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]
This year has been monotonous, dull, and seemingly preordained, which is to say it has been the platonic ideal of a Yankees season. The last time the Yankees weren’t in first or second place in the AL East was April 8, when they were a game and a half behind the Blue Jays. The rest of the season, the team has been comfortably ensconced in playoff position, knowing, without much doubt, that they would be playing into October. There were a few bumps along the way, but minor ones, nothing to concern anyone. Some Yankees fans might grouse about the rotation, but all any fan can hope for his team is to secure a spot in the postseason, and the Yankees have had theirs secured for months. Most of the year has felt like one long twiddling of thumbs until the weather started getting cold and the games started mattering again.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what the Yankees 2010 season was like. And it’s what the Yankees 2009 season was like. For three consecutive years, the Yankees’ regular season has been an amiable slog. Since the 2008 season, the one year the Yankees missed the playoffs entirely (a disappointment the Yankees took in understated stride, spending $423.5 million on three free agents and opening the following April one of the most extravagant, expensive sports stadiums in the world), the Yankees haven’t had to worry about that happening. They haven’t had to worry about anything. It’s all you could want. Three boring, easy, calm, dominant years when drama is at a minimum. Boring, easy, calm, and dominant: This is becoming the signature trait of the Joe Girardi era. I feel comfortable now calling it an era.
[Photo Credit: N.Y Daily News]
And while we’re talking fathers and sons, do yourself a favor and check out this post by Glenn Stout:
Most of my memories of my father are somehow wrapped around a baseball – playing catch, him taking me to games or watching me pitch. It was the one way we really connected. But in high school I tore my rotator cuff and had to stop playing. We didn’t have as much to talk about after that.
Almost twenty years later my shoulder healed and I joined an adult league, one in Boston and later, another in Worcester County, where I then lived. For three or four years I was in both leagues and played fifty, sixty games each summer, usually pitching and playing first or third.
I’d call home every week and for the first time since I was a kid my conversations with my father were wrapped around baseball again. I sent him the ball after I won my first game since I was sixteen years old, and a t-shirt I got for making the league all-star team. I was as proud of each as of any book I’ve ever written, and so was he.
Fine work by Glenn, as usual.