What makes Harper far more anticipated than your typical phenom is a sense that he not only recognizes the vastness of his potential but also feels plenty comfortable telling you about it. One minute he informs me that “baseball needs more superstars.” The next, while discussing Albert Pujols signing with the Angels, he offers thoughtlessly, “Albert and I know each other and respect each other.” In a sport in which “paying your dues” is practically in the job description—an institution that once made Michael Jordan ride around in a bus for five months—Harper seems to have emerged fully formed to piss off the baseball establishment.
On his way up, he didn’t shrink from his sometime moniker, the LeBron of baseball. He poured vats of eye black on his face to make himself look like a professional wrestler. In a minor league game last year, after hitting a home run, he blew a kiss to the opposing pitcher. (Harper tells me, “It was an ‘eff you’ from the mouth.”) That’s the sort of business that will get a major leaguer a fastball in his ear. As Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt put it: “I would think at some point the game itself, the competition on the field, is going to have to figure out a way to police this young man.”
In other words: Harper is awesome—exactly what baseball needs. He’s essentially a throwback: a cocky, ornery cuss who can back it all up. Ty Cobb minus the racism and chaw, Lenny Dykstra before the bankruptcy. He tells me Pete Rose, a.k.a. Charlie Hustle, is his favorite player and that “I want to play the game hard. I want to ram it down your throat, put you into left field when I’m going into second base.”
[Photo Via The Baseball Analysts]