If we are lucky, each year there are a handful of baseball moments that transcend the sport and enter into a broader national consciousness and conversation. It’s good for the sport, and, more narrowly, it just makes the life of a hardcore baseball fan a little more fun.
In my memory, one of those times came six years ago, when a highly-visible 19-year-old rookie outfielder was taking over the collective baseball psyche.
Bryce Harper was a superstar before he was even drafted, a baseball wunderkind who got his GED as a high school sophomore so that he could be eligible for the MLB Draft as soon as possible in 2010, playing his age 17 season in college with wood bats, and putting up a comical .443/.526/.987 slash line. His selection as the top overall pick that year was as obvious as it can possibly get in the baseball draft, and his was a name that even casual baseball fans all knew.
So when Harper debuted in 2012 at age 19, he was a story. Everywhere he went, he was a story, and he backed it up with his performance, which would ultimately earn him Rookie of the Year honors.
But the moment when he really imprinted himself on the national scene was when he dropped a sublimely absurd response to a member of the media, and immediately became a meme: “That’s a clown question, bro.”
With Harper now one of baseball’s most desirable free agents in years, and with the Cubs expected to be among his top pursuers, I couldn’t help but think about that Harper quote on this otherwise sleepy Tuesday, and then it hit me: I actually have no idea what the “clown question” was. Did Harper get snippy about a touchy issue of performance? Was it a good fair and good question that Harper simply didn’t want to answer? Was it a funny line, but ultimately a bad look?
Do you remember the question?
Turns out, it was indeed a silly question:
Having hit a long homer against the Blue Jays in Toronto, Harper was asked if he wanted to celebrate with a Canadian beer since the legal drinking age in Canada is 19, and what was his favorite beer. A mild, inoffensive, geographically and chronologically appropriate question? Maybe so, but Harper was then reasonably well known to have grown up as a Mormon, and would thus have multiple reasons not to be drinking alcohol at that time.
And thus, a meme was born.
I’m gonna need someone else to drop that one soon, actually. How about when a Cubs player or front office member is inevitably asked in this early part of the offseason if they believe their team would be improved by adding a guy like Harper?
Though, you better be careful about any commercial response with the line … because Harper looked to trademark it the very next day:
Bryce Harper has filed for the trademark “That’s A Clown Question Bro.” Under Armour’s shirt is “Don’t Be A Clown, Bro.”
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) July 6, 2012
For his part, as best I can tell from the Googles, that was more about protecting the line than deploying it aggressively to generate cash. Harper never really took to the meme’ifying of his phrase, refusing to say the line at the 2015 All-Star Game upon request, and expressing reservations about even answering questions from kids if the questions had anything to do with clowns.
So then, your two rules for addressing Bryce Harper in the future, should he join the Cubs: don’t ask him any clown questions, and also don’t ask him any questions about clown questions, because those are also clown questions, bro.