“You can’t let other people control how you feel. Criticism, advice, too much of it is worse than none at all. It’s not one thing. It’s a million things, and it all takes your focus off the game,” said Johnson, 70 to Bryce’s 20. “Don’t let anything interfere with your love of the game.”
Whether managing Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Cal Ripken or playing with Hank Aaron, Johnson has stood at arm’s length from those who never lost their focus on their own talent or their passion for the sport. As he retires this year, that dual goal is all he wishes for Harper. But Davey worries. Harper, in a generation of hype-cubed social-media-addled infant stars, has all the potential in the world but all the distractions, too. And Harper generates some of those distractions himself, often for little reason.
How will that story, almost a parable, turn out?
As a symbol of the constant dissonance around Harper, this probably wasn’t the perfect week for his agent to discuss a 12-year-contract for a young star. Scott Boras never mentioned Harper’s name Tuesday, but everybody knew he was talking about Harper as he stood in the Nationals Park box seats. And everybody knew the general price range, too — the biggest guaranteed deal ever, maybe $300 million.
“That’s the last thing he needs,” Johnson said of such contract talk.
But this may be an ideal week to think about how good or bad such a deal might be if the Nats ever gave one to their 20-year-old headline machine.
This week was fairly typical in the outsized world of Harper. He probably made too much news for his own good, talked and tweeted a little too much. On Friday, he also made one very conspicuous mistake on the field. He jogged to first base, frustrated by his routine groundball to second base, and failed to hustle on the most important play of a one-run game.
“That’s just him,” said coach Randy Knorr, who was acting as manager that night. “He’s just 20, and sometimes he just pouts. . . . I don’t know why. That’s the thing about him. You can’t be this guy who says you’re going to play hard every time out and then not do it. You can’t do that. He’ll learn that. He’ll get better with it. . . . He’s still a kid, and sometimes kids pout if things don’t go their way.”
That criticism resonated because Knorr is one of the logical candidates to be Nats’ manager in ’14 but also because Knorr became the first person in the franchise to point out the gap between Harper’s many commercials, which paint him as an always hustling five-tool Pete Rose, and the reality of the gimpy Harper of ’13 who doesn’t always run full bore. Since smashing into the Dodger Stadium scoreboard in May, Harper has played through a sore knee that may need minor offseason surgery to remove a bursa sac and has even been told by Johnson “don’t kill yourself running.”