Seeing the aftermath of the Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper altercation has brought to my attention the generational shift in the game of baseball. It seems very clear that some people are adamantly against what Papelbon did and some are in his corner. The difference of opinion is clear. The younger baseball fans and the media in general are highly against Papelbon’s actions. While older fans and former players are coming to the defense of the closer who has been followed by turmoil his entire career.
What Jonathan Papelbon did was absolutely wrong. Let me set that straight. He deserves to be called out for his actions. You should never put your hands on a person and in this case a teammate. However I question the time and place in which he confronted Harper, more than the actual fight itself. In the same respect that Papelbon was wrong, so was Bryce Harper in his continued lack of hustle on the field. Papelbon was calling him out for not hustling, but was totally disrespecting Harper by doing it on the top step of the dugout. The situation is a perfect example of two wrongs, not making a right.
This was not the first time Harper was questioned about his lack of hustle. In April of 2014 Harper was benched by manager Matt Williams for his lack of hustle. Harper jogged to first base after grounding back to the pitcher and was pulled from the game. Harper had been battling an injury at the time, but the Nationals manager immediately indicated the benching was for his lack of effort on the field. Not what you want to see from your franchise player. Harper failed to even reach and touch the bag while grounding out.
The game of baseball is an absolute grind. Playing in 150 plus games a year can take a horrible toll on your body. Obviously players from time to time, jog out a ground ball. There really is no wrong in doing so. It is however a personal pet peeve of mine when I see a player run at 75% down the line. Hustling is something that most players just don’t do in this day and age. The game has changed and with that change, huge debates will result on the ethics of the game.
So was Papelbon out of line for his actions? It is clear that he was. He should not have put his hands on Harper no matter what was said between the two. However if this fight didn’t happen for the world to see, I question whether Papelbon would have been suspended at all. When you get 25 competitive professional athletes together and they all have different opinions you are going to get situations like this. Plain and simple. Harper needs direction like this from a veteran player in order to complete his maturity process in the game.
There are many locker room fights that happen that are completely kept in-house. Boys will be boys is how Harper described the conflict right after. He spoke about it and compared it to brothers fighting. That is probably the best comparison to this whole situation, but the argument of who is right is what is up for great debate regarding this topic.
Here are some baseball quotes regarding hustle
- “It takes no talent to hustle”
- “Hustle beats talent when talent doesn’t hustle”
- “What you lack in talent can be made up in desire, hustle and giving 110 percent all the time”
- “If you don’t run to your position, someone else will”
- “There are three outs in baseball… out hustle, out think and out perform”
- “The difference in winning or losing is most often in not quitting”
All of those quotes are excellent in summing up the importance of hustling. Still to this day most people still don’t get that fact. The last quote basically sums it all up. In not hustling and in a sense failing to do so, you are in fact quitting. That one play is just a single moment in the game, but that type of behavior is not what you want from your best player. The above quotes have one other key word in most of them. The word is talent. With that single word, many believe a player’s ability outweighs the necessity of hustling.
Harper is the best player on the Nationals team, and he might be the best player in the whole league. With that talent comes responsibility to the fans and most importantly the players he plays the game of baseball with. Quitting on a play and conceding the fact you just made an out is contagious. If Harper plays the game that way then others will emulate his actions. Kids just learning the game of baseball will emulate him. There are many reasons to try to copy the player Bryce Harper is, however his actions in jogging to first base are not one of them. He has plenty of time to rectify that.
You must respect the game of baseball or it will bring you to your knees. Nobody, absolutely nobody, is immune to this. That is something that is often learned the hard way by ballplayers. Harper is most definitely embarrassed by this altercation. It should never have happened, and he probably feels that way. Quite simply if Harper played the game “the right way” nothing would have come up and his break out season wouldn’t have any tarnish on it. The 22-year-old outfielder is something very special and a performance like this will educate the young man even more. He will definitely think twice before dogging it, that you can count on.
Playing the game “the right way” is a concept that itself is up for much debate. Old school fans that chew tobacco and spit in a paper cup will tell you the game has to be played a certain way. They will speak of unwritten rules and respecting the game. The modern era of baseball has seen a growth in the sport worldwide and with that growth a certain amount of flash has come with it. Like it or not.
The bat flip has been the center of much controversy as in recent years more and more players are flipping their bats after hitting home runs. Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson would not have stood for this. Each of them would be suspended every other start with the reaction modern hitters display after hitting a dinger. Each pitcher commanded respect, and if a hitter “showed them up”, they were going to get hit. Plain and simple. The game policed itself in that matter. Hitters would occasionally take offense to getting hit after hot dogging it, but more often than not, they would just take the beaning and move on to first base. End of discussion.
Well that is not the case anymore. Every single Major League Baseball game you watch, you will see ballplayers jogging down the line. It’s painfully obvious things are not going to change. That is just part of the game. Just like players who strike out 150 times a season, the game has changed. Older fans and former players are just going to have to adapt. Their love for the game easily outweighs the changes they do not admire.
Jonathan Papelbon is a grade one piece of work. He instigated this whole thing by singling out Harper for his lack of hustle. He might have been correct in his judgement of Harper, but he had no clue in his actions of addressing him. It’s obvious Papelbon is a mess. That whole Manny Machado fiasco, in which Papelbon intentionally threw at him sums up this pitcher’s character. Machado hit a home run off the Nationals and apparently Papelbon took offense of him staring too long at it or whatever. Point is, if he wanted to drill Machado for that, he should have on the first pitch and in the lower part of Machado’s body. Instead he chose to go up and in around the head area. He missed, Machado reacted and his point was made.
Papelbon then threw a breaking ball the next pitch. Alright, we are back to playing baseball or at least that is what we thought. Nope. As Papelbon proceeded to drill Machado up and in with the next pitch. He instigated the whole situation and there could have easily been a benches clearing brawl. That type of renegade behavior and self-justification is uncalled for. Papelbon might have been correct in calling out Harper, but he went overboard in his approach. Jonathan Papelbon thrives on the drama. He always has. He wore out his welcome in Boston and Philadelphia for his antics on and off the field. Papelbon knows the correct way to play the game, he just has no clue how to enforce the rules.
So the generational shift in baseball is in full swing. Like it or not, baseball purists and their way of thinking about the game is coming to a close. The game has always evolved and mirrors life to a tee. Fans and players must adjust to the new modern game of baseball or just plain and simply get left in the dust. I for one hope that hustle and determination are always rewarded within the game. The game of baseball is a child’s sport. We often forget that, as do the players because of the business part of the game. The game at its most natural is a pure sport. It does not need much flash or drama to make it pleasing to the common fan. Yes the game must evolve, but at the same time IT MUST preserve the history for which it came from.