Ethics Hero: Washington Nationals Star Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper

The knock on Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ 22 year-old burgeoning superstar who will soon be named the 2015 NL MVP, is that he’s immature, cocky, and self-destructive. But he seems to have proven himself to be far less so than the same sportswriters who have so often leveled such doubts about his character. This is good news for the Nationals and their fans, and also for suckers like me, who believe that baseball stars have an obligation to be good role models.

I wrote here about the late September, mid-game dugout fight between Harper and Jonathan Papelbon, a late season acquisition by the Nats whose arrival as a new bullpen ace coincided with team’s collapse in the National League East race. Post hoc ergo propter hoc being as seductive a logical fallacy as it is, Nats fans and, less excusably, the D.C. sports press blamed much of the Nats failure on the ex-Phillies, ex-Red Sox closer, along with manager Matt Williams, who was fired immediately after the regular season. Papelbon was also blamed for the fight, which is fair: he started it.

I noted in a follow-up post:

The ethics pressure is on Harper now, ironically enough. The Nats will dump Papelbon if their superstar and likely NL MVP wants that, and it will cost them.The pitcher has a contract obligating them to pay him $11,000,000 next season, and after this ugly mess his trade value will be close to zero. Yet Papelbon is one of the most reliable elite closers in baseball. He has never had a truly bad year, and he has never been hurt. Nor has he ever been regarded as “clubhouse poison”; he’s just a bit of a jerk, in a sport that has many of them. The Nats need a closer, they don’t need to pay $11 million dollars for nothing, and the best for all parties would be for Harper to take Papelbon out for a beer and agree to a truce, then to tell the team that he wants the reliever to stay.There are plenty precedents in baseball history for star players who hated each other’s guts playing well together on the field and leading their teams to championships: heck, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig couldn’t stand each other. We will see if Harper, 22 and a bit of a jerk himself, can rise to the challenge.

Well, he did:

“Since the end of the season, Bryce Harper has reached out to Jonathan Papelbon to make sure their relationship as teammates is functional next season…“Papelbon and Harper are fine together,” one person inside the Nationals said, referring to Harper’s phone call. “Harp just wants to win. All he cares about is that we have a 45-save relief pitcher who’s going to help us.”

That’s called putting professionalism above emotions, letting go of pride and anger for the greater good, and not taking advantage of  power and popularity for selfish reasons, even though you can. It’s also called  humility and forgiveness.

I think the Nats finally have a real team leader in Bryce Harper.

32 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Washington Nationals Star Bryce Harper

  1. It’s very difficult to remember the correct language when talking about current social trigger issues. I made the mistake of calling being gay a “lifestyle” several years ago and I really still don’t get the outrage. Maybe it’s ignorance, but maybe it’s also being in your own life and not being immersed in outrage politics. Why do we need to spend a lot of time learning what people want to be called when no matter how “correct” you might get the words, it’s not the words but the “opposition” they hate? I don’t see outrage warriors spending any emotional energy worrying about what their opposition prefers to be called.

      • I was wondering if you had meant to be commenting in the previous baseball thread. Good comment! (and follow-up comment) You show more humility than “ethics hero” Harper, in my opinion.

    • “Lifestyle” communicates the false accusation of choice, which is crucial to the accusation of sin. A church that held that having dark skin was a sin would be derided, because it would mean that a human being can be born a sinner. If it is accepted that gays have no choice, and trans individuals as well, then that removes the organized religion, “Love the person, hate the conduct” mantra. The person is, the person does not choose. “Lifestyle” is not only an insult, it’s a misrepresentation and an unfair framing of the controversy.

      • Jack, you are quibbling. The person chooses because the person is. Believe me, it works that way for all sinners. “Misrepresenting” and “framing unfairly?” No. “Insult?” Hell no. It’s plain truth.

        • The person chooses because the person is? That’s where you want to hang your hat? Comments like that is why you lost.

          If you accept that the state of being is in fact a sin, as opposed to the act, then expand Jack’s hypothetical. He thought that a religion that considered dark skin sinful would be derided…. Let’s take that a step further: What if all light skin was considered sinful? Well, we’re all sinners, anyway, right? But God is Generous! So what’s the fix? Say a certain number of “hail Mary”s each day? Self flagellate? Attempt to remove your skin? Be genuinely repentant and sufficiently self hating for being born white? “I’m sorry I’m white! I’m sorry I’m white! Forgive me God!”?

