Bryce Harper and Cole Hamels both fulfill that ball-playing, graphic-tee-wearing, guy-with-a-name-like-Bryce-or-Cole, faux-aggressive caricature to comparable degrees of success. Hamels, as Ted Berg has wonderfully documented over the years, is a person who reads Twilight, listens to Lifehouse, and poses for creamy-white photo shoots with an imaginary multiracial family that’s passing the days by in a luxury apartment complex. Harper dips his face in eye black, once posed for a photo with a baseball in his mouth, and has hair that’s, presumably, been styled by an amateur, hedge cutter-wielding barber.
This whole nu-bro thing is their thing, and that’s fine. (This is baseball, after all.) And it’s especially fine/unimportant because Bryce Harper and Cole Hamels are very good at what they do. It’s a small sample of goodness in Harper’s case, but there aren’t many—if any—major leaguers who can steal home and treat a baseball like a souped-up Frisbee. Harper’s awesomely talented, and he’s really young and kind of obnoxious—all of which, apparently, is just not allowed.
It might be a bit much to say that Hamels used a baseball as a weapon against Harper on Sunday, but purposely launching a solid, leather-wrapped piece of cork at 90 miles per hour into a defenseless human being’s back is basically the definition of “using something as a weapon.” Whether or not this is “old-school baseball” or “preserving the code of the game,” or “upholding some unwritten rules” (no, no, and no), it’s sticky and generally terrible when something like this happens. “This” being when the object used to play a game is given a totally different, slightly nefarious purpose.
For all the crap that baseball gets for being weird, slow, anachronistic, lame, or not-totally-a-sport—some of it deserved—there’s a kind of bizarre trust, and maybe courage, that goes into standing 90 feet away from another human being who can suddenly decide to launch a baseball at your body with near-pinpoint accuracy at eye-blinking speed. The batter gets to wear a helmet, sure, but the sport is predicated on the assumption that the ball will be thrown toward the vicinity of home plate for the batter to either swing or not-swing at. The batter has to assume that the guy holding the baseball is going to give him an opportunity to hit the baseball and not just launch the thing into his rib cage. When this doesn’t happen, the sport kind of falls apart on itself.
According to Hamels, a combination of Harper being young, really good at baseball, and basically a less-refined version of Hamels himself earned Harper a fastball to the spine. There was fallout, the Nationals promised revenge, and everything was stupid, really. Everything was stupid because stupid words like “tough” and “old-school” were used in their various, vapid capacities. (That "tough” and “old school” are generally used interchangeably also helps to prove this point.) These are stupid words because they don’t really do anything other than limit and essentialize a certain type of false-macho behavior—one in which throwing a baseball at a relatively defenseless person seems like a logical thing to do.
Baseball’s “unwritten rules” are bound together in thin air, remnants from a time when women couldn’t vote, players were openly racist, and philanderers were considered heroes. Yet, Hamels basically admitted to plunking Harper because of these same “rules,” which is really just depressing more than anything else. Hamels and Harper are both super-talented athletes, so it’s funny to see them act like idiots (read: “normal people”) when they’re not playing baseball. For all the Affliction tees and over-moussed hairstyles, it’s harmless, human nonsense. But being an idiot on the baseball field, in this case, actually seems more significant than being an idiot in real life.
Cole Hamels Pizza Ad courtesy of keen-eyed Flickr user ccpizziri