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On Bryce Harper, Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Trout and baseball’s unwritten rules

Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond

Washington’s Bryce Harper is pulled away by Ian Desmond during an altercation with Jonathan Papelbon in the eighth inning against Philadelphia on Sunday.

(Greg Fiume / Getty Images)

This is hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Mike Trout‘s teammates thought the phenom needed to be taken down a peg.

In spring training 2011, before Trout had ever played a game in the major leagues, Jered Weaver arranged for the scoreboard to repeatedly display this message: “Fans call Angels’ Mike Trout directly with your baseball questions,” followed by Trout’s cellphone number.

There is no comparison between a pointed prank and a dugout fight, but the reaction to Sunday’s incident between Washington Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon and star outfielder — and presumptive National League most valuable player — Bryce Harper revealed that there remains some segment of veteran players that wants young stars to be seen but not heard.

In a provocative column for Fox Sports, former major league pitcher C.J. Nitkowski traced the roots of Papelbon’s discontent with Harper, how it boiled over into a fight, and why a fair number of current and former players empathized with Papelbon.

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As LaTroy Hawkins, the Toronto Blue Jays’ 42-year-old relief pitcher and one of baseball’s most popular teammates, tweeted in response to Nitkowski: “loved the article CJ, Pap will take a beating for this from everyone who doesn’t play the game. #EntitlementGeneration

Harper’s teammates have had issues with him previously, although Washington Post columnist Adam Kilgore wrote this Monday: “That version of Harper does not exist anymore.” And it is entirely fair to ask why a 22-year-old failing to run hard is a sin but a 32-year-old failing to run out a ball is a perk.

Might be time to rewrite baseball’s unwritten rules. We can all agree on this, though: Baseball’s most disappointing team this season now has an undisputed defining image.


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