Since they each broke into the league, there have been comparisons constantly made between Los Angeles Angels superstar outfielder Mike Trout and Washington Nationals superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. These comparisons lie not only in the numbers they put up, but in the persona that each brings to the table. However incorrect these comparisons may be, it’s impossible to deny that they are there.
In that lies an opportunity for Bryce Harper to completely seize a role for himself as one of baseball’s supremely talented villains. We don’t see too many villains around Major League Baseball that don’t involve Performance Enhancing Drugs, with the exception of really just Yasiel Puig, for whatever reason. Given recent events and a nonstop comparison to what Trout does on the opposite coast, Bryce Harper has a unique opportunity here.
There are polarizing players throughout baseball, but with the exception of a guy like Puig none of them really boast elite upside like Harper does. Bryce Harper hasn’t really done anything wrong to draw the ire of the collective fans throughout baseball, but he’s garnered something of a negative reputation in his brief time in the league. This stems mostly from his attitude or his arrogance or whatever the mainstream narrative attempts to portray him as.
Harper isn’t quite on that level with Trout, or even really Puig at this point. He’s still developing as a player and has dealt with some injuries. But everything we’ve seen from him to this point indicates that he has every tool and mental mindset necessary to be a superstar. He’s at an 8.1 fWAR in his career, to date, and is off to a very solid start that features him reaching base at a .347 clip. He’s not the five-tool talent that Mike Trout might be, but he can hit for serious power, do some things on the basepaths, and we’ve seen him flash the leather in the field.
Having recently been benched for a lack of hustle by his manager Matt Williams, Harper is once again faced with a negative narrative from the mainstream media. While he’s said the right things in response to what has already become an overplayed situation, it’s another thing going against him in regard to that whole “arrogant” narrative. This is a guy who knows he’s talented, though one may not necessarily label him as truly arrogant. Regardless, he plays the game in the hardest way possible and can do some special things on a baseball field. The attitude that he does demonstrate has the ability to drive people nuts, but so does his play in the field, in two completely different ways.
To date, the only villains we see throughout Major League Baseball are the guys that broke the rules. They are villains, in a literal sense. The game needs more guys like Bryce Harper to embrace that type of role. Guys that flash that attitude that takes people from being irked and messes with their emotions while doing incredible things on a baseball field. Harper has the ability to do that, and the game would be better because of it.
The best villains throughout sports are the guys that can mess with the emotions of nearly every single fan. A guy that will make people irate with things he says or does, or simply the way he carries himself, but then turn their heads and have them applauding an absolutely brilliant play. Especially in a sport like baseball, whose traditionalists so often focus on those who “don’t respect the game”. Bryce Harper embracing that role of villainy, while bringing his game to an elite level, would be an absolutely gorgeous sight to behold.