Bryce Harper is right — he’s not a leader

What follows is an excerpt from a recent conversation between our own Brendon Ellis, avid Bryce Harper fan, and Megan Mansfield, one of our (more level-headed) researchers.

Bryce Harper Fan: Bryce Harper was the NL MVP last season, and he isn’t slowing down. He’s probably the best player in baseball right now, and to top it off, he’s super good looking. Did you see his ESPN body issue?

Burkmont Researcher: He’s probably the best player in baseball in terms of performance. I saw the cover for the body issue — delicious. I would never question Harper’s baseball playing ability nor his good looks, but I might question whether he’s good for baseball.

Bryce Harper Fan: WOAH. WOAH, BRO. What do you mean?!?! He’s so sick. He hits home runs, he screams at umpires, he plays hard. He’s GREAT for baseball. Read his hat, bro (“Make Baseball Fun Again”).

Burkmont Researcher: Sorry, let me reiterate. I’m not here to question his playing ability OR the way in which he plays the game. I am questioning his ability to be a team leader for the Nationals, which might have something to say about him being great for baseball as a whole.

Bryce Harper Fan: Who cares about being a team leader when you can hit like Harper?

Burkmont Researcher: Well, a player’s production is a big piece of his team’s success, but it’s not the whole story. Being a strong leader can affect the overall level of team cohesion1 as well as the performance of the the team as a whole.

Bryce Harper Fan: How do you measure leadership? Bryce Harper is probably a great team leader.

Burkmont Researcher: In a previous study, we coded postgame quotes from 8 randomly selected, teammate-identified team leaders across the entirety of the 2012 MLB regular season. Quotes could be either leaders talking about themselves and/or about their team. We split the sample of 8 into 2 groups, leaders on winning teams (high team leaders or HTL) and leaders on losing teams (low team leaders or LTL). We found that when interviewed after a win, HTL referred to their teams much more often than LTL.

We figured that we could look at Bryce’s leadership capabilities in much the same way, we replicated the study, this time randomly selecting and coding 100 Bryce Harper quotes from the Washington Post during the 2015 season. Here’s how Harper stacked up against our sample of 8 leaders from 2012: these are every quote from each leader, not just postgame quotes:

In short: Bryce talks about himself a lot. But what about just postgame quotes? How a team leader conducts himself after a game could serve as a barometer for the entire team. To see how Bryce stacked up postgame, we compared him to the groups of HTL and LTL from the original study. The Nationals won 83 games in 2015, qualifying them as a winning team, and placing Bryce in the HTL category. Thus, we’d expect Bryce to refer to his team more often than himself (HTLs had a 2.32:1 team to self ratio in the original study).

As it turns out, Harper is nothing like HTL or LTL; he has so many self-references he’s off the charts2.

Based on these findings, Harper’s statement from February seems true: He isn’t a leader. And he sure as hell doesn’t talk like one. However, given his talent, attractiveness, and prominence, he’s a de facto leader — if not for the Nationals, then MLB as a whole. So, the more accurate conclusion may be that he isn’t a good leader.

Bryce Harper Fan: Dude, that was long-winded. But what about the fact that Harper’s always getting interviewed ABOUT himself; he can’t help it if he’s an awesome player. AND I’m calling bullshit on your “random selection” — you probably chose which quotes you wanted. Plus, who cares about him being a leader, he’s still great for baseball.

Burkmont Researcher: Reporters can’t force Bryce to talk about himself. Despite the context of questions, a good leader can talk about his team. No bullshit on the random selection, have a look for yourself (

The Nationals were a winning team in 2015, but by all accounts, they had a disappointing season. Is Harper a good player? Yes. Will he make baseball fun again? Probably, but not for his teammates. Shouldn’t that be taken into account?

1 Shamir, B., Arthur, M.B., & House, R.J. (1994). The rhetoric or charismatic leadership: A theoretical extension, a case study, and implications for research. The Leadership Quarterly, 5(1), 25-42.

2 (HTL’s (X2= (df, 1) =240.4) and LTLs (X2=(df, 1)= 294).

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