Bryce Harper could benefit from toning it down a notch

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper watches batting practice before a MLB spring training game against the New York Yankees in Tampa, Florida, March 5, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

In a Class A South Atlantic League on Monday night, Washington Nationals top prospect Bryce Harper hit a home run to right-center field, stood at home plate to admire the longball before making his way around the base paths and then blew opposing pitcher Zach Neal a kiss while trotting down the third base line.

If you only read that opening sentence, then Harper sounds like immature teenager who is only holding himself back when it comes to advancing through Washington’s minor league system. If you hear the rest of the story then…Harper sounds like an immature teenager who is only holding himself back when it comes to advancing through Washington’s minor league system.

Some fans are giving Harper a free pass because apparently Neal was the one who said something to the outfielder as he made his way around the bases. In other words, Neal provoked Harper to blow him a kiss and therefore, Harper was somewhat justified in what he did. (Never mind the fact that Neal only scolded the young outfielder because Harper stood at home plate to admire his home run.)

But whether or not you like Harper’s cockiness or are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s so young, it doesn’t change the fact that actions like these will only hold him back in the long run.

Look, he’s a teenager and teenagers make poor decisions. That’s just the way it is. Let’s keep in mind that Harper is only 18 and isn’t benefiting from going off to college to mature for four-plus years. He’s been the center of attention for years now and is already a millionaire before his 21st birthday.

But the point is to see this kid play in the major leagues as soon as possible. And whether he was provoked or not, blowing kisses at an opposing pitcher doesn’t give the Nationals confidence to promote him. They’re not just looking for a star player – they want Harper to be a solid clubhouse presence as well. How can they rely on him to be a well-rounded player if they breeze him through the minors without teaching him what it’s like to be a professional ballplayer first?

Some people can take or leave baseball’s “unwritten rules.” Personally, I favor some and think others are rather ridiculous. (For example, not being able to steal when you’re up by X amount of runs in the late innings. Hey, man up and throw those runners out if you don’t want them taking a free 90 feet on you.)

But whether you’re in favor of those unwritten rules or not, it doesn’t change the fact that baseball has always been a game that polices itself. Granted, times have changed and Major League Baseball has cracked down on retaliation plays. But if Harper doesn’t cool it he’s going to find a couple of fastballs in his ribs. I’m one of the few who appreciates an athlete’s cockiness but at the end of the day, showing up a pitcher isn’t beneficial to anyone – especially for a youngster like Harper who is trying to make his way to the big show.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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