I originally was going to write this article the day Bryce Harper injured his thumb sliding into third base, but decided against it when I saw him get up from that play holding his hand awkwardly. While I have been known to do a few things that were in poor taste, penning a piece on that night seemed like overkill, even for me. So I held off, figuring Harper’s extended stint on the DL was going to render my point moot.
Lo and behold, I turned on my TV last night around 7:55pm to watch the Nationals take on the Astros in the second game of their midweek mini-series only to be greeted by the very thing that prompted me to want to write that article in the first place. If you are a somewhat regular viewer of MASN, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s that primarily black-and-white commercial where Bryce discusses his desire to hustle. I imagine it’s officially entitled “Nothing But Hustle,” since those words flash on the screen as part of the closing text. [The screen grab is linked here, since we don’t have the rights to the image.] I, however, refer to it as “The Most Ridiculous Commercial in the World” because it is about as tone deaf as a piece of sports advertising can be.
Look, I think we can all admit that MASN’s baseball broadcasts aren’t perfect. Johnny Holliday seems like an awfully nice man, but has always comes off as a football/basketball guy who’s trying his best to keep up with the rest of the wooden bat lifers employed by the network. And while it’s too early to pass judgment on Dan Kolko, the rest of the on-field reporters have been ill-suited for the role (don’t get me started on Debbi Taylor). Still, the overall day-to-day coverage is completely acceptable. Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo offer something for everyone and Ray Knight has lived more days around the diamond than almost anyone who sits in front of a camera. [I also enjoy the perspective Phil Wood brings to his show in addition to the handful of times each season he fills in during games.] On balance, from a live presentation perspective, I’m more than pleased with the strides MASN has made over the years.
But these commercials are darn near killing me. Even the most casual fan is aware that Harper was benched for not running out a tapper back to the pitcher a few weeks ago. People have argued both sides of that play being a reflection of his level of hustle. I, for once, don’t have a polarized opinion on whether that qualifies or not. Nobody I know runs full speed on every play. That said, I fully believe Matt Williams had to bench him since that has been a point of emphasis for the new manager. Just a few days later, Bryce stood frozen as he got doubled off second base to end the extra-inning game against the Padres despite having a moment to reverse course. Had it not come so soon after the previous instance, it would have been quickly forgotten. Finally, this clip from an at-bat against the Mets last year solidifies for me that while Bryce often goes hard, he has a long way to go to catch up with Charlie Hustle.
So why does MASN continue to air this propaganda? Do they not realize it offends a portion of their hardcore audience? Do the advertising and production departments like the look of their work more than the substance? Does no one at the network have the power to shut down a commercial just because it was initially intended to run all season long? Or, at the very least, does anyone have the power to shutter it until a storm blows over? They were literally airing this thing a day or two after he was pulled from the game against the Cardinals! I thought maybe Harper’s inactivity until July had given them a backdoor to yank it from the rotation when I failed to see it on Tuesday night. My assumption was obviously proven wrong 24 hours later.
Here’s my best guess for why we will continue to see it (assuming no one from MASN is swayed by this article): they want Bryce to be the guy they have portrayed in the commercial because it gives him a marketable persona with an easily identifiable backstory. Anyway, since they have nationwide opinion on their side, in the form of recent articles written (with naturally limited insight since their beats require them to cover all MLB teams) by Keith Law and Mike Bauman, among others, why would MASN bother to sabotage the primarily positive image of a player they can profit from? Why? Because it’s the right thing to do for the real fans; the people who watch over 100 games per year and know when something doesn’t pass the smell test and is just painful to sit through.
In closing, let me just point out that Bryce Harper has been my favorite player since he hit the big leagues and it’s hard for me to point out his deficiencies. Like everyone else, I’d rather sweep them under the rug and just revel in his towering blasts to the upper deck in RF. However, the daily airing of this commercial has made ignoring the truth impossible for me. And, to be honest, it’s probably a disservice to Bryce himself; because it sets him on course to eventually fail. All players strive to reach certain statistical milestones; but when one of your milestones is to go hard every second, you’re bound to either let people down or, worse, hurt yourself multiple times trying not to let up.