell after that. That's baseball's lesson; it's a game of continuous fluctuation where numbers, not age, speak for themselves.