Leitch: If Hamels Wants Old School, Watch Bryce Harper

Once again Will Leitch shows why he’s one of my favorite writers, especially when pertaining to baseball.

And this time, it’s not just because he’s sticking up for Bryce Harper. Or because he obviously likes Harper for the same reasons I do. But it’s because he does those things more eloquently and subtle than I’ve done in the past on this very blog. And this is all just in time for tonight’s Nationals v. Phillies showdown on ESPN Wednesday Night Baseball.

He takes Hamels to task, kind of like we did.

“That’s something I grew up watching,” Hamels said, “I’m just trying to continue the old baseball because I think some people are kind of getting away from it. I remember when I was a rookie the strike zone was really, really small and you didn’t say anything because that’s the way baseball is. But I think unfortunately the league’s protecting certain players and making it not that old school, prestigious way of baseball. It’s just, ‘Welcome to the big leagues.’ ”

This doesn’t make a lot of sense. How does the strike zone when Cole Hamels was a rookie have anything to do with Bryce Harper? How is the league “protecting” Bryce Harper? (He’d been in the league a week.) And what is Cole Hamels talking about with this “something I grew up watching”? Cole Hamels is 28 years old; he grew up watching Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco and all those players everyone has spent the last decade screaming on television about being the opposite of “old school.” Did he have a dream that he grew up watching different players?

And he makes the best and most truthful point following that.

But the craziest thing about Hamels’ notion was that “old school” was somehow prestigious. Baseball—always, now, then and forever—is the furthest thing from prestigious. Baseball has been a sport for scoundrels and rapscallions; this is why it’s fun.

Yes. Harper is a rapscallion. He is a scoundrel. A scoundrel, dirt-eating, hustling gift given to us by the baseball gods to enjoy for two decades. He’s… more old school than Hamels. Right Leitch?

The funny part about this is that I can’t think of a more old school player—in the way I think Hamels was trying to define it—than Bryce Harper. I interviewed Harper earlier this year, and all he could talk about was how much he admired—and patterned every aspect of his game around—guys like Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. Harper is one of those guys who plays every game like it’s his last, who dives and spits and knocks over catchers and loves baseball in a profound, aggressive way.

I hope Harper gets a few old knocks off Hamels this evening. And if there was any doubt that he would be in the lineup, you don’t even have to wonder. He plays for a manager cut from his own old-school mold.