Bryce Harper: Baseball's LeBron James — or Its Ryan Leaf?

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Harper, No. 34, center, of the Hagerstown Suns, on April 15, 2011

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Before last year's draft, a few scouts told Baseball Prospectus that Harper had major attitude problems. One said Harper felt entitled. Said a front-office executive: "He's just a bad, bad guy." Though it's unfair to take the words of snippy, anonymous scouts as gospel, they raise some red flags. Harper does, after all, count Ty Cobb and Pete Rose among his idols. These were two guys who played the game ferociously but weren't exactly admired away from the diamond. Harper told reporters this week, "I don't really care what people say about me. Everyone can write what they want and think what they want to think."

In his final junior-college game, Harper was ejected for showing up the umpire: after the ump called him out on a third strike, Harper drew a line in the dirt with his bat as if to say, This is the strike zone, you idiot. Harper was suspended for a playoff game, which Southern Nevada lost, ending its season.

At this point, there's a consensus that Harper is cocky and can come across as arrogant. To which I say, Terrific! Baseball is missing a fresh face, especially a slugging position player who's worth getting riled up about. Just look at the home-run leaderboard. In the American League, José Bautista is on top with 22 home runs. Bautista is a nice guy who plays up in Toronto. There's no buzz there. Paul Konerko of the Chicago White Sox, and Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees, who each have 21 home runs, trail Bautista. There's no Reggie Jackson, who famously noted that he's a "straw that stirs the drink," in that bunch. Prince Fielder (Milwaukee Brewers) and Matt Kemp (Los Angeles Dodgers) lead the National League. No one is giving these guys a sliver of the attention we heap upon James.

Two fresh characters in today's game — Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson of the world champion San Francisco Giants — are pitchers, and it's hard to get attached to guys who step into the game every fifth day or so (or in the case of a closer like Wilson, pitches an inning here and there). Pitching, in fact, is really the dominant theme in baseball this season, with hitters reverting to their pre-steroid-era performances. The Philadelphia Phillies, with their sterling starting rotation that features Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, have the best record in the game. None of these players are huge personalities.

So here's hoping Harper makes his big-league debut soon and starts smacking 500-ft. (152 m) home runs while blowing an occasional kiss. When Harper comes to the plate, maybe you'll be forced to skip the bathroom break, because you don't want to miss him at bat. Washington is the ideal market for Harper. Our nation's capital has been starving for a winner for 87 years. And if any place feeds off ego, arrogance and hubris, it's Washington.

And if any sport needs a stir right now, it's our national pastime.

Gregory is a staff writer at TIME. Keeping Score, his sports column for, appears every Friday. Follow him on Twitter at @seanmgregory.

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