Baseball Magazine

Labeling

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard
LabelingAs a sociology teacher, one concept I teach is called labeling.  One aspect of labeling is similar to having a reputation.  A reputation can be good or bad, fair or unfair.  If a person has been labeled a good kid by most of the people around him, that kid will usually receive the benefit of the doubt when they actually screw up, as long as it’s not too big of a screw up.  In this case, a person might say “He just had a brain freeze” or “Hey, everyone messes up every now and then.”  On the other hand, if a person has been labeled "trouble," a “bad kid,” “arrogant,” or “selfish,” very few people will give this person the benefit of the doubt.  Conversations about this kid might include “Well, what did you expect from him?” or “Here we go again” or “Is anyone surprised?”  Unfortunately, even if the kid changes his ways and matures, the label tends to stick long after the change was made.  Is this fair?  No, but it’s the reality of human interaction.  I spoke of this regarding Manny Ramirez and Brian Wilson in a post called Separating yourself vs Standing out.
That brings us to Bryce Harper.  Ever since his name entered the baseball scene as a “can’t miss” prospect, some people in the baseball community have been a little worried about his “make-up.”  His ability and work ethic don’t seem to be an issue.  His talent is certainly at a very high level.  It’s the little things like the eye-black, the blown kiss to the pitcher after a recent home run and the Twitter messages that followed that have to be getting some people a little worried.  Certainly the Nationals are going to try to downplay these issues and chalk it up as just examples of a young kid still maturing and learning how to play the game properly at the professional level.  This may be true but Mr. Harper better be careful with what we know about labels and their tendency to stick.   Baseball, especially at the pro level, is hard enough.  Add to that the obvious pressure of being described from day one as a can’t miss, first pick of the draft prospect and he will have an even harder go of it because all eyes will be on him at all times.  These eyes, especially those in the media who search/beg for controversy, will overanalyze every single action both on and off the field.  How many people would have wanted all eyes on them when they were 18 years old?  Very few I’m guessing.  Of course, baseball is the path he decided to take and is also the price a player pays for the attention, fame, and ultimately the money.  However, what Bryce has to start realizing is that he is in control over much of what people think and will continue to think about him.  Every time he steps on a field, communicates with fans, interacts with teammates, coaches and the media, and is anywhere in a public setting, he has a chance to positively shape his reputation and ultimately how he is labeled.  If he doesn’t take this more seriously soon, he may be making his future even more difficult.  Fans tend to have long memories when it comes to this kind of stuff.  Just ask a Phillies fan how they feel about J.D. Drew.  Our culture loves the controversial celebrity.  It also loves to see them brought down.

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