- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
Instead of "Nothing But Natitude," Harper's box could've read, "Nothing But Attitude." The 21-year-old exposed the fissures that have gotten more public between the young star and the Nats. Being back in the Nats' lineup after two months wasn't enough for Harper; he wanted to write the lineup, too.
Manager Matt Williams put Ryan Zimmerman at third base, Anthony Rendon at second base, Harper in left field and benched Danny Espinosa. He also batted Harper sixth, exiled from the glamorous heart-of-the-order spots. Harper disagreed, on all fronts, and said so several hours before the game.
"I think [Zimmerman] should be playing left. Rendon's a good third baseman. He should be playing third. We've got one of the best second basemen in the league in Danny Espinosa," said Harper. "Of course, we want the best-hitting lineup in there. [But] I think Rendon playing third and Zim playing left is something that would be good for this team. I think that should be what's happening."
This Harper proposal would also put Denard Span on the bench and Harper himself in center field, the position he's politicked for weeks to play.
Williams has talked about daily designer lineups, constantly changing. Harper's suggestion amounts to a fixed lineup -- to his advantage. If Harper were 10 years more established in deeds, not dolls, it'd be audacious to manage a team after being on the DL for more than half of the Nats' previous 193 games. But to do it with one homer halfway into a season?
Anything else? How are those internal lines of communication working?
"I haven't talked to nobody about anything, so I have no clue," said Harper, who frequently mentioned how happy and excited he was to return but never smiled. "I know I'm playing left tonight, via Twitter. So I guess that's where I'm going."
And what about batting sixth?
"I'm in the lineup. That's all that matters. If I had the lineup, it would maybe not be the same. He's got the lineup card. He's got the pen. That's what he's doing," said Harper. "So there's nothing I can do about it. I'm hitting sixth tonight."
So, the manager has three players out of position, the wrong guy benched, Harper batting in the wrong spot and he has to learn about this stuff on Twitter.
"Hopefully, nobody kills themselves trying to get a bobblehead," said Harper, who knows just how central Nationals marketers have made him to the franchise's merchandising identity.
I cannot recall an example of a young major league player doing anything like this.
12dJeff Banister, Special to ESPN.com
13dBrayan Pena, Special to ESPN.com
16dMatt Buschmann, Special to ESPN.com
17dA.J. Ellis, Special for ESPN.com