Cumberland Times-News

Mike Burke - Sports

May 16, 2013

Harper just needs to stop scoring the wall

• Happy birthday, Brooks Robinson. No. 5 will be 76 tomorrow.

Remember, in the words of Gordon Beard, “Brooks Robinson never asked anybody to name a candy bar after him. In Baltimore people name their children after him.”

And put up two statues of him.

• Happy birthday, Reggie Jackson. The anti-Brooks will be 67 tomorrow.

And unless Reggie paid for one himself (and don’t bet against it), there is not one Reggie statue of record.

• So the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper needs to slow down, huh? That’s what everybody but manager Davey Johnson is saying these days just because the kid ran fullspeed, nose-first into the right-field wall in Dodger Stadium the other night and nearly decapitated himself.

(Which brings to mind, in a funny way, of course, San Diego Padres play-by-play man Jerry Coleman, who once made this call on a ball hit to right field: “Winfield goes back to the wall, he hits his head on the wall and it rolls off! It’s rolling all the way back to second base. This is a terrible thing for the Padres.”)

No, Bryce Harper does not need to slow down. He just needs to stop being an idiot. His running into the wall had nothing to do with his hellbent for leather style of play. It had everything to do with his misplaying a flyball and paying no attention to the warning track.

Warning track: That’s why they’re there Brycey Bryce-Bryce, and that’s why they’re called warning tracks. When you feel dirt, crushed stone or rubber instead of grass beneath your feet after you butcher a flyball, it’s a warning that you should have been paying attention and that you really should look into pulling up.

Look, this is no knock on the kid. Quite the contrary, for I’ve tried to find every reason not to like Bryce Harper. But if you love baseball, how can you not love him as a player? Not only for the bust-arse way he plays the game, but because his ability could make him the best player of his generation. He does everything right, and he does everything better than anybody else.

I’ve watched more Nationals games (with the sound turned down) this year than I’ve cared to and, aside from the Nats being an excellent team that is going to be just fine by midsummer, Harper is the likely reason why. You watch him play and you can see something on any given night that you’ve never seen before — including a running nosedive into a wall, which, of course, we don’t condone.

The same can be said for Manny Machado, the Orioles second-year third baseman and heir to the shortstop throne. The only difference being we’ve almost kind of seen this before, as watching the young Machado is not unlike having watched the young Alex Rodriguez when he came up with the Seattle Mariners.

Machado, who leads the American League in hits, is just downright scary good, particularly when you consider what a great defensive player he already is while not playing his natural position. For Orioles fans, it’s not unlike Cal Ripken Jr.’s first couple of seasons when he was THE phenom of the big leagues. And, not so coincidentally, Machado represents the latest branch on the Ripken shortstop tree, even though Ripken came up then retired a third baseman, and even though Machado, a natural shortstop, is currently playing third base.

A-Rod, you see, grew up idolizing Ripken because he proved big men could play shortstop. And let’s face it, A-Rod was a great shortstop himself before becoming a great third baseman. As for Machado, he grew up idolizing A-Rod and, since they both live in Miami, went on it be mentored by A-Rod, with the two remaining very good friends.

The question beckons, naturally, as to what happens when J.J. Hardy’s contract expires after the 2014 season. Do the Orioles move Machado back to short? Yes, without question they do. Fortunately, though, that’s for another day for them to even consider.

• Not to be George Costanza here, but where did the term “score the basketball” come from?

What does it mean? And better yet, why?

He can score the basketball anytime he wants to ... What, he just calls a basketball and it will go out on a date with him at the drop of a hat?

Why is this all you hear basketball analysts and coaches say anymore? “He has the ability to score the basketball.” Really? I thought he had the ability to hit a lot of baskets and score a lot of points.

Just because we say, “He sure can pass the basketball” or “He rebounds the basketball better than anybody,” we have to say “the guy can sure score the basketball”?

Does former Maryland Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend have anything to do with this? You’ll recall after the Baltimore Ravens won the 2001 Super Bowl, she said, “My favorite part was when the other team scored a football and then we came right back on the next play and scored a football too.”

Oy! That pretty much slammed the door on the Governor’s Mansion before it even opened. But when a politician says it, it’s stupid (and, it is), and when a basketball coach or analyst says it, it’s cutting edge — today’s modern basketball, leading me to believe that the Krzyzewski Conservatory high atop Cameron Indoor Stadium had something to do with this. Somebody probably heard him say it at a coaches clinic and here we are.

Oh, where have you gone Larry Bird? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you — a player who could really just pass, rebound and shoot.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at mburke@times-news.com

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Mike Burke - Sports
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