If Bryce Harper’s bat-flipping, roar-causing, joy-prompting, hug-generating, goose-bumping, weight-removing walk-off win in Monday night’s Home Run Derby was the coolest moment of this week’s All-Star Game festivities — and it was — well, it also prompted the stupidest debate of this week’s All-Star Game festivities: Whether Harper and his father cheated Kyle Schwarber out of a Home Run Derby crown by shaving fractions of a second off the allotted pause between pitches in a contest Harper won with more than 20 seconds to spare.
Truly, this is the worst week of the year for sports debates.
And so, on Monday night and into Tuesday, an assortment of apparently earnest souls — Cubs fans, bettors who put money on Schwarber, baseball followers who use a scale to measure exactly how much Nesquik powder to put into their monthly treat of one (1) shotglass full of strawberry milk, parents claiming that they were attempting to teach their kids to follow the rules and that the Harpers were making it hard and I promise that I’m not making that last one up — were complaining that Ron Harper wasn’t waiting for the titanic blasts hit by his son to land before throwing the next pitch, despite the fact that an umpire was right there behind home plate to police this very rule.
Was there a #Justice4Schwarber hashtag? Heck yeah there was! Were angry fans accusing me (!) of celebrating rule-breaking and lawlessness? Heck yeah they were. Was there video evidence? You know it.
You’ll notice that Bryce Harper gestures for another, quicker pitch about nine seconds into this clip. That’s the back-back-back-back-back-and-to-the-left moment of this particular conspiracy.
And yet a different video of his monumental surge, filmed from the outfield, appears to show that before virtually all of his monumental dingers, the umpire clearly gave Ron Harper the signal to pitch.
Regardless, the roiling controversy was brought to the attention of Commissioner Rob Manfred during Tuesday’s episode of PTI.
“Look, I don’t know exactly what happened last night. I do know there’s an umpire behind home plate who controls the pace on the pitching,” Manfred said. “I have great faith in our umpires, and I’m pretty sure that what happened last night was according to the rules.”
MLB.com’s summary of the derby’s rules doesn’t even mention the requirement to let balls drop before throwing another pitch, and yet by Tuesday morning there was sufficient uproar — or sufficient boredom, anyhow — that multiple national publications had covered this burgeoning controversy. Do you want me to quote some of them? Your head says you don’t, but you heart says you kind of do.
Hardball Talk: “I’m not gonna argue that he didn’t do it. I will say, however, that no one should really care. Mostly because it’s the Home Run Derby and it doesn’t matter a bit. Getting mad about this is a half-step removed from getting mad that Blackjack Mulligan used a foreign object to gouge Pedro Morales’ eyes during a house show in 1976. Yes, it’s true, but c’mon, we’re entertaining people here.”
SB Nation: “Is it possible that the umpire was an MLB plant whose job it was to give Bryce Harper an extra advantage in his home park? I mean, you get to believe what you want. What’s more likely is that he gave the ‘go’ sign a little too soon on a pitch or two, and Harper’s dad was more than eager to get those pitches up there quickly, considering he had the most errant pitches of any of the pitchers and time was a-wastin’.”
For The Win: “It’s the Home Run Derby, and MLB wasn’t going to stop that moment from unfolding just to spark a massive controversy over a pointless home run exhibition.”
CBS: “So was Harper’s dad ignoring the hold sign from the ump or was the ump ‘going rogue’ and giving him the green light before those baseballs had landed? That, people, is the ultimately unimportant question.”
Bleacher Report: “It’s clear from the highlights of the final 30 seconds of Harper’s round that Ron Harper, Bryce’s dad, didn’t get a copy of the rule book before throwing caution to the wind.”
Golf Digest (!): “This is so incredibly, irrationally, pointlessly idiotic that I almost don’t [know] where to begin.”
WCPO: “I thought it was an awesome competition, and you had two great players battling it out,” Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said.
The general consensus from media members seems to have been: Eh, some of those pitches were probably coming too soon, if we’re being honest, but Harper would have won anyhow, and this isn’t really worth getting upset about.
The general consensus from many rational Cubs fans seems to be quite similar.
The general consensus from rational bettors seems to be … well, those don’t exist.
And anyhow, it’s a lot more fun to look at the angry people, right?
And so on. Maybe they’re all just doing a bit to create web content.
Then there were the folks who wrote to me directly. Like this chap:
Rules are rules, the Harpers broke them and in doing so garnered four more home runs than should have been allowed. There is absolutely no question about that.
Or this one:
I am not saying Bryce cheated, he was not pitching, nor was he ‘officiating.’ Also, he definitely hit fewer home runs. Also, it was his home park and we all knew he would win.
Or this one:
It’s on video for anyone to see. You can debate whether it matters, but you can’t debate that it happened.
Or this one:
Why have rules if they aren’t going to be followed … even in something that is “just for fun”?
Or this one:
Goes to show that a team that has never won anything can’t win without cheating.
Are the Harpers aware of this hubbub? Let’s hope not. Ron Harper wasn’t asked about his pitch speed in the post-win news conference, but he did talk about his command struggles, which preceded Bryce Harper’s winning stretch.
“I just knew if we got on a little bit of a roll, we could win it because I knew he could hit 20, 25 if he had extra time and could get going,” Ron Harper said. “And we’d seen he’d won with 12 or 13 [in previous rounds]. They were lower numbers, so he didn’t get to see what he could do in a full round. I figured he could get 20, maybe a little bit more. But it was a lot of fun. I had a blast, and I’m glad he barreled up about eight in a row there. He saved me.”
We all need saving right about now.
Read more Home Run Derby coverage, if you dare: