Think back 10 years. What do you remember about the MLB? I remember stars all over the place. Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Nomar, Clemens, and A-Rod just to name a few. Albert Pujols was beginning his 3rd season. Miguel Cabrera was about to splash on the scene as a skinny leftfielder for the Marlins. But just a few years later, something happened and these stars were gone. Bonds, Sosa, McGwire and Clemens retired and became tainted by steroid use. Rodriguez became tainted as well and also broke down with injuries. Nomar got hurt and fell out of the league. We lost our stars. Yes Albert Pujols had one of the most amazing 10 year stretches in MLB history, but his future is up in the air. 10 years after the MLB was filled with stars from Nomar to Bonds, we have a league with just a few stars.
Photo: (Denis Poroy/ AP)
Last year, two rookies dove onto the scene and took over the MLB. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Trout had a season never before seen in the history of the game. Harper was the 19 year old wonder-kid who made it to the Bigs after graduating high school early, leaving Junior College after one year, and spending just one year in the Minors. In just a few months, these two rookies brought some stardom, or at least potential stardom, back to Major League Baseball. Harper and Trout will forever be linked. They will be the MLB version of Magic and Bird.
In 1979, the NBA was changing. The merger with the ABA had just been completed and the NBA signed its first deal with a cable television provider. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird played their rookie years in 1979. They brought with them a budding rivalry created in the 1979 NCAA Championship Game. Magic had more immediate success winning a championship in his first season and winning the Finals MVP. In 1984, Magic and Bird met in the NBA Finals for the first time. The Magic-Bird “rivalry” continued into the 1990s when both players retired. This “rivalry” between Magic and Bird changed the NBA. They both became stars, both became top 20 all-time players and both helped bring attention to the NBA and to basketball around the world.
Photo: (Peter Read Miller/SI)
The MLB can only hope that Trout and Harper form a Magic-Bird type relationship. In their first season in the Bigs, both made the All-Star team and both won the Rookie of the Year for their respective leagues. Both players are throwback, grind it out, hustle players. They are combinations of both Magic and Bird in that they have all the talent in the world but also make themselves even better by being smart. They both showed incredible raw talent in the field from Trout’s web-gems to Harper’s absolute cannon. And their smarts shone through on the basepaths where Harper’s helmet flew off as he took extra-bases and Trout stole bases at ease.
Both Trout and Harper made huge splashes and have put themselves in pre-season discussion for the MVP in just their second season. Trout and Harper are in similar situations, each will be the corner stone of teams that had great success last year. Both will play the outfield everyday with other stars on the field. And both had great expectations put on them before the second season began. There is no room for a “sophomore slump” for these two players, they are expected to be above that. And if they can beat the slump, they will be the stars the MLB has been searching for.
Being in separate leagues, it is only a matter of time before Trout and Harper meet in the World Series, it could even be this year! The comparisons will go on forever between Trout and Harper. They will be competing for World Series and top star status. Eventually the two will be competing for top contract status and for the starting centerfield job on Team USA in a World Baseball Classic (or maybe Olympics if the sport is re-added and the MLB agree to allow MLB players to play). Trout and Harper have the chance to become the preeminent duo of the next decade and even more. People may be debating who is better, Trout or Harper like kids of the 50s with Willie, Mickey and the Duke (there is even a song about those three) or A-Rod, Nomar and Jeter in the late 90s early 2000s (but unfortunately, they don’t have a song).
Photo: (Christine Cotter/AP)
Trout and Harper are about to create something special. They are unbelievably marketable for the MLB. Almost anyway you look at it, Trout and Harper are exactly what Major League Baseball needs, just like the NBA was searching for stars like Magic and Larry. Bud Selig is probably salivating in the Commissioner’s Office over the possibilities that arise when Bryce Harper and Mike Trout hit their potential. Personally, I want to see a new version of this Gatorade commercial.
34 years ago, Magic and Bird came onto the scene in the NCAA Championship Game and then carried that over to the NBA. Magic and Bird were incredibly influential on the National Basketball Association through the mid-90s when they retired. Trout and Harper have a chance to bring people back to baseball the way McGwire and Sosa brought people to the parks in 1998 with their home run race*. Trout and Harper will be invaluable to the league. At a time when the MLB needed marketable superstars, Trout and Harper splashed onto the scene and gave the league two young potential superstars. As I sit here writing this, I saw a commercial that only showed Mike Trout and basically said, if you want to see Mike Trout, watch Sunday Night Baseball. Trout and Harper are vital to the success of the league over the next 15-20 years as they play and maybe even longer if they can influence a young generation to play baseball.