Washington Nationals minor leaguer Bryce Harper is one of the most closely watched prospects in years. But does the scrutiny rise to the level of Jackie Robinson's? The Nationals seem to think so, and that comparison has plenty of people outraged. In fact, sports talk king Jim Rome has already labeled it the "worst take by a baseball executive in 2011."
There is a profile of Harper in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated that contains the following:
"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.
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"Now, Jackie Robinson had his life threatened. I'm not comparing Bryce to that. But as far as nonstop scrutiny? Absolutely. Day to day."
Rob Neyer over at Baseball Nation writes that Twitter is "afire" over this. He calls Robinson "He Who Must Not Be Compared To."
Neyer goes on to say the comparison is "meaningless, if not just downright silly," writing that while both players were highly scrutinized, the type of scrutiny is so different.
Very true, but that is exactly what the Nationals officials said. They are coming under fire because they dared to mention the name of Jackie Robinson in regards to any other player. While Robinson was a pioneer, who endured hardships and dispicable treatment most of us will never know about, it should not be forbidden to use him as a comparison.
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Neyer also puzzlingly took SI writer Tom Verducci to task for including it in the story:
My suggestion? Read Verducci's piece, learn something about one of the best young hitters on the planet, and try to forget those three paragraphs that probably should have been left on the cutting floor. Because they mar what's otherwise a pretty good story.
Verducci didn't say it -- and he was right to include it. He just reported what was said. It would have been irresponsible to leave it out.
After all, that's the reason everybody is talking about Verducci's piece.