While the Cubs work on generating their own Bryce Harper clone, the real Bryce Harper was doing Bryce Harper things through most of this season so far and even last night against the LOLs AngeLOLs Dodgers. Unfortunately for poor Mr. Harper, he went a bit too aggro in chasing down a deep fly ball and met Mr. Wall with more force than necessary:
If you’ve seen the scary video of Bryce Harper crashing face-first into the wall at Dodger Stadium, you know the end result could have been much worse than a bloodied face. Aside from Harper needing to learn what “warning track” means, the reaction from some of the Nationals is frustrating. “That’s all you can ask for as a pitcher, a guy going 110 percent,” said winning pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. No, no, no. Absolutely wrong. There’s rarely a good time to go crashing into a wall, especially when the score is 6-0. There is no way making that catch — and getting ONE OUT — is worth the risk of the injury. Sometimes you have to play this game at 99 or 95 percent. Manager Davey Johnson said, “I don’t want to change him.” Fine. I get it. The hustle, the energy, that’s part of what drives Harper to excel. But you have to be smart. I’m pretty sure Davey’s behind-the-scenes talks with Harper will be a little different than his public posturing.
The one guy who got it right was Ryan Zimmerman: “I would rather him not go all-out into the wall. Some people look at it as a bad thing. If you play that hard every day, there is something to be said about that. He’s going to play a long time and you have to learn to take care of your body. As he grows, he’ll learn what to do and what not to do.” Zimmerman is speaking from experience, as a player who has battled injuries in his career. I love Harper’s all-out play; I don’t love him running into walls.
The Harper injury (thankfully no concussion, and no everlasting damage that has been reported so far aside from a few stitches) was reminiscent of what happened with Brett Jackson last season against Pittsburgh. As fans, we appreciate that kind of effort. We expect the very best from the best athletes on the planet (because that’s how you make it to the big leagues) and we expect them to take pride in their work. But we also have to be aware of the fact that these guys have to make a living, and to do so, they must remain healthy. A superstar-in-the-making in his early-to-mid 20s (in Harper’s case, he can’t even drink or gamble legally yet) is going to have damn near two decades of useful playing life in his body if he treats it right. Why risk debilitating injury in a relatively insignificant part of the game where victory is likely due to a large lead?
I get that there are some instances where fans will get frustrated with a player who doesn’t always “hustle” because an out is all but assured. Maybe the player doesn’t know whether the ball was called fair or foul right away. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered whether he was running hard because either way, he would’ve gotten thrown out at second base. Maybe a dropped line drive still gets converted into an out whether he runs out of the box taking no chances, or he assumes he’s out because #$(&#!! (like you’ve never done that). But getting pissy over a “hustle” play and expecting a player to always be 100% is unrealistic at best, and in Bryce Harper’s case last night, potentially foolhardy.