It was like the shot heard ’round the world when ESPN The Magazine published on-line their interview with Bryce Harper. ‘Bryce Harper’ became the number 1 “trending” words on Twitter! His Google Trends soared! Bryce was being quoted as saying, “Baseball is tired.” It sure got Richard “Goose” Gossage’s underwear pulled too tight as he exploded on his own self-imagined images of ‘bat flips’ and verbally attacked Jose Bautista, and Goose Gossage had this to say about Bryce Harper “You’re going to let a young punk like Bryce Harper dictate this game. Are you serious?” ! Sports Talk Radio was monopolized with this subject.
It all began with this ESPN The Magazine groundbreaking article written by Tim Keown titled, “Sorry Not Sorry” with some candid quotes from Bryce Harper that resonated with many sports fans of all ages while others took offense to what they perceived as the message. Bryce has championed for years that baseball has to step up their game and do a better job of promoting the game, and unfortunately you still have an old guard and some current players that don’t want to change the way they do things and especially with the unwritten rules. What unwritten rules you may ask—the unwritten rules that say you don’t show up another player. Bryce’s words have certainly been open to interpretation and what did Bryce really intend his words to mean? Bryce might just be referring to exhibiting some spontaneous emotion. That’s all. Allow some more emotion in the game. Bryce respects baseball, and the history of the game and especially the players who have come before him. Harper wouldn’t desecrate that which is almost considered sacred and hallowed grounds between the limed lines on a baseball field.
It took a team at the headquarters of ESPN The Magazine to coordinate the writing of their article that really was conceptualized years ago about the youth movement in baseball that started with Bryce and Trout in 2012. Deputy editor of ESPN The Magazine, Ty Wegner, said they chose Bryce Harper for this article as the “standard bearer of the youth movement.” Paul Kix is a senior editor at ESPN The Magazine, and he said there was very little access around Bryce and it took 2 1/2 years of trying to get the access to Bryce to write an exclusive. It was Stacey Pressman of ESPN who was the persistent force behind doing this story as they could have given up a year ago on the idea. Keown, who wrote the article, “Sorry Not Sorry” had written about Boras clients before and had written about Stephen Strasburg which made him the perfect writer to do this. Keown was once on the San Francisco Giants beat and has dealt with the likes of Barry Bonds.
This ESPN The Magazine interview would happen in a clandestine location at 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon at a batting cage in Las Vegas where Bryce would be with his father after their BP session for their meeting to start the interview.
Keown met on-site with Bill Gluvna, who works for the Boras Corporation, and on Keown’s arrival at 4pm at the warehouse, Keown said he was told by Gluvna, “Bryce is cool with you watching [his batting cage routine] but he doesn’t want his routine reported on. If you afford us that courtesy, that would be great.”
Keown afterwards said, “There was some cool stuff. I like some of the things he did. Some unique kinds of drills. He probably hit for 30, 45 minutes. We sat and talked for probably about an hour and a half. You know, it was great. I don’t think he expected to talk that long. As a matter of fact, I heard afterwards [Bryce] said ‘I spent a lot more time then I expected to.’ He got into a little bit of a story teller mode. Bryce has achieved [Validation]. That validation made him a little more comfortable. He was speaking from a position of strength and confidence and was a little reluctant to tell his story before.”
Keown went on to say that, “Bryce was part of this travel ball revolution. A travel ball mercenary. He would go all over the country. People all knew who he was.” Keown said Bryce’s dad would get a call on a Tuesday to be at a baseball tournament in Georgia for a team and the team would generally pay his travel. He was the best 12 year old in the country. Keown said he wanted to write more but was restricted to his ‘word count’. (Our Editor’s note confirmed through coaching a high level DC travel team that travel ball mercenaries existed where you could add players in tournaments who weren’t part of your standard team, and this was allowed under AABC rules, and Bryce Harper was among a few kids who were known nationally who could be available to join your team for a tournament. It didn’t happen often as it was expensive for the team to do and you usually would add a kid from your region and it was a common practice for a weekend tournament. He knew the legend of Bryce Harper from a tournament they played in 2006. Word travels fast from field to field at these tournaments. Bryce was the ‘kid’ hitting home runs over the fence.)
