Before Bryce Harper was diagnosed with a significant bone bruise in his left knee, Nationals manager Dusty Baker said he hoped people would spare some time to “say a prayer for Bryce.” Washington is going to coast to an NL East title even without Harper, their 24-year-old superstar who was vying for MVP honors before injuring himself during the Nationals’ Saturday night game against the Giants. Baseball will miss him in the meantime, and those who market the sport are heeding Dusty’s advice and hoping that he returns before the Nationals commence their playoff push in October.
Major League Baseball has suffered a rash of injuries to its superstars this season: Mike Trout, who was on pace for the best season of his remarkable young career, lost 39 games earlier in the year after tearing a thumb ligament on a head-first slide. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa was also in consideration for AL MVP honors before he too tore a thumb ligament after a head-first slide on July 17. He remains out and, as of this weekend, was only ready to grip a bat. Now, Harper is out indefinitely after landing awkwardly on his right leg and hyper-extending his right knee.
What was already a nightmare series for both teams, fans and media turned gruesome for the Nats. They received better news than anticipated, but will still miss their best and most recognizable player for the foreseeable future after a rainy, sloppy Saturday game that didn’t start until after 10 p.m. local time. Hustling down the first base line in an attempt to leg out an infield single, Harper landed awkwardly on a wet base, which forced his right leg to lock up while momentum surged him forward. The result was a momentary slide before Harper leaped in the air, clutched his knee and howled in pain. On replays, it looked like he suffered ligament damage. The X-ray revealed only a “significant” bone bruise that will cost Harper most of the remainder of this season, though he did walk out of the clubhouse on Saturday night without assistance. Harper’s agent, the famed Scott Boras, criticized Major League Baseball for not protecting its player by at least wiping down the bases in between innings.
"In the NBA, when a player hits the floor and there's perspiration on the floor, they clean it up immediately so the surface isn't slick. In baseball, we have no one cleaning the bags between innings during inclement weather,” Boras said. “Is there observation as the game goes where they would stop and make sure the bag is dry? We don't do that. We don't take measures like that for player safety that could easily be accomplished by the grounds crew and the umpires' observations.''
It may be a case of hindsight, but Boras’s point resonates after the series was nearly ruined by rain. The players, fans and media waited over three hours on Friday before anybody communicated that the game had been postponed (apparently the players learned over 30 minutes before the media and fans did). On Saturday, a storm raged for hours before they were able to take the field at 10:06 p.m. local time. By the end of the first inning, Harper had slipped on a bag that wasn’t dry.
With the NL East title all but secured (it leads the second-place Marlins by 14 games), Washington won’t rush Harper back with only 46 games remaining in the regular season. The Nats now have the chance to experiment with three corner outfielders (Brian Goodwin, Andrew Stevenson and the newly-acquired Howie Kendrick) to determine their best outfield as the playoffs approach. Anthony Rendon, overlooked all season and maybe baseball’s most underrated player, has the opportunity to improve his MVP candidacy without being overshadowed by Harper.
The problem, again, is that one of baseball’s most recognizable players goes down in a moment when they were primed for maximum exposure. The Nationals lose because they don’t have their best player. The fans lose because one of the game’s most exciting stars won’t be present when the Nats come to town.
For now, all we can do is heed Dusty Baker’s warning and pray he returns before the playoffs start.