Harry Reid: Bryce Harper isn’t overrated

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

When I asked Sen. Harry Reid this week how he became so passionate a fan of the Washington Nationals, the first thing he said was “Bryce Harper.”

Indeed, the Senate majority leader has used Harper’s signature line when speaking with the press. He’s called the young outfielder “a phenomenon” on the floor of the Senate. He’s posed for photos with Harper, spoken repeatedly with his mother, praised his family and upbringing and marveled at his athletic talents. Harper helped him fully commit to the Nats after years of cheering for the Orioles, whom he still supports.

“I can remember looking — when he was a 16-year old — at his picture on the front of Sports Illustrated,” Reid said. “Then I checked him out and he was for real. One of my friends was his coach when he went to [the College of Southern Nevada], Tim Chambers, a great coach. And he said this kid’s the real deal — he is very polite, he really works hard, he’s big and fast and powerful. And I frankly quite admire his family. His dad, a union guy, a Democrat. Anyway, he has a lot of good things in his lineage, in his pedigree.”

So with all this praise, I figured I had to ask Reid about this week’s ESPN the Magazine poll of 143 anonymous Major Leaguers, who voted Harper the most overrated player in baseball.

“Yes, I saw that,” the senator said. “I think of those polls like I think of political polls: They’re a bunch of garbage. They really are.”

Reid then spoke of FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, the well-known political (and sports) writer whose grim forecast for the Senate Democrats recently created a small furor in Washington. Reid — echoing a Democratic Senate Campaign Committee memo — said Silver has consistently predicted Senate Democrats would perform worse than they have in recent campaign cycles.

“He gave me a 16 percent chance of being reelected, he gave Heidi Heitkamp an 8 percent chance of being reelected, he gave Jon Tester a [34] percent chance of being reelected,” Reid said, referring to Silver’s final 2012 forecast for the New York Times. “So all polls are about like Nate Silver’s predictions: good sometimes, bad most of the time.”

All that being said, is Bryce Harper overrated?

“No,” Reid said. “That first year he was phenomenal, that second year he was playing crippled. So, no, I don’t think he’s overrated. I think who’s overrated is ESPN.”

Reid said he thought the 2013 Nats were never the same after Harper’s two run-ins with outfield walls, and so he is hoping for a bounce-back season from both Harper and the Nats in 2014.

“I’m waiting to see if the team in the first year of Bryce Harper was just an aberration, when those guys did so well,” Reid said. “Was that just an aberration, or was last year just a bad year? I hope last year was an aberration, that their true skill level is as it was the previous season.”

Still, no matter what happens, his fandom won’t waver. The majority leader paid attention during the offseason like any fan: Reid was disappointed when Tyler Moore was sent down, was following the fifth-starter battle between Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, and remains curious about the team’s plans at second base. He was fond of Davey Johnson  — visiting with the former manager on the Hill — but has already spoken with Manager Matt Williams, who went to high school in Carson City and college at UNLV, both in Reid’s home state.

“I think it’s pretty clear to everybody that there needed to be a different direction,” Reid said. “Matt Williams is a vibrant guy, Charlie Hustle all the time he played, and I think he’ll want his players to do the same.”

Reid goes to games occasionally but prefers watching MASN’s broadcasts at home, where he can pay closer attention. That didn’t change during the slightly disappointing 2013 campaign, and it won’t change no matter what happens this season.

“If you’re a fan of a team,” Reid said, “you’re always thinking it’s going to get better tomorrow.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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