The media is largely responsible for the public's perception of athletes. However, the media chooses to pitch a story to the audience and the publics perception follows. The result is giving an athlete greater amplification as players. This is most true with rookies in professional sports. Rookies have so much anticipation for the effect they are going to have in the league and rarely live up to the hype. This baseball season, no player has been more hyped and talked about than Bryce Harper.
The over hyped coverage of Harper took place long before he actually set foot in the big leagues. After gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine before putting on a major league jersey, Harper's image through media had been conceived.
When Harper played in his first nationally televised game, it became evident through the coverage of ESPN's telecast that Harper was the focus. The game and outcome between the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals was seemingly irrelevant as the Harper storyline unfolded. During the first inning, Harper was “welcomed to the big leagues” by a 90 mph Cole Hamels fastball that hit Harper square in the back. Under normal circumstances the message sent by Hamels would have been a story told by the media, but because it was Harper, it began to headline everything sports. The ESPN telecast at the time was irate that Hamels would do such a thing. Although the Nationals lost the game to the Phillies, it was played off as if they had won as their young star was the victim to some old-fashioned bullying. But after collecting two singles and a clever steal of home-plate, people begin to cement their preconceived beliefs that Harper is already a hall of famer.
Baseball is a game where numbers rarely lie. Each player is given the same opportunity to succeed and the success is determined by how well they do. It isn't a fluke that some players consistently are league leaders in home runs or batting average. It's on the basis of skill shown over a large sample size like the entire season.
A player like Harper may make a spectacular catch here and there that doesn't appear on the scorecard, but his hundreds of at bats over the course of a season will. Major League players are for the most part graded on their performance at the plate as the measure of success. At the professional level, everyone can field adequately.
Through August 16, 2012, here are tables of Harpers statistics this season and the MLB average hitting statistics this season.
On Base Percentage
The link between the success of the Nationals this season and the performance of Harper has been repeatedly linked, but it has been anything but that. During their most recent stretch of 10 wins in 11 games, Harper collected only four hits in 31 at bats. As of August 17th, his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is less than 1; ranking him in the lower half of the starters on the teams WARs. Additionally, credit for the National's success is undoubtedly because of their pitching staff's performance. With a league leading team ERA of 3.27, the National's are getting it done on the defensive side of the ball, which has resulted in the leagues most wins this season.
One may argue it is his presence, but lets be frank; veterans are not going to show up to the ballpark and listen to the advice of a teenager, particularly when he is having his own struggles. His work ethic may be commendable along with the spirit he plays the game with, but what fans and teammates alike desire most is results. The question “What have you done for me lately?” always seems to arise, and by the looks of it, Harper has not done much for the Nationals as a team lately.
Harper could be a great player, but right now the statistics do not lie. Even 75 percent of the way through the baseball season, he is still receiving too much coverage for his mediocre numbers at the dish. The coverage has many fans in a rage that other players could be better marketing their personal product with successes they are having at the major league level, rather than the perpetuating story of Harper and his mediocrity. Although players like an Andrew McCutchen are having MVP-like seasons, a majority of the coverage still goes into the creation of personalities and an attempt to iconocize players before they have served their duty. Harper may be the media's golden boy as an attempt to bring in younger viewers, but it is success that we the fans want to see, not publicizing a player for their effort. I want results and to see the players who deserve coverage for their skills and professionalism. I don't want to see a teenager who, thus far, has been all talk.