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DeFranks: It’s time for Bryce Harper to grow up (Aug. 31)

Matthew DeFranks | Friday, August 31, 2012

What did you do before your 20th birthday? Were you on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Were you the top overall pick in the Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft? Were you deemed the next big thing in baseball?

No? Good. Whew, I thought I was the only one that hadn’t accomplished those because all I did before my 20th birthday was, well, a whole lot of nothing.

But 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper has graced a magazine cover, has selected for that first spot and has been anointed as the next chosen one. For such a young age, Harper has received an unreal amount of criticism not for his play but for his reactions.

In early May, shortly after his MLB debut, Harper flashed his seemingly limitless potential. After Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels plunked Harper square in the back, Harper did not lose his cool. Instead, he advanced to third base on a single and then stole home for his first big league stolen base.

Harper could have unraveled into a swirling vortex of immaturity and stupidity that night but responded with his play instead. He let Hamels take the brunt of the criticism that night. He played it smartly simply by playing hard.

But where has that Harper gone?

That Harper must still be wherever Bryce left his batting average. Harper has a respectable 14 home runs in his rookie season, but has hit only .250 while striking out nearly a quarter of the time. Once a lock for the National League Rookie of the Year, Harper has slipped into mediocrity.

Granted, he is still a teenager in his first season and playing on the best team in baseball, but his numbers have been lackluster. His potential has not shined through yet like Angels outfielder Mike Trout’s has, but Harper’s limit is still yet to be found.

Now, he just can’t let his attitude overshadow his clearly apparent talent.

In May, Harper threw a bat at a wall in frustration. He broke the bat, it cut his head and he needed 10 stiches to cover up the wound.

Later in the season, Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen questioned the amount of pine tar on Harper’s bat. In his next at bat, Harper pointed the bat at the outspoken Miami coach in a motion that basically said, “Hey look, I’m right, and you’re wrong.”

Even earlier this month, he slammed his bat on the ground at home plate, breaking it into pieces. And now he can add his first ejection to his now impressive tantrum resume.

On Wednesday night, it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times for Harper. He swatted two home runs out of cavernous Marlins Park (one of them traveled an estimated 425 feet) but also was ejected for the first time in his career.

After that, all that anyone wanted to talk about was his ejection. Forget his two mammoth dingers, let’s talk about his outburst where he spiked his helmet on the ground after grounding into a double play. First base umpire C.B. Bucknor, known as a notoriously bad umpire by players, took offense to the helmet slam and tossed Harper from the game.

Whether Harper deserved to get thrown out could be debated, but the fact that he allowed the debate to happen is concerning, especially given his testy history. Did Bucknor toss the teen because of his fiery reputation? Would an older, respected veteran been treated the same way? Probably not, but that is only Harper’s fault.

Being young and immature is one thing. Being young, talented, stupid, immature and underperforming is an entirely different thing.

Once angry outbursts become the norm for Harper, his reputation will be tarnished at the very least.

So what has Bryce Harper done before his 20th birthday? That’s a clown question, bro.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.