          Of course that’s ridiculous. Now explain why it’s different from homosexuality.

          • Dark skin is an entirely inheritable genetic trait. Homosexuality isn’t. It’s a ridiculous comparison. The genetic component to homosexuality is no more significant than that of alcoholism, obesity, or general sex addiction. Those things are personal identifiers, and also choices. People both start and quit homosexuality all the time, often with great difficulty, but sometimes just due to boredom. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Sex/story?id=117465&page=1
            Now imagine if the title of the above article was “Some Whites Can Turn Black, Study Says.” Would that make any sense?

            • Isaac, that is almost certainly untrue. Someone may be forced or bullied into stopping homosexual activity, but that does not mean they have changed their sexual orientation. There are no respected or legitimate studies or research proving otherwise. The one you cited has not been peer reviewed or duplicated, and as I read it, only indicates that someone who is miserable with their true sexual orientation due to societal pressures can behave against their natural state if properly motivated. A quote from your link:

              Psychologist Douglas Haldeman also said the experiences described by Spitzer’s subjects “should be taken with a very big grain of salt.” The people in Spitzer’s sample, he said, may be fooling themselves. “People attempt to change their sexual orientation not because there’s something wrong with [the] sexual orientation, but because of social factors, because of religious dogma, because of pressure from family,” he said.

              “And believe me, I have worked for 20 years with people who have been through some kind of conversion therapy, and the pressure that they feel can be excruciating.”

              That you would think such a study, the only one, unrepeated, would disprove all prior research suggests strong confirmation bias. You are also wrong about alcoholism, which has a strong genetic link, and is similarly not a “choice.” Alcoholics process liquor differently from normal drinkers, and that is passed on genetically. They Barrymores’ multi-generational problems were not coincidental. There are alcohol abusers who are not alcoholics, just as Ben Carson’s gay prisoners were not really gay. But the overwhelming research says that a gay man can no more become straight in orientation…which is distinct from conduct…than a black man can become white.

              But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that a gay individual can perhaps, through excruciating and stressful treatment, override the genetic/ brain chemistry and other factors that caused him to be gay. Are you really saying that he has a moral and ethical obligation to do that?

              Oh, you do know why it’s hard to show that homosexuality is genetic, right?

              Here–start the Jeopardy music…

            • So wait. Wait. Let me get this straight. You think that people make a choice to be gay? You think people choose to belong to one of the most reviled groups in America….. Why? Why would anyone do that? How shallow is that thought process?

              Guy wakes up in the morning, scratches himself, looks out the window and says, “You know what? I think I’m gonna be gay. I want to join a minority that still gets treated generally pretty shitty by people, I want to run the risk of being fired at work, ostracized by my friends and disowned by my family. I want to be frustrated and awkward trying to find dates, and I want to basically guarantee that I’ll never have kids of my own. I want to double my chances of committing suicide by the time I turn 25, and I’d just love me some AIDS. Yes. Good plan.” And then sits down for breakfast.

              No Isaac, “Some whites can turn black, study says” doesn’t make sense. But neither does this. And I promise you that while there is absolutely an unhealthy population of socially crippled people that thrive off controversy and attract drama as a daily sport, there are just as many if not more people you don’t know are gay because we really are for the most part just like you, who would give a whole lot to be just like everyone else.

              • No matter how little or how much one is naturally inclined to “be gay,” it is still a choice to behave “gayly.” Sheesh! Do you think I wake up in the morning, scratch myself, look out the window and say, “You know what? I think I’m gonna be a homophobe”? I am not trying to accuse you of being a “closet straight;” I do suspect you have a bigger problem with being “just like everyone else” than I have.

                • Do I think you make the decision to be a bigot consciously? I don’t know. I think you came to it honestly, perhaps by emulating the people around you in your formative years…. But insomuch as now that you’ve been presented with facts and science and reason and still choose to think the way you do, I can’t say that’s not a choice. It’s definitely more of a choice than hormonal or otherwise biologically driven factors.

