Bryce Harper Is Fighting Baseball’s Unwritten Rules, Not Just Other Players – Bleacher Report

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 29:  Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals looks on from the dugout prior to the start of his game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on May 29, 2017 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The thing with sports fights is they’re typically prompted by something most responsible adults would consider petty or childish. This is especially true in baseball, where beefs between players and teams can outlast the postseason, the offseason and even cross over into the new year.

In 2016, Rangers reliever Matt Bush plunked Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista in the ribs with a 98 mph fastball as retribution for his now-iconic bat flip against Texas the year before. Bautista, in turn, slid hard into second base to break up a throw by Rougned Odor, who, in turn, socked the Toronto outfielder in the face.

This season saw an equally silly example of baseball pettiness, when Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes threw at the head of Manny Machado after the Orioles third baseman spiked Dustin Pedroia, his cleat colliding with the Red Sox infielder’s leg. Some felt it was on purpose, but the motivations were, at best, ambiguous. Nevertheless, Barnes threw a 90 mph pitch at the head of one of the game’s best, brightest young stars. 

On Monday, San Francisco Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland took baseball pettiness to Amber Rose vs. Kanye West levels.

May 29, 2017; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Hunter Strickland (60) and Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) in a fight after Harper was hit by the pitch of Strickland during the eighth inning at AT&T Park. Man

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Strickland fired a pitch at the hip of All-Star Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, seemingly because Harper—a great baseball player—hit two big homers off the Giants reliever in the postseason almost three years ago, a series San Francisco won. That’s it. Three. Years. Ago. This would be like if Andre Iguodala went up to LeBron James and punched him in the face for blocking him in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals—in 2019.

Strickland’s feeling that the unwritten rules of baseball allowed him to drill Harper is an indictment of MLB‘s outdated playing culture, and Harper himself has been vocal in speaking out against such standards. The whole situation is stupid, really, and any normalization of a pitcher’s assaulting a fellow union member with a baseball is awful. To make things worse? Harper’s only means to fight back was to, well, literally fight back.

Mark Tenally/Associated Press

“If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go, ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time,'” Harper told ESPN in 2016. “That’s what makes the game fun. You want the kids to play the game, right?”

Harper was doing what he’s paid to do when he hit those home runs off Strickland in 2014, but the slugger’s showmanship—the hair, the brash personality, the outspokenness—is all part of a new wave of players attempting to change the sport’s culture. Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman, who views himself, along with Harper, as a leader in adapting baseball’s culture for the 21st century, says young players coming into the league need to be aware of dissonance among the old and new guard. 

“Old baseball might tell you that’s the wrong way to do things,” Stroman told Bleacher Report. “I’ve always tried to be myself, but I’ve gotten backlash from people telling me that I’m too emotional. But people who comment on that aren’t relevant enough to comment. It’s about remaining yourself and not [letting] old baseball culture creep into your ways and shut you down.” 

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 18: Marcus Stroman #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays is congratulated by teammates after hitting a fourth inning solo home run against the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on May 18, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Im

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The easier thing for Harper on Monday would’ve been to shut down, since Harper had much more to lose from this situation than Strickland. Harper will be forced to sit four games, consider the negative impact for his sponsors and, given his reputation as a “punk” among some circles of baseball fans, will have to deal with the blowback from those who already dislike him.

Strickland, on the other hand, doesn’t have endorsement deals to worry about, doesn’t have a reputation to consider and is suspended for what amounts to a marginal number of games in baseball’s languid 162-game schedule. After purposefully hurling a (nearly) rock-hard object 98 mph at another man.

Harper’s charge at the mound and thrown punches (and feeble helmet toss) represented more than just an attempt to settle a dispute rooted in insecurity. It represented a charge at baseball’s sophomoric unwritten rules of penalty and retribution. Harper has been a target since the day he became a Sports Illustrated cover boy, and Monday, he’d had enough.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Co., since taking over for Bud Selig, have publicly and privately stated their desire to more strictly punish those who participate in this type of dangerous behavior. But, as many have pointed out, the severity of the punishments is rarely enough to curb the behavior, evidenced by Strickland’s six-game penalty.

One pitch in the wrong place can dramatically change the career, let alone the life of a player (just ask Tony Conigliaro), and is it stands, the penalties rarely match the transgressions.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Harper’s charge toward the mound embodies the new wave’s retaliation against the establishment, against blind adherence to dangerous, outdated rules. They do not belong in today’s game. Baseball needs to adapt to stay relevant. In the age where the attention span of young fans often lasts no longer than a 10-second Snapchat from a friend, the support of culture that punishes flashes of individuality or emotion only further hurts the sport’s future while attempting to preserve its past.

A brawl certainly isn’t the best way to showcase the game of baseball, but Harper’s charge at Strickland is the biggest revolt we’ve seen from a star against “old baseball.” According to Stroman, the culture is slowly starting to shift as more young players embrace the groundwork set by players like Harper. But baseball is an old sport, and change never comes easy, so those players will need to continue fighting back. Though, hopefully, not always with fists.

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