To Mike Trout, 20, and Bryce Harper, 19, age is just a number. Their stats are a different story.
Los Angeles knows a star when it sees one. For years, Hollywood starlets have graced the silver screen –stars of the cinematic. For seasons, Magic Johnson’s smile, shot, and impossible passes made a show of every Lakers performance –a flare for the dramatic. For months, the impending promise of Albert Pujols’ arrival seemed to insure that another star was shooting toward southern California –with a swing that’s automatic.
The Angels received their wish on the back of a shooting star. But it wasn’t Albert Pujols, who struggled through a slow start before suddenly reversing his slump and showing shadows of that scary swing of old. Instead, the wish arrived on the back of Mike Trout. No star…or future…shines brighter in Los Angeles.
Trout is only twenty. Born on August 7, 1991, he is only sixteen days older than the Super Nintendo. He’s the same age as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast; when he was born, current teammate Torii Hunter was already old enough to drive. But if any cliché has been proven true by Trout’s sudden surge onto the baseball scene, it is this: age is truly just a number.
Trout’s numbers, on the other hand, are something beyond numeric –they’re historic. Since being called up from Triple-A on April 28th, Trout has played 51 games. In that short time, he’s already amassed a WAR (Wins above Replacement) rating of 3.7 –that’s the fourth highest rating in the entire American League, in twenty fewer games than many of his peers. Despite his age, Trout has arisen as one of the most valuable players for his team.
This is why:
Not only is Trout fourth in AL WAR; he is also third in AL On-base Percentage (.399), first in AL Stolen Bases (21), second in AL Batting Average (.338), and all whilst being the youngest player in the American League. And his value is not just reflected in the box score next to his name, but also in the standings next to the name he wears daily upon his chest. Before Trout’s emergence, the Angels were struggling, starting the season at 6-14. Since Trout has joined the team, they are 34-19. And as any baseball enthusiast would tell you; wins are not just numbers.
In 2009, when the Angels selected Trout with the 25th pick in the draft, they got more than a highly touted speedster. They found a rising star, burning brighter than the southern Californian sun as he takes the West by storm.
On Capitol Hill, the story that always escapes the halls of Congress these days seems to be the same –a bunch of old guys are locked in a deadlock, unable to move forward, still, and stuck. But Washington, D.C. isn’t in a standstill. While a slew of fifty-somethings fail to pass a law within the walls of the Capitol Building, a nineteen-year-old, just down the road at Nationals Park, is passing first, and second, and beyond, leaving sand and helmets flying in his wake. Last I checked, no base path or outfield grass has managed to filibuster the progress of Bryce Harper. He’s an energetic tour-de-force –a star that can’t be stopped.
Harper arrived on the Washington scene as the first pick of the 2010 draft, bringing with him more hype than any position player in recent memory. Expectations were high for his much-awaited debut –too high. They were the kind of expectations that older players have crumbled beneath –a ceiling that can’t be reached. On April 28th, Bryce Harper got the call, and faced those expectations in the stares of a full house at Nationals Park. The expectations were impossible.
And he exceeded them.
Watching Harper sprint around the bases or through the outfield, it’s easy to forget that he’s only nineteen. The boy with dreams of playing in the October Classic was born on October 16, 1992, less than a month before Bill Clinton was elected. His current manager, Davey Johnson, was already 49 at the time of Harper’s birth, had managed six years in New York, taken two years off, and was about to head to Cincinnati. The number one hit of the year was a song that Nationals fans would gladly sing to Harper when he steps to the plate, bringing his signature faux hawk and signature excitement: “I Will Always Love You”.
Harper’s numbers aren’t quite as inhuman as Trout’s. But considering his age, the pressure weighing down on his shoulders, and it should be mentioned again, his age –he’s playing lights out. He’s hitting .286, getting on base over 36% of the time, and covering enough outfield grass to earn himself the fourth highest range factor in the National League. But what the fans seem to love about Harper goes beyond his already promising hitting prowess and his defensive aggression. There’s an energy in D.C. as the Nationals sit on top of the NL East…and much of that energy resides in the fast strides of Bruce Harper.
