Now we know what George Brett was telling Bryce Harper last week in Kansas City during the All-Star Game festivities. We all saw the clip of the former Royals great talking to the teenager, over and over and over. Brett’s advice, apparently, was this: Don’t go all “George Brett” if you’re ever accused of using too much pine tar on your bat.
Just kidding. Brett’s pine tar frenzy 29 years ago — 29 years! — was justified; Royals fans know what they know. But this is what I love about baseball: Nothing ever goes out of fashion, from high stirrups to hijinks to high tar.
Harper had a little dust-up Sunday afternoon with Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen, who pointed out to the plate umpire that Harper might have too much pine tar on his bat after the rookie lined out in the first inning. During his next at-bat, in the fourth, Harper brought a bat with slightly less of the sticky stuff to the plate and seemed to point it at the Marlins’ dugout, as if to say, “Thanks, Skip, for the tip!” Or something similar.
Guillen, who is not known for his composure and stability, went berserk, which would be the only reason you’d want Guillen as your manager — the opportunity to use the word “berserk” at least once a week. Guillen scrambled around his dugout to find a bat so that he could imitate Harper, then left the dugout to scream at the umpire, using language so bad that ESPN had to use one of those scramblers to cover his mouth when showing highlights so that lip-readers all over the country wouldn’t faint in their Corn Flakes.
Guillen wouldn’t shut up about it, which is the hallmark of Guillen’s career. He just can’t shut up. This is a guy who angered the entire Cuban American community in Miami this spring, barely into his first season there. Impressive! His team is 9 games out of first following a 5-3 win over the Nationals on Monday that gave the Marlins a split of the four-game series. Harper was prepared for some high hard ones. (And Guillen’s defense of his actions, that he had praised Harper all year, rings hollow considering that he also praises Fidel Castro. I’m not so sure Harper should be flattered by that.)
But never mind politics. Let’s talk pine tar. In a world of increasingly sophisticated designer drugs and increasingly sophisticated tests to detect them, pine tar remains exactly what it is — pine tar. Now, invisible pine tar, that would be something new, but no, it remains dark brown. It’s easy to spot on a bat and not that hard to find in a pitcher’s glove, if you look. If, say, you’re an umpire, and some manager tells you to look.
Say, didn’t that happen? Of course. Last month, Rays reliever Joel Peralta was ejected from a game against the Nationals after umpires found pine tar on his glove. The umps acted after a request from Nats Manager Davey Johnson; Peralta tipped his cap to Johnson when he left the mound even though he knew he faced a suspension. While the tip was probably sarcastic, it was also funny. Johnson, being a grown-up, did not respond with a slew of epithets. Rays Manager Joe Maddon was incensed; he actually called Johnson’s move “cowardly.”
And then . . . nothing much. Vulgarities were not hurled — although Johnson did call Maddon a “weird wuss.” Bats were not waved. If Maddon’s glasses were equipped with lasers, as some have suspected, it might have been a bloodbath. Instead, it was just one game out of 162.
You have to hand it to Harper. The kid has a temper, but he only uses it on himself. When Cole Hamels plunked him, he took his base and eventually stole home. When Guillen “chirped,” as Johnson put it, Harper kept his mouth shut. The kid may hit himself in the head with a bat, but he’s not going to hit anyone else. No matter how tempting.
“He battles for his team . . .” Harper said of Guillen, staying firmly on the high road. “. . . That’s a manager you want to play for.”
Guillen talked to Harper’s manager about Harper’s behavior. Boy, I’d like to have been a fly on the clubhouse wall for that conversation.
“Ozzie had complained that the pine tar was too high up on Harper’s bat,” Johnson said Sunday. “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.”
He certainly does. He was hitless Sunday but made the catch for the final out in the ninth by nearly knocking Steve Lombardozzi stem-winded. (Lombardozzi’s his teammate, but still . . .) More important, he was taunted by a man nearly 30 years older than him and he did something that many adults — or “adults” — wouldn’t have done: He kept his mouth shut. Maybe he used pine tar to get it done.
Say, that’s an idea for Guillen: pine tar chapstick.
For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/