Thom Loverro: For Nationals, Harper looks like real deal in the outfield

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To appreciate Bryce Harper's home debut Tuesday at Nationals Park, you must recall all the bodies that were sacrificed to get to this point.

Harper may be the greatest hitting prospect in decades, and he will be wearing a Washington Nationals uniform. Why not embrace the moment?

Why not believe Harper is the second coming of Mickey Mantle?

There was a moment when the Nationals thought J.J. Davis could be a major league outfielder -- if given an opportunity.

He certainly looked the part -- 6-foot-4, 250 pounds. When he was blasting home runs in spring training of 2005, general manager and franchise gravedigger Jim Bowden declared his greatness by telling reporters, "If he doesn't make this team, I should resign and go home."

Davis played 14 games for the Nationals, hit .231 with two RBI and was gone. Bowden, unfortunately, stayed.

Yes, there have been many imposters posing as major league outfielders for the Nationals before Bryce Harper arrived.

Alex Escobar had more tools than Bob Vila. But he couldn't use any of them without getting hurt.

"We are trying to get players with a high ceiling," Bowden told MLB.com in 2005 when he traded for Escobar, once a top Mets prospect.

If you believed Bowden, Escobar had the Sistine Chapel of high ceilings. And by the time he finally stepped on the field for Washington in 2006, Escobar showed something -- four home runs, 18 RBI and a .356 average in 33 games. But he couldn't stay healthy and never played in the majors again.

Of course, the legendary player whom Nationals fans looked at and saw 35 home runs a season for about 10 years or so was Wily Mo Pena -- Bowden's white whale.

Bowden had been in love with Pena's size and potential power since his days in Cincinnati, so when he got him in a trade to Washington in 2007, Bowden said, "His power works in any stadium."

Pena -- who hit 10 home runs over two seasons with the Nationals -- is testing that theory now in Japan.

The long list of failed attempts in the outfield includes Matthew Cepicky, Brandon Watson, Luis Matos, Terrmel Sledge, Nook Logan, Ryan Church, George Lombard, Mike Vento, Chris Snelling, Michael Restovich, Rob Mackowiak, Kory Casto. And last, but not least, Elijah Dukes.

It's quite a list of pretenders.

If you've been a Nationals fan since the franchise moved from Montreal for the 2005 season, you've seen them all roam the outfield for your team. Take a moment to remember them Tuesday night when you watch Harper take his outfield position at Nationals Park.

It will make the moment a little sweeter.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Thom Loverro

Sports columnist
The Washington Examiner