Every game, he finds a way to make the highlight. He hustles to first, he dives for balls, he throws his helmet like Pete Rose on the base paths –hell, he even steals home. Bryce Harper does the little things. And he does them at full throttle. Some players put up solid statistics, and others are simply fun to watch. Bryce Harper is both. Not many guys become one-person-YouTube-highlight-reels. This guy’s already there.
When Cole Hamels purposely plunked Harper, he admitted that there was an intended message behind the pitch. Welcome to the big leagues, kid. But when Harper silently took first, then worked his way around the bases and slipped by Hamels on his way to stealing home, a message that the entire league should take heed of was presented. I’ve already arrived. I’m home.
In a game as old as baseball, it’s hard to do anything unprecedented. Thousands of players have crossed the plate in Major League Baseball, with the legends of yesteryear practically immortalized like mythological beings. Some names, and some accomplishments, are simply untouchable.
Leave it to these two young whippersnappers to try –to enter a territory that belongs to names untouchable…and threaten to surpass it. The rapid ascension of Trout and Harper, to say the least, puts them in good company. Some of the league’s legends were thrown into the majors at such a young age. Few of them have fared as well.
Here are Trout’s and Harper’s stats, through 51 and 50 games respectively, this season*:Player Hits Extra-base hits AVG OBP Slugging % HR RBI Stolen Bases Trout 70 23 .338 .399 .531 7 29 21 Harper 54 22 .286 .367 .497 7 20 7
*To be fair, Trout played over 40 games in 2011. But his true arrival has come in 2012.
Now, compare those numbers to the following players that also entered the league at a very young age. You will probably recognize a few of these names. Stats are numbers compiled during their first 50 games in the league:Player Age Hits Extra-base hits AVG OBP Slugging % HR RBI Stolen Bases Ken Griffey, Jr. 19 51 18 .290 .349 .506 10 23 8 Eddie Mathews 20 41 21 .220 .293 .441 10 20 2 Willie McCovey 21 68 27 .364 .437 .674 13 38 2 Willie Mays 20 54 26 .281 .376 .552 11 36 0
This isn’t bad company. Despite falling behind in the power numbers, Trout and Harper arguably have had better starts than names such as Mays, Mathews, and Griffey. When you get in the rarified air of being nowhere near the bottom of a list like this…you’ve done something special. It’s a small sample size, and they have a long way to go before they can become half the outfielders that Mays and Griffey would become, but something is clear by looking at this: The writing is on the wall.
Age is just a number. The ascension of Trout and Harper in such a short time is proof of that. But the impact felt around the league by their arrival goes beyond the numbers. A new generation of stars has clearly arrived. We’re beyond the point where these young boys are phenoms of the sport. These are men. And they’re simply phenomenal.
And yet, despite all of this, neither of their names can be found on the All-Star Ballot. Due to some ridiculous, long-standing tradition of dismissing names that didn’t start the season with their team, fans hoping to punch holes next to two of the most exciting players in contemporary baseball will find themselves disappointed. They aren’t there. Unless fans are savvy enough to write-in their names, it’s possible that teammates such as Jayson Werth and Vernon Wells, who’ve done nothing to merit a trip to Kansas City, will receive more votes.
All-Stars or not, it’s clear that baseball has two of its future stars in Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Because in the end, age and statistics are merely numbers. Star power is truly measured in the excitement they bring to the stadium, in the plays they make when it matters most, and in a love for the game that permeates every play, at bat, and throw. Some players have it –some don’t.
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have it. Night after night, they’re bringing fans to their feat, filling the seats of their stadiums only to have people abandon them in ovation. They’re fast. They’re game-changers. And they’re just getting started.
This is rarified air. When Willie Mays burst onto the scene, his star rose in the east, shining brightly in the city that never sleeps –New York. Ken Griffey’s rose in the west, piercing through the clouds of Seattle. But decades separated the arrivals of such savants –kids that clearly belonged on the biggest stage.
History may one day tell us that April 28, 2012 was the first time a star rose in the east and the west –that two kids simultaneously burst onto the scene and took baseball by storm. It’s too early to tell. It’s just morning. But one thing is clear in regards to the arrival of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper; age is just a number, but a shooting star –that’s what wishes are made of.
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