- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2014


Bryce Harper is featured in a new set of commercials for Major League Baseball – edited into old baseball footage as if he is playing on the same field with such legends as Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk and Babe Ruth.

But the ballplayer Harper is connected with – possibly linked to for the rest of his career – doesn’t require any trick photography. He will be right there on the field at Nationals Park Monday.

Harper’s peer – his measurement of baseball greatness – is Mike Trout.

Trout and his Los Angeles Angels teammates come to Washington for a three-game series at Nationals Park, the first time that Trout and Harper will be on the field as Major League Baseball competitors.

So far, it appears Bryce Harper is playing catch up. He didn’t exactly help himself by getting benched by manager Matt Williams in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Cardinals for lack of hustle. He could wind up being the villain in this story.

Harper made it clear before the season that he’s in a baseball legacy race with Trout, the 22-year-old near-MVP outfielder (oh, boy, I bet that hurt the jihadists numbers geeks) selected 25th in the first round by the Angels in the 2009 draft – one year before Harper.

In a February interview with Comcast Sportsnet, Harper let everyone know he has been paying attention to the Trout comparisons – while telling you he doesn’t care — and he has perhaps a different view than everyone else.

Trout’s very good,” Harper said. “(Manny) Machado’s really good. I could care less what people think. I’ve been to the NL East title. I won it. Nobody else can say that.”

Take that, Mike Trout.

Take your MVP runner up 2012 season, with your 30 home runs, 129 runs scored, 182 hits, 49 stolen bases, .326 average and .399 on-base percentage, and your 2013 MVP runner up season, with 27 home runs, 97 RBI, 109 runs scored, .323 average and .432 on-base percentage.

Bryce Harper helped lead his team to a division title.

It may be unfair, but it’s the same argument that Joe DiMaggio could make to Ted Williams — though Harper still has a ways to go to hold up his end of that comparison.

We may be looking at that kind of career-long debate – though, unlike DiMaggio’s New York Yankees and Williams‘ Boston Red Sox, the Nationals and Angels don’t play in the same league.

But there will be All-Star Games – and interleague moments like this series. And, if baseball is fortunate enough, maybe a World Series showdown someday.

The two young superstars are the foundation of the future of baseball for a generation of fans, along with Machado and the Dodgers exciting young star, Yasiel Puig – the four kings of the game.

They will be compared and contrasted, and if they are fortunate, for many years to come.

Trout and Harper arrived at this point through very different paths. Harper, as we all know by now, was christened as the next Mickey Mantle before he could drive, featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 17. He was a nationally-known phenom from Las Vegas, leaving high school early, getting his GED and playing junior college ball for one season – all with the idea of fulfilling his legacy – to be the number one pick in the 2010 baseball draft.

We knew everything about Harper before he ever signed a baseball contract.

Trout was a mystery, save for the amateur baseball fans who had been aware of the talented young player. He was born and raised in New Jersey, and because of that, was passed over by 24 teams in the 2009 draft – including the Washington Nationals – who figured a player from a northeastern state wouldn’t be as developed as one from a warm climate like, say, Las Vegas, where the play baseball year round.

They made very different entries to the major leagues. Trout, who had gotten everyone’s attention in the Angels farm system as a top prospect, made his debut in July 2011 with the Angels and was a flop, sent back down after 12 starts with one home run, 6 RBI and a .163 average.

Harper broke in the following season, called up in April 2012. He made an immediate impact on a floundering Nationals offense, and wound up as the NL Rookie of the Year, batting .270 with 22 home runs, 59 RBI, 18 stolen bases and 98 runs scored in 139 games, and, like he says, helped his team win the NL East title.

Trout, though, in his second time around, was an MVP candidate and rival of the best hitter in the game, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera.

There are many photos of DiMaggio and Williams together throughout their career, like fighters before a championship bout. Trout and Harper squaring off at Nationals Park should be a Kodak moment.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,”noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio andespn980.com.

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