In a profile of Bryce Harper for the Aug. 1 issue of Sports Illustrated, two Washington Nationals officials compared the plight of their best prospect to that of Jackie Robinson.
Doug Harris, the Nationals’ director of player development, believed the scrutiny of Harper has reached levels only equaled by the man who broke baseball’s color barrier. Harper was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg on July 4.
“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,” Harris told the magazine. “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. Now, Jackie Robinson had his life threatened. I’m not comparing Bryce to that. But as far as nonstop scrutiny? Absolutely. Day to day.”
The sentiment was shared by minor league coordinator Tony Tarasco.
“Jackie Robinson,” he told the magazine. “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.”
A piece Hall of Famer Henry Aaron authored for Time in 1999 gives a window to the type of scrutiny Robinson faced. It’s well-worth reading for perspective on what a comparison to Robinson actually means:
Jackie Robinson had to be bigger than life. He had to be bigger than the Brooklyn teammates who got up a petition to keep him off the ball club, bigger than the pitchers who threw at him or the base runners who dug their spikes into his shin, bigger than the bench jockeys who hollered for him to carry their bags and shine their shoes, bigger than the so-called fans who mocked him with mops on their heads and wrote him death threats.
And, for what it’s worth, the Strasburg link doesn’t square with the numbers I reported in a recent story about Harper adapting to life in Harrisburg. When Strasburg pitched for Harrisburg last year, the Senators issued 48 credentials for his first start. Twelve credentials were issued for Harper’s first week with the team.