Going all-out is what makes Harper who he is
Nationals outfielder risks injury by playing hard but there is no halfway in his game
Here's wishing Bryce Harper a speedy recovery and an unchanged approach.
There was bad news for Harper and his Washington Nationals on Monday. As first reported by ESPN.com, Harper's left thumb injury involves a torn ligament that will require surgery. He is expected to be out at least two months.
Typically, Harper suffered the injury while going all-out. In this case, on a bases-loaded triple Friday night against the Padres. The thumb was injured when Harper made a headfirst slide into third.
There was nothing wrong with that triple, that slide, that approach.
"You can't question the way the kid plays the game," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "He plays the game hard."
Harper may be only 21, but he has typically been old-school in his approach. Charlie Manuel, when he was managing the Phillies, had old-school covered. He was asked which contemporary player played the game the way it should be played.
"The left fielder for Washington," Manuel said, meaning Harper.
There was one notable break in that wall-to-wall effort earlier this month, when Harper failed to run out a comebacker to the pitcher. Williams removed Harper from the game. Harper said the manager had done the right thing. All parties rapidly moved on from the episode. It stood as a surprise, in that it differed so dramatically from Harper's usual level of effort, but it was not an issue that festered, or lingered, or created a long-term problem.
Harper has suffered other injuries as a result of his nonstop approach. He missed 44 games last season. Harper had a left knee injury, the result of running into an outfield wall at Dodger Stadium. The risk of injury will continue as long as he plays all-out, but neither the player nor the club would be well-served by having Harper turn into somebody else, somebody less, on the field.
Harper is running, but it's not like he's running for office. His public comments can be candid, perhaps too candid for his own good. But that candor beats the alternative.
When the Nats played the Angels last week, the comparisons with Mike Trout were inevitable, although not necessarily helpful to Harper. Asked what he thought about comparisons between the two players, Harper didn't pull any punches.
"I really don't care," he said. "I couldn't care less about opinions. If they like him, they like him. If they like me, they like me. If they like both of us, then they know the game. If they don't, they're crazy."
There is no question that Harper's injury damages the prospects of the Nationals. They were already missing third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who is out with his own thumb injury, a fracture, suffered when he was diving into a base.
Catcher Wilson Ramos is out with a broken left hand. Starting pitcher Doug Fister is on a rehab assignment and may be back by next week.
Nate McLouth will be Harper's primary replacement in left. McLouth is a useful player, but there is no replacing the dynamic quality that Harper brings with him.
After this latest injury, there will undoubtedly be calls for Harper to ditch the headfirst slides and/or generally curtail his full-tilt style of play. Swell. If he did that, he would be somebody other than Bryce Harper. That is not what will win for the Nats.
There are no halfway measures in the game of Bryce Harper. If the Nationals and Harper are fortunate, he will return from the thumb injury as quickly as possible. And he will return playing the way Bryce Harper is supposed to play: full-speed ahead.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.