Time will tell whetherBryce Harper is Roy Hobbs or Bump Bailey, but the Washington Nationals have a chance to shape his legacy more toward “the greatest there ever was” status and less toward running through a wall and killing himself. (If you haven’t, read “The Natural.” Beats the movie all hollow.)
So why aren’t the Nats directing Harper? Why are they letting him make decisions about his ability to play? They didn’t let Stephen Strasburg make those decisions last fall. They shut him down — rightly so, I thought and still think. They were then hailed for their patience and foresight when rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III put himself back in a game on one leg and paid the price. If only the Redskins had taken a lesson from the Nats, fans moaned.
Instead, it appears, the Nats are taking lessons from the Redskins. Harper finally went on the disabled list Saturday for an injury that originally appeared not in the famous wall-banging incident in Los Angeles but back in April in Atlanta. So it took more than a month — a month Harper spent putting himself in the lineup, aggravating his injured knee and taking himself out of the lineup — before either he or the team realized he would be better off just sitting down and getting better.
Harper said Saturday he probably should have gone on the disabled list after hitting a fence at Turner Field on April 29. “I didn’t want to go on [the DL],” Harper said. “I thought hopefully my body could have got past it. I think after I hit the wall here [in Atlanta], I think I should have went on the DL, just to try to get better and come back 15 days later. With a lot of guys out, I wanted to stay in the lineup the way I was swinging it. Of course, I want to play every day. It’s something that maybe I’ll learn more in my career to take off 15 days instead of lose the month or whatever it is.”
Sound familiar? After putting himself back in a game against Seattle — when his coach should have sat him down — and tearing up his right knee, Griffin sounded similar: the gut-it-out attitude, the feeling of responsibility to the team, the conviction that he’s young and strong and invincible, a not-uncommon feeling in the 20- to 23-year-old demographic.
Which is all well and good, but where are the grown-ups in this town? We’ve got youngsters making decisions far above — well, not far above their pay grade but far above their level of experience.
Harper is a major talent, and part of his appeal is his flat-out play. The Nats’ chore is to rein that in a bit without changing who Harper is as a player and a person. That’s a tall order, but that’s why teams have managers, coaches, trainers, general managers and a host of other support staff. I know Harper hasn’t reacted well to benchings, changes in the order, whatever. This is a guy who hit himself in the face with a bat, after all. But while people may never say, “There goes Bryce Harper, the best there ever was” when he walks down the street, they might say, “There goes Bryce Harper, Hall of Famer.” Or they might say, “There goes Bryce Harper; shame what happened to his career.”
How does the same team that famously benched Strasburg last fall on the precipice of the playoffs and over his strenuous objections allow Harper to call the shots? He could have been put on the DL a month ago, and this injury might now be behind him. Instead, the Nats find themselves without Harper and with a record below .500. The Nats’ season still could be salvaged, but a lot has to go right.
And right now, not much is. The Nats are going through a bad spate of injuries. When Strasburg strains a lat, all of Washington reaches for the Bengay, but it looks like he will avoid the disabled list. Ross Detwiler wasn’t so lucky; he’s on the DL because of a strained oblique. Wilson Ramos (hamstring) and Ryan Mattheus (broken hand) are keeping him company. The heavily bearded Jayson Werth may look like he kilt him a bar when he was only 3, but he fell victim to a fragile hamstring. He is done rehabbing his hammy and is scheduled to come off the DL on Tuesday when the Mets come to town.
The Nats will need him. Werth has not been the consistent hitter the Nats need; Harper is a catalyst for the team in many ways. A hard task for the Nats just got harder, and they have no one to blame but themselves.
For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/