On Monday, Bryce Harper’s first day back in the Washington Nationals’ lineup after missing 57 games with a thumb injury, a long line formed outside the ballpark for his bobblehead doll.
Inside Nationals Park, the hirsute Las Vegas wunderkind was telling the D.C. baseball writers who should play where in the Washington lineup.
This was after his manager, former UNLV star Matt Williams, posted a lineup card that had Ryan Zimmerman at third base, Anthony Rendon at second base, Harper in left field and second baseman Danny Espinosa spitting sunflower seeds on the bench.
Espinosa, from what I’ve read, is Harper’s buddy.
“I think (Zimmerman) should be playing left. Rendon’s a good third baseman; he should be playing third. We’ve got one of the best second basemen in the league in Danny Espinosa,” Harper told the D.C. baseball writers.
“Of course, we want the best-hitting lineup in there. (But) I think Rendon playing third and Zim playing left is something that would be good for this team. I think that should be what’s happening.”
If that’s what was happening, it would put Harper in center field, where his boyhood idol, Mickey Mantle, played, where John Fogerty wanted to play. It would mean Denard Span, Washington’s best defensive center fielder, would take Espinosa’s place spitting sunflower seeds on the bench.
Harper said he learned he was playing left field and batting sixth in that night’s game through Twitter.
Harper did not mention Denard Span when he started pontificating on who should be playing where. He didn’t have to. The D.C. baseball writers, knowing a good story when it falls into their laps, did it for him.
So now it’s official: Every baseball fan over the age of 30 (with the exception of this older guy and his wife who were pictured waiting in the long line for Harper’s bobblehead) has jumped off the wunderkind’s bandwagon and onto Mike Trout’s bandwagon, because Trout is OK with letting Mike Scioscia make out the lineup card without contributing his .02.
Older baseball fans did not like it when Harper failed to run out a routine ground ball earlier this season. They liked it when Williams benched him. If I had to guess, they probably also did not care much for Harper’s Gatorade commercial that came out when he was on the disabled list. It seemed to be geared toward a younger audience.
Because Harper is only 21, and his career batting average is only .272, and the most runs he has driven in during a season is 59 — nine fewer than Nate Schierholtz drove in for the Cubs last year — most older baseball fans believe Harper should just shut up and play ball.
Even Mark DeRosa, one of Harper’s former teammates, said that after the D.C. baseball writers wrote their stories and posted their blogs while the TV guys were standing in line for bobbleheads.
A lot of people over 30 have been writing me emails, wanting to know where I stand on 21-year-olds making out lineup cards.
I’m sort of conflicted.
I’m over 30 myself — way over, like Julio Franco — so I believe there’s a certain amount of respect that should be shown to one’s baseball elders. But I also write about sports. It’s refreshing when one speaks his mind in the dugout instead of on Twitter.
Maybe this Harper-Williams fracas will evolve into Reggie Jackson vs. Billy Martin, or something like that, with the difference being that Billy would never defend Reggie the next day to the baseball writers, which is what Matt Williams did.
People in my business love straws that stir drinks. We also love guys who throw them down before punching marshmallow salesmen in hotel archways.
As for Harper being too big for his britches, perhaps he’s just auditioning to be the Nationals’ player-manager. The Kid from Left Field III.
I’m joking, of course, but only sort of, because Williams’ contract is only for two years, and because there is precedent — people forget Lou Boudreau was only 25 when he became the Cleveland Indians’ player-manager in 1942.
In 1948, Boudreau batted .355, drove in 106 runs and was named American League Most Valuable Player — AND managed the Tribe to 97 victories, including four in the World Series. That was Cleveland’s first championship in 28 years; it hasn’t won another one since.
I’ll bet if they gave away bobbleheads back in his day, a lot of baseball fans — young and old — would have stood in line at old Municipal Stadium for one cast in his likeness.
People also forget that Lou Boudreau invented the infield shift, for when Ted Williams came to bat. Most old-timers will tell you that when Boudreau made out his lineup card, the other Indians didn’t complain about it to the Cleveland baseball writers.
Times were different then.
In 1948, guys ran hard on routine ground balls, and they didn’t have Gatorade commercials geared toward a younger audience.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.