“We figured it out that Bryce was 8 when Adam got married,” Zimmerman recalled Wednesday, breaking into a wide smile.
Harper’s first month in the major leagues will have elapsed by the end of this weekend, after the Nationals’ three-game National League East showdown against the Atlanta Braves. The Nationals planned for him still to be in Class AAA Syracuse at this point. He has instead provided a crucial boost to an injury-ravaged, first-place team. And he has done so while learning about life in the majors at 19.
“I don’t think anybody looks at age,” Harper said. “They look at maturity and whatnot. They’ve helped me out in that aspect also. I’m just trying to be another guy in the clubhouse and not the kid who comes in and thinks he’s great. I try to come here like every other guy in this clubhouse, and try to have fun.”
Harper has not eased into the majors. He has started all 24 Nationals games and played in all 221 innings since he arrived. He has started at all three outfield positions — 13 games in right, six in left and five in center. He has batted seventh, third, fifth and second. When the Nationals have needed almost anything, they have asked Harper.
“I didn’t expect him here as quick as he’s here,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I didn’t expect him to look as comfortable as he looks up here. I think he’s very relaxed and I think he’s having fun, and I think he’s expressing his talent. It’s much needed.”
Harper’s performance, for his age, has bordered on historic. Among 19-year-olds with at least 100 plate appearances since 1900, only Mel Ott (.921 in 1928), Jimmie Foxx (.908 in 1927) and Tony Conigliaro (.883 in 1964) had a higher OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) than Harper’s current .816.
Here, then, is a partial list of players whose OPS, in their age-19 season, was lower than Harper’s mark: Ty Cobb, Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle, Freddie Lindstrom, Robin Yount, Alex Rodriguez and Al Kaline.
“I’m not surprised,” Zimmerman said. “As talented as he is and mature as he is, baseball-wise, I didn’t really think he was going to have any problem hitting.”
Nothing has fazed Harper, not even life among grown men as a teenager. Harper’s two youngest teammates, Stephen Strasburg and Steve Lombardozzi, are four years older than him, and Strasburg has been married for more than two years. In most any workplace, one 19-year-old among 24 fully formed adults would create a unique, perhaps awkward, dynamic. Baseball, with its naked emphasis on performance, is different.
“With your co-workers, you don’t ever say, ‘Hey, how old are you?’ ” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “If you’re in the big leagues, you’re in the big leagues. You’re either good or you’re not good. If you’re out there doing your job, having success, age is totally irrelevant. Success kind of breeds respect.”