— Stacey Pressman (@slp1313) March 10, 2016
“Baseball’s tired,” Harper told Keown. “It’s a tired sport because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair.”
Steph Curry and Bryce Harper need to make some babies for America pic.twitter.com/rkt348H2Sa
— Ben Pritchett (@naturalslugger) February 8, 2016
“If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go, ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time. That’s what makes the game fun. You want kids to play the game, right? What are kids playing these days? Football, basketball. Look at those players – Steph Curry, LeBron James. It’s exciting to see those players in those sports. Cam Newton – I love the way Cam goes about it. He smiles, he laughs. It’s that flair. The dramatic.”
Bryce will continue expressing himself as will others around him. Reach McManaman of Arizona Central wrote that he asked Matt Williams about Bryce’s thoughts in the ESPN The Magazine article and Matt Williams said, “Harper has a point. Emotion, he added, is a great thing.”
Matt Williams knows Bryce and there is mutual respect there.
“Well, I think that the game evolves, so what I would care about with regard to the infield guys here or anybody that I coach is the intensity with which they play,” Williams said Friday before the Diamondbacks met the Royals at Surprise Stadium.
“Emotion is expressed many different ways. I did it, just in a different way. The thing that I care about and continue to care about is the way they actually have desire to win and desire to play the game on that particular day.
“How they choose to express it is their own prerogative. But as long as they’re out there with a team aspect in mind and they want to win, that’s all you can care about.”
McManaman wrote that Matt Williams was reminded that he isn’t afraid to chirp at players on opposing teams if they take too long rounding the bases after hitting a home run or if an opposing pitcher stares down one of his hitters. He’s squawked at plenty of them in his time as a coach. “That’s just my intensity,” Matt Williams said. “It happens.”
This discussion about Bryce will continue of course and change is slow in baseball; however, Commissioner Manfred has made connecting with the youth a priority but Bryce’s agenda may or may not align with Manfred’s agenda. Our suggestion is a roundtable after the season with the leaders of this game because connecting with the youth is vital.
Bryce’s current manager, Dusty Baker, did not want to specifically address the ESPN article; however, he did want to talk about Bryce’s understanding of the history of baseball, “He’s a very knowledgeable young man. He’s more knowledgeable than anybody his age out there in that room as far as baseball players, history. A lot of guys out there don’t know who this guy is, who that guy is. He’s got a pretty good idea. I like that.”
Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper did a joint interview with the “Jim’s” as in Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette yesterday for MLB Network Radio on Sirius/XM, and to our surprise they didn’t air any discussion of the ESPN The Magazine article and focused on other subjects.
— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) March 11, 2016
Right off the bat we learned from Scherzer that the ‘Choc-Off’ celebrations would no longer include Hershey’s chocolate sauce, “That was last year. That was just a 1 year thing. We will look for a new way to have fun in ’16.” Bryce then added, “Max will do a great job on picking [the new celebration].”
Best part of the MLB Network Radio interview was Max joking about being the forgotten man in the offense since he hit .220 last year that got everyone laughing. Bryce was asked what he will be working on this year to improve. He thought it would be baserunning.
Bowden asked the question that everyone asks since the reports of dysfunction and toxicity, “What’s the vibe like in the clubhouse?” Max answered first, “We love it! It’s awesome! We have a good time. We clown on each other pretty good. You should see what JDub looks like in there. It’s amazing. He’s beautiful, soooo. There’s non-stop laughter everywhere… We have a lot of fun.” Bryce then answered, “To reiterate that, if it’s Max, if it’s Zim or JDub or anybody in our clubhouse. We have an absolute blast in there. So, for people who talk bad about our clubhouse, or whatever they want to say—that’s on them! Whatever they want to talk about—that’s on them. It’s all outside noise. We don’t listen to it. We have a blast with what we do inside and out of the clubhouse. And there’s no other place I want to be walking into then this clubhouse, our team is absolutely incredible in there. We have an absolute blast.”