Robert Gibbs and Torrey Hart contributed to this report.
While swimming may be our first love here at SwimSwam, most of our writers are fans of other sports as well. Those of us who are baseball fans have been struggling through the doldrums of a Hot Stove season that’s been set on “simmer” for the most part. But, while rumors continue to abound that a free agent superstar Bryce Harper signing is imminent, that’s all we’ve had…rumors. Pundits expected Harper to easily sign a contract that could last ten years and exceed $300,000,000, but so far, it’s been another chilly offseason, and there’s no guarantee that Harper will get that kind of largess.
So, it got us thinking: with the formation of the International Swim League, the timing seems ripe for Harper to either call it quits on baseball or pull a Kyler Murray and aim to be the world’s most prominent two-sport star, taking his talents to what we all know is America’s pastime of the future.
For those of you who aren’t a fan of the greatest sport involving a ball, here’s the skinny on Harper: he was a phenom who landed on the front cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16, graduated high school early, played at a junior college, and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MB draft. Now, at only 26 years old, Harper has already been in the major leagues for seven years, was voted Rookie of the Year in 2012, was the unanimous National League MVP in 2015, was ESPN’s MLB Player of the Year in 2016, and put on perhaps the most exhilarating Home Run Derby performance of all-time in 2018. Basically, he’s done it all (except win a playoff series… sorry Nats fans).
Here’s seven reasons why Bryce Harper should sign with the International Swim League.
- The spectacle – The ISL wants you to be entertained, and if there’s one thing Harper is known for, it’s just that. Baseball is said to be dying among youth in part due to its many “unwritten” rules and outdated practices, so Harper wore a “Make Baseball Fun Again” hat on Opening Night in 2016. His style of play and choice in apparel consistently bring excitement to the sport, and would jive with the ISL’s goals.
- The Bryce Harper–Michael Andrew parallel – The similarities between these two run deep. Both were child prodigies who had their breakout seasons at age nineteen. Both love working with their dads: while Peter Andrew coaches Michael, Ron Harper taught Bryce everything he knows and pitched to him in the Home Run Derby. Bryce would undoubtedly follow Michael’s path.
- Katie Ledecky – This one would be mutually beneficial for Harper and the ISL. Ledecky, a dedicated Washington Nationals fan, had Harper hold her collection of medals while throwing out a first pitch in August 2016, sparking an ongoing friendship between the two. Harper then donned a cap with her name – as well as some stylish USA-themed goggles – while celebrating the Nationals’ 2016 clinch of the NL East division. Then, Ledecky suggested Harper spend his brief 2017 suspension at the Stanford pool. So, Harper joining the ISL might just get Ledecky to as well, and then they’d get to hang.
- The beard – If you haven’t noticed, facial hair is in. Yet, when swimmers want to go fast, they traditionally shave not only their face, but pretty much everything else. But let’s be honest, shaving is at least partially psychological, and we’ve seen college teams like NC State throw down some wicked fast times while sporting full beards. The ISL wants to make swimming more about racing than about times, so the beard alone could be the iconic poster child for the new approach to the sport.
- The Clutch Factor – Harper hit nine dingers in 47 seconds to clinch his 2018 Home Run Derby title. That could translate seamlessly to the ISL, which holds only timed finals of only short events – and Harper is most definitely a sprinter (check out his signature hustle double here). When a win is on the line, he gets it done. We’re not quite sure Harper’s yet on Jason Lezak’s level, but it’s a close call.
- Interviews – We love getting to talk to swimmers, but especially within the US, sometimes the unwritten expectation of not causing controversy leads to some pretty bland responses. There’s no such issue with the Harper, who at the age of 19 (in)famously responded to a reporter’s questions about whether or not he’d drink in Canada (where the drinking age is 18 or 19) to celebrate a big home run by rolling his eyes and responding, “That’s a clown question, bro.”
- Scheduling – MLB players are used to the grind of at least 162 games a year. Swimmers grind away at practice, but typically only care about racing at one or two big meets a year. If top-level swimming is going to move toward emphasizing being at, or at least near, your peak more often, Harper’s experience in a sport where every game can matter, could help push swimming in that direction. And of course, the timing of the ISL’s season would help to pass time during the long, baseball-less winter. But unlike the A’s draftee Murray and his predilection to play a second sport known for causing injury, Harper would simply swim his way through the offseason.