For Bryce Harper it started before he was drafted. There is of course the infamous Sports Illustrated cover where he was labeled baseball's LeBron and then LeBron went to South Beach and being called baseball's version of the best player in a sport became a negative thing. LeBron in Cleveland didn't have the best reputation, but LeBron leaving Cleveland to chase titles somehow made him worse and then there was the whole decision television program thing. Baseball's LeBron is only a title that brings about negative reaction unlike being called the Jordan of baseball or Peyton Manning of baseball.
The Sports Illustrated cover was only part of it. Bryce Harper had been annotated the chosen one and as American sports fans we want players to earn their reputation and to pay their dues. Bryce Harper had done none of that. He was a brash young kid that had left high school to enter the first year player draft a year early, and it didn't help when Kevin Goldstein claimed there were few scouts that liked Bryce Harper as a person and that he was just a bad bad dude.
On draft night a 17 year old Bryce Harper wore a faux-hawk his sister styled for him, dressed in an all black suit, and didn't leave the side of agent Scott Boras. In the minors an 18 year old Bryce Harper hit .297/.392/.501 but that wasn't what was talked about. Instead the moment that everyone remembers of Bryce Harper in the minors is when he took a pitcher deep and as he rounded the bases he taunted him by blowing a kiss. It was bush league all the experts says and shows that Bryce Harper doesn't respect the game and thinks himself bigger than the game, but that's not the whole story.
Before Bryce Harper was Bryce Harper he was Bryce Harper. In other words he's always been known, and ever since the Sports Illustrated cover dubbed him the chosen one he's been a target. So here was a pitcher that no one recalls the name of that was going to teach Bryce Harper to respect the game, and after every strikeout he would stare into the Hagerstown Suns dugout. The reality of the situation was that the pitcher was showing up the Hagerstown Suns before Bryce Harper retaliated with a home run and gave the pitcher some of his own medicine, but Bryce Harper is the name and his actions are what made Sportscenter.
When Bryce Harper came to the majors he already had a reputation as a player that hasn't earned all the accolades he was given and that didn't respect the game and it was in the hands of veterans to teach him. Cole Hamels took it upon himself to be the one to show the 19 year old Bryce Harper what it meant to be a big leaguer and so he hit him with a pitch the first time they ever faced. The following season Bryce Harper ran into a wall in LA and instead of it being dubbed a bad route by a 20 year old former catcher still learning to play the outfield it was Bryce Harper's arrogance run amok. Some in the media claimed Bryce Harper ran into the wall because he wanted to make the flashy play and the question had to be asked if Bryce Harper was reckless.
After running into the wall Bryce Harper had trouble putting up the numbers expected of him and eventually found his way to the DL with a knee injury. 2013 ended up a disappointing season and many blamed Bryce Harper's selfish action of getting injured. Fans want a player that is willing to run through the wall for the team but when one actually tries to do it it's seen as a negative. 2014 wasn't much better for Bryce Harper. He continued to not live up to the lofty expectations placed on him and then he hit a slow roller back to the pitcher and didn't touch first base. A few days earlier rookie manager Matt Williams had made a decree that the next player not to hustle would be benched and it happened to be Bryce Harper. When in 2013 Bryce Harper hustled too much suddenly he was a lazy player that didn't hustle enough.
While Bryce Harper was dealing with injuries and what was viewed as under performance Mike Trout was finishing in the top two for MVP three years in a row. Bryce Harper was no Mike Trout. The debate was dead and Bryce Harper was a selfish, injury prone, jerk who thought he was bigger than the game. Here in Washington DC we've seen otherwise. We've witnessed the Bryce Harper that is a student of the game and wants nothing more than to lead the Washington Nationals to victory, but until this season baseball fans outside of the metro area saw a different Bryce Harper. They saw the one that was reported on, and Bryce Harper was only reported on when he hustled too much or didn't hustle enough or an unnamed veteran told the media that Harper wasn't liked in the clubhouse because he thought he was bigger than the game.
And that is the origin story of how Bryce Harper became baseball's biggest villain.