An appreciation of Frank Robinson

Everything about baseball’s return to DC seemed a little bit thrown together. The Nationals script on the uniform looked like it was taken from the bottom of the Microsoft font menu. The block letters didn’t even match the hats. The team had no owner–or even a plan to get one. A few of the players had legitimate MLB credentials, but the bulk of the roster were retreads and non-prospects. RFK Stadium was a mess. The network televising the team wasn’t even on tv in the majority of DC area homes. I traveled to Chicago that season to watch the Nats play and–I swear to God–several Cubs fans I met weren’t even aware the Nationals existed.

But we had Frank Robinson. The Hall of Famer with 586 Home Runs. The first guy to win MVPs in both leagues. The first first black manager in MLB history. A legitimate baseball and Civil Rights legend.

In April 2005, as fans wandered into a broken-down stadium to watch a team of awkwardly-dressed castoffs take the field, Frank Robinson gave Washington D.C. baseball in immediate dose of credibility.

The first half of the 2005 season is frozen in time for Washington baseball fans. On talent alone, the team had no business competing for anything, but an incredible run of close wins put them in first place at the all-star break. I wouldn’t have cared if they lost 162 games, but that squad led by Frank Robinson gave us so much more.

Frank lived an incredible life. It was really cool that we got to be a small part of it.

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Is there room for nuance in the Bryce Harper discussion?

Nu•ance (noun) — a subtle difference or distinction in expression or meaning

It’s 2019 and our debates have been distilled to 280-character counterpunches and paste-able Facebook memes. In our declining modern day discourse, you’re either all in or all out. Pro or con. With me or against me.

As we discuss Bryce Harper’s lingering contract situation, we’ve fallen into the same trap.

Bryce Harper is a good baseball player. Occasionally, he’s a great one. His 2015 season might have been the best overall season of any player this decade not named Mike Trout. And he’s a star. He has enough charisma to convince you to turn on the TV or stay in your seat when he’s due up next inning. He’s worth the price of admission. He’s my favorite player.

He’s also unemployed. There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, and none of have them have presented Harper with a contract he’s willing to sign. He’s (reportedly) asking for something greater than 10 years and $300 million, which would be the largest free agent contract in North American sports history. He had significant injuries in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017. He had a brutal first half in 2018. Baseball players age quickly. Ten years is a long time. Injury-prone players usually remain that way. Bryce Harper’s defense has been declining. There’s a good chance he’ll finish his next contract as a 1B.

Those are your sides. Pick one. The Nationals are either insane not to accede to the price picked by Scott Boras or Harper isn’t worth the headache and he should go to another city. You’re either pro-Nats or pro-Harper. There is no middle ground.

Well, I’m choosing a third path. I’m picking a little from column A and a little from column B.

I want Bryce Harper in the 2019 lineup. Not only will it make the team more competitive, it will improve the fan experience. There’s a value to 30+ home runs, but there’s also an undefinable quality to seeing a Hall of Fame player staying in the same city for his entire career.

I’m also living in reality. Listen, I’d love it if the Lerner family mortgaged Tyson’s Corner and ran a $500 million payroll. But that’s not happening. There’s a finite number of dollars to be spent on player salaries here, and as long as I’m rooting for the Nationals, I want the owners to spend it well.

The asking price here is simply too high. The above facts about Harper are true. His injuries happened. His 2018 first half happened. His declining defense is something that’s happening right now.

There’s an overall price point for Bryce Harper. I’d love for the Nationals to hit it, but Scott Boras needs to hit it too.

I understand this position requires nuance. I understand I’m not playing by the rules of modern discourse.

If that makes me the crazy one, so be it.