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Bryce Harper seems to run at one speed: all out, whether he’s hitting, fielding or running full tilt into walls.  And while manager Davey Johnson was capable of joking “I feel kind of sorry for the wall if he keeps running into them,” there is plenty of reason to be concerned for the 20-year-old who has twice now required stitches in his head, precautionary x-rays and concussion fears.

But that’s the way that Harper plays.  He plays to win.  Watching him play he reminds you of Pete Rose.  Do whatever it takes, play to win and let the consequences of the play sort itself out afterwards.  We loved that from Rose during his playing days, at least at times.  It’s what earned him the sobriquet “Charlie Hustle,” though we hated it when we saw catcher Ray Fosse carried off the field following Rose running over him at home plate in the 1970 All-Star game (Fosse suffered a separated shoulder which pretty much as the end of Fosse’s successful time as a ballplayer). 
Bryce Harper diving headfirst into first base
Photo by Keith Allision, used under creative commons license.

And while we love Harper's hustle, as do his teammates, we all have a right to be concerned for him.  This is a guy we want to see play for two decades, a guy with so much talent that he could one day be mentioned with the greats.  You watch him play and you have to think “Hall of Fame” material.

Well only if he manages to have a career.  And there are plenty of baseball players who’ve ended their careers by running face first into walls the way that Harper did on Tuesday.  Harper got lucky.  He walked away with no concussion and JUST 11 stitches.

Things could have been different.  Right now we could be comparing him with Doc Powers, who died after running into a wall chasing a flyball back in 1909 -- the first recorded death due to an in game event.  Or we could be talking about him in the same breath as Pete Reiser, who Leo Durocher spoke of like this in his autobiography: “There will never be a ballplayer as good as Willie Mays, but Reiser was every bit as good, and he might have been better. Pete Reiser might have been the best ballplayer I ever saw.”

And Durocher wasn’t the only one who thought that way about Reiser.  He was lauded by many and still shows up on lists of the top baseball players of all time.

He was one of those guys who could have been, at least until he ran head first into a wall trying to catch a fly ball, something Reiser was famous for doing.  It nearly killed him and he was never the same, sabotaging a career that should have been Hall of Fame quality.   And it wasn’t Reiser's only injury from playing that all out style.  He was carried off the field 11 times.

And the parallels between Harper and Reiser don’t stop with the way they run into walls.  Harper won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012 with a statistic line of 22 home runs, a .270 batting average, 59 RBIs and 98 runs scored. 

Reiser's rookie year?  Far better. He lead the NL batting title hitting .343, led the league in runs scored (117), doubles (39), triples (17), OPS (.964), and slugging percentage (.558).  He also hit 14 home runs and had 76 RBIs.  Had there been a Rookie of the Year back in 1941, Reiser would have won it.

Reiser managed a 10-year major league career, but the injury that changed him came in his sophomore  campaign when he hit that wall (1942).  It was like falling off a cliff.  He never really recovered and his final career numbers look puny because of it -- 861 games, 58 home runs, .295 batting average, 473 runs, 368 RBIs, all because he ran all out and didn’t avoid running into those walls.

We don’t want to see that happen to Harper.  We want him to be one of the greats.  We don’t want to see his career end prematurely because he’s the kind of player we want to savor for years to come.  We love the intensity and the skill, the urge to win at all costs.

For that we’re thankful that walls today are padding and that ballparks build in protection and that medical science has advanced. That’s all good, but players still injure themselves, sometimes seriously.  Matt Kemp hasn’t been the same, despite the padding since running into the same fence that Harper ran into on Tuesday.  Mike Cameron never was the same after his concussion, or Justin Morneau after his.

So maybe just maybe the Nationals should ask him to tone it down a bit.  He might he their superstar, but he’s one that all fans want the chance to treasure.