                  At some point, you have to ask yourself: Why do you think this way? Even if anal completely squicks you… They’re not doing it in front of you. Why do you care what someone does in their bedroom? And if the answer is: “I don’t. But god damn I can’t stand those lisping, dramatic faeries.” Well, you and me both buddy. I can’t stand them, I think they’re assholes. But I don’t think any more or less of them than I think of any other assholes, and my treatment of assholes stops well short of the kind of discrimination the average fundamentalist (who I also think are assholes) display to the average person they figure out is gay.

          • [reply to Humble Talent, Nov 6 at 12:00 pm]
            You know HT, I can discern that we have some misunderstanding between us, but I can’t figure out yet how that is possible, let alone what it might be.

            Last challenge first: Skin color is not a behavior or behavioral tendency. Skin color generally does not determine behavior, with rare exceptions like Al Sharpton and Barack Obama. Skin color is a non-behavioral condition. That’s how it’s different.

            Next: A thousand times yes, a person chooses because a person is. Actions follow behavioral tendencies, which comprise part of who a person is. Who a person is, is not a sin. What a person does, no matter who he is, can be a sin.

            Are you contending that a behavioral tendency is never, ever, a behavioral determinant? Or, that for all persons, there is predestination and no free will? Did I imply, in something I said, that I think skin color, any skin color, is inherently a sin?

            Does the following* clarify where I am coming from? (*It’s “faith talk,” so I am not expecting you to agree, only hoping you might understand better upon my declaring what I believe.) The state of being – mere existence – is sinful; it is a condition. That is, it is a condition of being prone to sin – possessing a tendency inevitably to behave sinfully. But the state of being is not, in itself, a sin; it is not an act, or behavior.

            If a person never chooses because of who a person is, then what, and why? If volition does not exist, then ethics, law, and psychology are all irrelevant; no matter what we do, we’re all zombies. “I can’t help myself” is too convenient an excuse, too lazy a rationalization, too nakedly an embrace of spiting oneself.

            What’s the “fix?” I wish I could explain. But to try would require going much more faith-y and morals-y and otherwise, literally “way the fuck” out of the realm of ethics. And, like most things I try to explain, I usually fail, but not because what I am trying to explain is inexplicable or nonsense

            • I understand the religious theory behind the animosity towards gays. I just don’t understand the adherence to it. Let’s be honest: If you followed through with every rule in your book, you would eat Kosher, you would probably have killed a goat by now, and every month when the women around you had their menses, you would send them up to sit in rags on the roof of your home and burn their clothes afterward. Religion has evolved past those things because they were too onerous, too inconvenient or they just didn’t make sense. But somehow hating gay people was easier than not eating shrimp. If you want to fall back on religious adherence, if you believe, deep down inside, that the Bible is your road map into heaven, then I won’t stop you. I won’t hold your afterlife hostage to my condition. But you better as hell read that whole book and do every damn thing in it.

              • I’m not holding either your condition or my condition hostage to either your afterlife or my afterlife. For all the damned things in that book, my “do list” is pretty damned liberal, and my “don’t list” is pretty damned conservative. You’re far safer with me and my family and friends than you probably think. Just stay non-Islamic.

                • So… Just to be 100% clear: You’ve decided to pick and choose which parts of the bible you adhere to, and it just so happens that while you’re not actively trying to stone me (thanks, by the way), you’re also going to continue to judge me.

                  Of course Islam is worse. But that’s such a stark #22 that I’m somewhat amazed you made it. Islam being shittier doesn’t make you good.

                  I’m done.

        • What does that mean? Being gay isn’t an action. If one is gay, it is not a choice to engage in gay sexuality, and no one should be forbidden from the choice to be himself based on someone else’s “Ick” issues or morality. And search as you might, there are no negative ethics outcomes in gay sex.

          • There are consequences to actions. An action is a choice, but the consequences of the action often are not under the control of the actor. I agree there are many reasons to do an action and some are more ethical than others, but the consequence is not changed simply because the action was justified in some way. The only way to prevent the consequence is to not take the action.

          • [reply to Jack Nov 6 at 9:34 pm]
            I was essentially in full agreement with your second sentence there, took exception to “…it is not a choice to engage…,” naturally could not agree with “…no one should be forbidden…based on someone else’s…,” and could make no sense of your last sentence. But, I can forgive you for failing, or refusing, to acknowledge the plain and common truth and sense in what wyogranny said in three words.

