Okay, maybe not insanity. But Johnson knows what it is when he sees it. Every great club has several players with an edge that makes them dangerous to opponents, themselves or both. You can’t coach it into existence and you can barely manage it, even though Johnson “had a little chat” with Harper, just to make sure he knew that he was “wrong . . . wrong” every time he threw one of his tantrums and that “he’s just got to stop it.”
Harper knows. He really does. “I just need to stop getting [angry] and just live with it,” he said Wednesday night. “I just need to grow up in that mentality a little bit. Try not to bash stuff in and things like that I’ve always done my whole life and those need to change.”
The part about “that I’ve always done my whole life” should probably worry you. At 35, Paul O’Neill was still trashing bat racks as a Yankee. But if you snap as much as Harper, you aren’t playing at 35. Harper has time to control himself better, but probably not as much as he thinks. A year. Two.
“Bryce is never satisfied,” Storen said. “Speaking for myself, not him, it’s that same fire that helps you perform, that helps him turn a single into a double. You don’t want to go too far in that red line. But it’s a good thing to have, especially when you’re 19 and are being asked to be on the main stage.
On April 28, the Nationals unleashed their double-edged teenage whirlwind, ready or not. He has identical rookie stats at 19 as Ken Griffey Jr., down to the last decimal place in everything that matters. He’s getting better all the time in center field. Someday, he might be good. It could even be his natural position for a few years.
“We’re a better team when Harper is in center field,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “And he’s hitting a productive .250.”
These are hold-your-breath days for Harper. Hold your breath to see where his next homer lands. But also hold your breath when you think of that .207 average since the All-Star Game. What price will he pay for bypassing entire levels of the minors? Everybody says Harper will inevitably get much better. And he probably will.
But everybody also mentions Tony Conigliaro’s great season at 19. But at 20, 21 and 22, before he was beaned, he never equaled any of his rookie year averages — batting, on-base percentage or slugging.
In this pennant race, enormous talent and priceless passion meet baseball’s inescapable frustrations and a big teenage temper. They’re on display every night in a constant struggle — for Bryce Harper.
His first time up on Thursday night, Harper took two balls, then ignited an 8-1 Washington victory with a scorching two-run line drive home run into the Nats’ bullpen, the place where Storen dwells. “Just watch, Bryce will do something amazing tonight.”
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/