While injuries prevented the Mormons on last year’s All Star teams, Roy Halladay and Jacoby Ellsbury, from making this year’s team, almost as if it were destiny a last-minute injury led to the selection last Friday of National League rookie Bryce Harper as an All Star. Since Mormons don’t believe in predestination, but in ‘fore-ordination,’ which requires effort and merit and allows for agency, Harper must deserve the spot, right?
Perhaps not, since his elevation to the All Star team hasn’t been without controversy, with fans have complained that many other players are much more deserving. Regardless of whether they are right or not, two related beliefs seem to be following Harper, perhaps influencing his ‘destiny,’ at least for this year.
The first is the idea that Harper is baseball’s Chosen One, anointed at 16 with the cover of Sports Illustrated to become a superstar, perhaps even as Harper seems to both believe and work towards, the greatest that ever played the game. While perhaps possible, at this point it seems mostly the invention of PR flacks and media observers extrapolating from a promising beginning. Everyone loves a hero, and the hype is ready to create one in Bryce. And, despite how much Mormonism is controversial and sometimes hated, its association with clean living and straight-dealing must, I think, feed into this hero myth.
The second believe is that there is always something too good to be true about the hero. He can’t really be as good as the hype, he isn’t really as clean and straight as he has been portrayed, and as for Mormonism, it is, despite its image, somehow nefarious and actually evil. This then gives license to hate that which is hyped and that which seems clean and straight. And you see this in the reactions to Harper, just as you see it in the reactions to Mormonism.
While watching the Home Run Derby last night, I think I saw an element of this. While not exactly the same image, the Yankees are hated across baseball for their success, and that hate led to the standard ugliness in sports: cheering at your enemy’s failure. As Robinson Cano struggled to hit even one home run in the derby, trying to gain some little dignity after winning it all last year, the fans in Kaufmann Stadium cheered at each failure. Cano is, of course, used to that reaction, just as he is used to the love he gets in Yankee Stadium and the pleasure from his team’s fairly frequent success. So while I deplore the ugliness, I won’t feel too bad for Robinson.
The problem with both these beliefs and reactions to Harper is that they are both, at once, true and not true. Has Harper been Chosen? Sure, it seems quite clear. Does he have what it takes to become a major hero? It sure looks like it. Is some of the praise and attention not deserved? Actually, I think it is. Sports figures are often over-hyped, and usually not because they wanted it or asked for it. Does he then deserve to be hated? Of course not. No one deserves that. And in my book the cheering at failure and booing people instead of actions is simply wrong.
But, Harper gets booed. Has from the beginning (no matter which baseball beginning you pick). That designation brings it on. Tune into the All Star Game tonight and see if it happens or not. I won’t be surprised if it does.
In a sense I feel bad for Harper. He’s only 19! That fact alone excuses most of the criticism leveled against him. I don’t think he wanted to annoy so many people by being over-hyped into the Chosen One. But then I look at how well he has handled it, and the many, many benefits he gets from his status, and I don’t feel very bad for him at all.
Good luck in the game tonight, Bryce.