            All in all, I would rather speculate on (1) how many homers Harper will hit next year, (2) how many times Harper will be ejected next year, and (3) how high the Nationals* will rank in the standings at the end of next year. (*I still think that name is more offensive than “Redskins,” and fully expect the Clinton 45 administration to change it, before all guns in DC are confiscated again.)

            • Can’t blame you for being confused since I omitted one key word and wasn’t as clear as I should have been anyway. The intended sentence:

              What does that mean?

              In context of this discussion.

              Being gay isn’t an action.

              Self explanatory.

              If one is gay, it is not a choice to engage in gay sexuality,

              Let’s say it is not reasonable to expect some one not to, just as it is not reasonable for the Catholic Church to expect men to be celibate—and largely, they are not.

              …and no one should be forbidden from the choice to be himself based on someone else’s “Ick” issues or morality.

              This needs to be read in light of the next sentence, which should have come before, but in light of it, I don’t see how you can oppose it.

              And search as you might, there are no negative ethics outcomes in gay sex.

              I assume you know I am not talking about undereage gay sex,public gay sex, or abusive gay sex. Just normal, behind doors, none of your damn business gay sex between spouses, lovers or friends that SMP to the contrary, affects us not one teeny bit.

              I don’t see how you can rationally dispute any of that.

              • Our respective minds are set and closed in many ways, regarding many subjects. Our discussion here merely reflects that, and not much more. We could go on and on, exchanging our thoughts with flawless rationality – even, debating such things as a “Reasonableness Exception Principle” and “Rationality Exception Principle” – and our minds still would not change at all. This past summer, I saw a Nats game in their home park, and Harper homered. That opportunity and those moments with friends were more unreasonably, irrationally, volitionally (and non-volitionally) delightful than any discussion of sexual do’s and don’ts, and were even – on that day – better than sex.

  2. “…and also for [a] sucker like me,…”

    I have to wonder if your suckertude for a winning team in the town nearest your home is showing, when you call one brawling young millionaire’s rumored hatchet-burying with another, older, brawling millionaire teammate an ethics hero. I will wait a little longer, to see if Harper’s count of times ejected for arguing called strikes diminishes, before I let myself think of his young talentedness as being endowed with a more robust constitution of professionalism, humility and forgiveness. For now, though, to me, Harper remains like another young man I played All Star ball with: a hothead. Not your teammates’ favorite individual player’s mindset for team-building. He still has some growing up to do, to channel his competitiveness positively.

    I really like Dusty Baker – loved him, ever since I saw him play for the Dodgers – so I can only wish him the best, even though I dread (and would hate) seeing the Nats beating the Cubs and Cardinals for the pennant.

    • Weird position. Harper can’t be called brawling when all he did was fend off an attack. He didn’t hustle to first, which is what sparked the incident, but that simply means he wasn’t exemplary. I don’t think anyone since Pete Rose has run hard to first on every at bat, and damn few before him, either.

      I shouldn’t have to explain to you, as a veteran here, the Ethics Hero refers to one incident that shows admirable values, not a permanent character verdict. By simply doing nothing, Harper could have ensured that Papelbon, who is one of about five guaranteed successful closers in the game, would be traded for a sandwich and the Nats picking up all or most of his salary, costing the team millions for nothing, weakening the Nats bullpen, but making fans happy because the pitcher dared to oppose The Chosen One. Nobody would have criticized him for that. That’s what I assume he would do, too, especially since Papelbon was not going to apologize—he never does.

      So Harper did the right thing when he had every opportunity to stick it to the guy who grabbed his neck. It could be an anomoly, it could be the beginning of a new path.

      • Okay, I’ll just stick to calling Harper a hothead, and retract “brawling.” There. I’m a hero too, now. It could be an anomaly, it could be the beginning of a new path. Whatever it is, it’s like sarcasm – not a choice.

  3. Just found and fixed five typos in the first two paragraphs, not counting calling Bryce “Bryan” twice, which was flagged by a commenter early. I hereby pledge never again to try to type a post on my cursor-jumping laptop, late at night, with a dog licking my head. I swear.

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