“The Big Club needs you in the Show.”
“When do you think, kid? Tomorrow, Dodger Stadium, left field. Oh, yeah, Stephen Strasburg’s pitching and Vin Scully’ll be calling the game. Now, get out of my office. You got what it takes.”
Maybe that’s not what Syracuse Manager Tony Beasley actually said Friday when, after a whirlwind of decisions, the Washington Nationals called up Harper. But it was the subtext, for sure.
Everything in big-time sports is packaged now. Even the apologies, the scandals, seem to run on a loop. You don’t hear, “What the hell,” too much any more. But you heard it Friday, when Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo made the Harper decision, knowing his Manager Davey Johnson was cackling with glee, probably pulling a muscle jumping for joy around his office.
Rizzo, Johnson, Roy Clark, Kris Kline, Kasey McKeon (the son of old cigar-chewing Jack McKeon) — the whole Nats front office is pretty much out of central casting: brassy, iconoclastic, maybe been fired somewhere, with distinct tendencies to say, “Go for it.” But they’ve really gone and done it this time. They called up Harper within one day of the deadline that allowed them to bring him to the majors without losing control of him for the 2018 season. Partly, it’s Ryan Zimmerman-injury coincidence.
But you wonder. This is going to cost the Lerners millions of dollars if Harper hits and sticks and never goes back down to Class AAA. By summoning him now, rather than in a couple of months, the Nats may end up making him a Super Two player who is eligible for arbitration (and all the money on earth) a full year sooner.
All the pressure here is on Rizzo, not Harper, who’s hitting .250 with one home run in 20 games at Syracuse. If Harper doesn’t hit or looks raw in left field, then why the devil did Rizzo bring him up? You don’t mess up Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey, Jr., or Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays by calling them up to the majors before they are totally ready.
Except that, if you think they are tough enough and talented enough to take the bumps, sometimes you do bring them up too soon. The Giants called up Mays in 1951 when he was still 19 and he took the collar his first three games, went into Manager Leo Durocher’s office and said he didn’t know if he could handle these big league pitchers. Durocher, completely against type, played the father figure and offered a pep talk, something Mays never forgot. Mays hit a 450-foot homer off Warren Spahn that day. Then he took three more collars until his average was .038 — 1 for 26.