Turns out, Nationals rookie phenom Bryce Harper will be heading to Kansas City, Mo., after all.
Harper didn’t win an All-Star selection by the Final Vote, but when Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton withdrew with a knee injury that will require surgery, National League manager Tony La Russa chose Harper as his replacement. The 19-year-old becomes the youngest position player in major league history to be named to the All-Star team.
The Nationals had been hoping that Harper would get the four-day break to go home to Las Vegas and rest after playing in every game since his call-up April 28. When he lost the Final Vote on Thursday, Harper spoke of the chance to get away “be Bryce for a day” and enjoy a mental break. He won’t get that chance any longer.
“It’s such a great honor,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who delivered the news to Harper after the Nationals’ 4-1 victory over the Rockies on Saturday. “You can’t say no unless you need the rest, and he’s up for it.”
Harper’s selection means the Nationals will still have three representatives in the game. They were down to just Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez after shortstop Ian Desmond withdrew to rest his sore left oblique. Desmond, who called the decision a “tough” one, was wary of risking further injury to an oblique that has been sore since early June and has required treatment each day since then. Braves center fielder Michael Bourn took his spot on the team.
“It will be an honor,” Gonzalez said of having Harper on the team. “That guy is unbelievable. He is 19 years old. That says it all for itself. It’s almost to where I’m going to use his line, ‘That’s a clown question, bro.’ If you have a kid like that in the All-Star Game I think it’s well-deserved to have him right next to you.”
When Harper was called into Johnson’s office after Saturday’s game, he saw general manager Mike Rizzo in there already and figured he was either being sent down or added to the All-Star roster. Given the options, he was relieved he was being named to the All-Star team.
For Harper, who then said his initial reaction to the news was, “I don’t get to go home,” the selection represents another opportunity for him to showcase his skills on baseball’s biggest stage.
He was one of the youngest selections to the MLB Futures Game in 2011, and he’ll be one of the youngest ever to play in the All-Star Game in 2012. Only Dwight Gooden and Bob Feller were younger than Harper when they made the All-Star team.
“I’m just excited to get there and just have a good time,” Harper said, calling the bit of history he made by being so young, “Pretty cool.” … “I think it’s exciting to go, and I’m excited to get there and be around all the top guys in baseball, of course. I’m just going to take it all in, try to enjoy it with the family and try to just be as mellow and calm as I can.
“I’m excited,” he added. “I really am. I’m really excited to get out there and be around those kind of guys and just try to actually enjoy myself as much as I can and really take it all in.”
In addition to the mental break Harper had been looking forward to, he’s been nursing a sore back for much of his rookie season. That has improved with time, though. Johnson on Saturday said Harper hasn’t been receiving treatment the past three or four days and he’s not concerned about him injuring himself in the game.
Stanton was expected to participate in the Home Run Derby, and Harper said he had not heard if he would be taking his spot in that as well, but MLB announced later Saturday evening that Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen would get that spot.
Harper, hitting .283 with a .355 on-base percentage, eight home runs and a .475 slugging percentage in 62 games, joins Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley as the only rookies on the NL team. Ryan Cook, Yu Darvish and Mike Trout are the rookies on the American League team. The five combined selections set an All-Star Game record. The previous record of four in one game occurred in 2003 with Lance Carter, Mike MacDougal, Hideki Matsui and Dontrelle Willis, as well as in 2001 with Albert Pujols, Jimmy Rollins, Ben Sheets and Ichiro Suzuki.
Johnson, who managed Gooden when he was a 19-year-old selection, often compares the two phenoms in terms of having abilities well beyond their years.
“I mean I don’t look at them as being young,” he said. “I look at the talent. When Dwight was 17 he looked like a big leaguer except he just didn’t have the innings to pitch in the big leagues. I mean Harp, he does everything a little bit better than average.”
Pressed to say who was better at their craft as a 19-year-old, Johnson let a wry grin cross his face.
“Well I’ll say this: Doc was the best pitcher I ever had at that age and Harper’s the best position player I ever had at that age,” Johnson said. “But they’re both very special. It’s fun to watch them go out there and watch them express their talent. It’s just really fun from my viewpoint. You never know quite what you’re going to expect but you know it’s going to be special.”