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Talk about coming out of left field. Two Washington Nationals officials are quoted in a new Sports Illustrated article about Nationals' top prospect Bryce Harper and compare the level of scrutiny he faces to that of Jackie Robinson. Yes, that Jackie Robinson. You know, the one that broke the Major League Baseball color barrier and whose entrance into baseball drew death threats and hateful insults.
“Harper, a travel-baseball phenom out of Las Vegas at 10, an SI cover boy at 16 and a $9.9 million signee at 17, is the most well-known minor leaguer since Michael Jordan. But Jordan was a novelty, not a prospect. Harper is the most scrutinized prospect since….
“Jackie Robinson,” says Tony Tarasco, a former major leaguer and a Nationals minor league coordinator who has become Harper's player-development Yoda. “You have to go back to Jackie Robinson to find anybody who goes through this much scrutiny. It wasn't like this for [Stephen] Strasburg. Wasn't like this for Alex Rodriguez.”
Jackie Robinson? Surely Doug Harris, the Nationals' director of player development, with 21 years in pro ball as a player, scout and executive, would find a different comparable for Harper. Independent of Tarasco, Harris offered, “This is really unfair and it's totally different, but if I can make a comparison to one guy that has been scrutinized like this, it would be Jackie Robinson. And it's unfair because it was a different standard. He was under a microscope in an era when we didn't have Internet, didn't have cellphones.
“Now, Jackie Robinson had his life threatened. I'm not comparing Bryce to that. But as far as nonstop scrutiny? Absolutely. Day to day.”
Did they really just sat that? Yep, and to one of the finest baseball writers we have in Tom Verducci. It even appears Doug Harris, the guy that's in charge of development for every Nationals' player, is equating the added scrutiny brought on by technology like cell phones and the internet to the added scrutiny of becoming the first African-American ballplayer in a country that was still very racially intolerant.
Not to mention that completely separate, the described “Yoda” of Harper's development, Tony Tarasco, made the same comparison. Granted, Harris acknowledged it was a really unfair and totally different comparison but if you believe that then why make the comparison in the first place?
About the only thing I can find in common between Bryce Harper and Jackie Robinson is that in 2009, Harper won the Jackie Robinson award for being the best baseball player in high school. Robinson's granddaughter Sonya Pankey presented Harper with that award back then and I wonder what she would have to say about the comparison.
Remember, Harper is the same kid that dropped out of high school after his sophomore year to get his GED. That allowed him to play college baseball for one season and then enter the 2010 MLB draft at the age of 17. By the age of 18 he had signed a 5-yr contract for $9.9 million. While Harper's career has been under a lot of scrutiny, he's also benefited from opportunities Robinson never had.
Robinson didn't have the choice to end high school early, play for any college he wanted, and make close to $10 million dollars before his 23rd birthday. In fact when Robinson was 23, the age Harper will be signing his second big money major league contract, he was drafted into the army as a result of World War II.
Bryce Harper's every move is under an intense microscope between all the hype and the internet, twitter, camera phones and all the things that exists now that didn't in the 1940's. But its not about what Harper is dealing with and what Robinson didn't have to. This about everything Robinson went through that Harper and athletes of any race will never have to go through again. Because trust me, I think Robinson would happily trade death threats for a couple of angry tweets and blog posts.
I'm sure the Nationals' representatives didn't mean for their quotes to come off the way they did or perhaps they will say they were misquoted or “misrembered”. However, the bottom line is it was a totally crass and inappropriate comparison to make and one that Tony Tarasco and Doug Harris will wish they could take back.
It will be interesting to see how the Nationals organization and specifically ownership choose to respond to this incident. What do you think about what Tarasco and Harris said was it fair or foul? Share your opinions in the comments below or on twitter @Jake_Langbecker