Bryce Harper has done his level best to avoid controversy during his rookie season with the Nationals, but cyclonic Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen dragged him into one Sunday afternoon during the Nationals’ 4-0 victory over Miami.
Guillen charged Harper with using too much pine tar on his bat, spewed a torrent of profanity at Harper during his at-bat in the fourth inning and afterward called Harper’s actions “unprofessional.” Guillen did not specify what caused his ire, but said it had “something” to do with how Harper pointed his bat at him before his second at-bat.
“First time, it’s going to stay between us,” Guillen said. “I could have said a lot of [stuff] about this kid. I’ve been praising this kid like everyday. The last three times they asked me about him, the only thing I said was he’s a great player. What he did [today] was unprofessional. I’m not going to tell you guys what he did because I’m not going to be talking about it on ESPN, Baseball Tonight, what happened again. I’ll just leave it like that. I’ll talk to his manager in a little while.”
The incident began after Harper’s first at-bat, a lineout to third base. 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 and the Nationals’ dugout. Nationals Manager Davey Johnson started yelling back at him.
“I was just telling [Harper] how cute he was,” Guillen said. “Something happened there the inning before and I didn’t like it and I was talking to the umpire about it.”
Said Johnson: “Ozzie had complained that the pine tar was too high up on Harper’s bat. So we changed it. Then he was still chirping about. It got on the umpire’s nerves. It got on my nerves. He was trying to intimidate my player, I guess. That’s not going to bother our player. He does what he has to do.”
Harper, as he did when Cole Hamels admitted to hitting him on purpose earlier this season, remained above the verbal fray. He did not specify what Guillen was saying to him – “he was just yelling,” Harper said. Mostly, he just complimented Guillen.
“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.”
Baseball’s rules prohibit pine tar from being spread above the label. The goo creates more friction and spin when the bat meets the ball, which allows the ball to travel further. The most famous incident involving the rule came when George Brett – Harper’s professed favorite player – was temporarily robbed of a home run.
“It’s such a fine line,” Johnson said. “They put the pine tar, it’s only supposed to be at the top of the label. Some guys, it might be over half an inch or something. There’s still a foot of the barrel to hit it with. If you hit it on the pine tar, it’s going to shatter everything. The replace the ball all the time, anyways. What’s the big deal?”
Guillen, in his first year with the Marlins, is known for his unapologetically controversial persona and explicit ranting. “Ozzie yells a lot,” one Nationals player said. “You don’t even pay attention.”
The incident seems like it ought to pass, but with volatile, veteran right-hander Carlos Zambrano starting for the Marlins on Monday night, that may not be a smart bet.
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