White Sox: The One Concern with Bryce Harper

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: Bryce Harper #34 during the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Nationals Park on July 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: Bryce Harper #34 during the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Nationals Park on July 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

White Sox could sign superstar free agent but many fans should be aware of how far player has come in working on his reputation which could be a concern.

Last week, Tim Kurkjian noted that the White Sox were reportedly among the top three teams most likely to receive Bryce Harper’s services before the 2019 season starts. Arguably the hottest free agent in baseball, acquiring Harper would earn the White Sox a resurgence of energy from fans and instantly make them a candidate for a team to watch out for in the near future.

However, while the good of acquiring Harper would definitely seem to outweigh the bad, there is one criticism of Harper that many people haven’t discussed. It’s a concern that just may be a haunting figure of Harper’s past, one that everyone probably thinks of but few wish to talk about. Attitude.

Now, nobody is saying that Harper isn’t a team player or that he doesn’t have one of the most competitive personalities in baseball. However, there have been some criticisms during his relatively short career up until now (despite looking like a veteran to many, Harper is only 26 years old).

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Back in 2014, Washington Post reporter Mike Wise wrote an article titled “Bryce Harper is still just 21 years old, but he needs to stop acting like he’s 12”. In the article – which discussed several problems the Nationals were having at the time – Wise spoke somewhat disparagingly about Harper, noting that he had been benched by then manager Matt Williams for not running to first base, asserting that he’d struggled to handle the expectations of being so young yet so good, and suggesting that his actions even had veteran Jayson Werth privately rolling his eyes, wondering when this kid is going to thoroughly understand day-to-day professionalism.

"“[Bryce] Harper is not a bad guy, in the literal sense of a player whose surly attitude negatively affects an entire clubhouse. But he’s like that annoying little brother who is so unpredictable you simply can’t trust him to subjugate himself to the good of the group for any prolonged period of time.” Mike Wise"

Conversely, several individuals – including teammates – have noted improvements in Harper over time. One of them was former teammate and current Colorado Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond.

In the article entitled “In 2015, Bruce Harper’s Attitude Finally Caught Up with His Physical Prowess”,  James Wagner of the Washington Post pointed out:

"“Desmond said one of his proudest moments as Harper’s teammate was hearing Harper say he wanted to get rid of the old version of himself and improve. For example, Desmond noticed Harper was more often available to the media to talk about mistakes.” James Wagner"

It’s been four long years since the 2014 season in which Harper likely received the most criticism for his actions on the field, but critics continue to paint Harper in a villainous light. They point to the example of him getting into a fistfight with then-teammate Jonathan Papelbon as a red flag. Defenders, on the other hand, use the same “red flag” to demonstrate that Harper has come a long way:

"“One sign of Harper’s growing leadership was his recent call to Papelbon to clear the air.” Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals GM."

When he joined the Nationals in 2012, Harper was just 19 years old. He had received his GED early to complete his high school education so that he could start his college career, en route to a quick jump to the big leagues. While logical and ambitious, one of the concerns many would have with this is the idea that a player would be “too successful, too quickly”. In other words, they wouldn’t have gone through the rigors that other players go through en route to the major leagues that teach humility and wisdom.

Few people, at this time, are arguing that concerns like this should keep the White Sox or any team from taking a chance on Harper. If discussed at all, most would agree that the good outweigh the bad in this case. However, it’s worth noting that Harper will have to adjust to a potential situation in Chicago which in the long term will have a major upside if all goes according to plan, but might still have some growing pains along the way.

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As a clubhouse leader, the supercompetitive Harper will possibly have to adjust to a dynamic in Chicago where he might not win right away. This is an experience he didn’t generally have in Washington, where the team was a contender from the start. As such, the maturation process of Harper – should he join the White Sox – might just be tested a little bit more.