By Bob Elliott
In the spring of 2013 a veteran National League player wanted an answer.
“Who’s the better player?” he asked. “Mike Trout or Bryce Harper?”
Both had won the 2012 rookie of the year honors, Trout with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Harper with the Washington Nationals.
“They’re both young studs with great futures, but I’ll go with the guy who doesn’t do things to get plunked ... like blowing a kiss at a pitcher after a home run (as Harper had done at class-A Hagerstown in 2011),” was my reply. “The other guy just plays.”
The player laughed, shook his head and said “man you’re getting old. Real old.”
He was right, I’m old.
Older than Philadelphia Phillies Cole Hamels, who plunked Harper as a teen-aged rookie in 2012 as in a “welcome to the big leagues” moment, then admitted he threw at Harper on purpose and the lefty was suspended five games.
Harper, who Blue Jays pitchers try to get out this week in Washington D.C. is still infuriating pitchers (with home runs, line drives and his actions) and he is still getting hit or knocked down.
Reds lefty reliever Tony Cingrani hit Harper with a pitch Friday night in Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park with Cincinnati leading 4-2 in the seventh with two out and Denard Span on second.
Harper strolled to first base ... slowly, a 42-second stroll.
Rickey Henderson’s time to first in his prime was in the 3.8’s.
Shannon Stewart was 3.8-3.9 range.
Billy Hamilton makes it to first in 3.7-3.9 from the left side.
Near the end of the 42 seconds Harper and Reds first baseman Joey Votto had words.
“As I said on our broadcast, he’s an immature kid, he’s 22,” said Cincinnati’s Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman. “No way was Cingrani was trying to hit (Harper) on purpose to put the tying run on base.
“On the other side of the coin, when you get hit in the back with a 94 MPH fastball ... it hurts.”
Harper singled in the ninth against Reds closer Aroldis Chapman, didn’t play Saturday and returned to the lineup Sunday in Cincinnati.
“Bryce has had a tremendous amount of success at an age when most guys are fighting to just stay on a major-league roster,” Brennaman said. “He plays hard, plays his butt off. No one will ever question that he plays the game hard.”
Brennaman said how while Harper was in Cincinnati he told reporters he grew up a Reds fan since his father, Ron Harper, cheered for the Big Red Machine, even though the Harpers lived in Las Vegas.
Harper watched the likes of Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Sparky Anderson on ESPN Classic-TV.
Since his rookie of the year honors in 2012, Trout was the runner up to Miguel Cabrera the next year, won the MVP in 2014.
And this season Trout has 13 homers, 30 RBIs, a .294 average and a .933 OPS going into Tuesday night’s game against the Tampa Ray Rays in Anaheim.
Since his rookie of the year award in 2012, Harper was an all-star the next year, hit 13 homers in 2014 when injuries limited his playing time to 100 games.
And this season has 18 homers, 44 RBIs, with a .325 average and a 1.186 OPS. He leads the National League in runs scored, walks, homers, RBIs and OPS heading into Tuesday night’s second game of the day-night doubleheader against the Blue Jays.
He decided matter in the Tuesday afternoon game was scoreless in the fifth when Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann led off with a single to centre off R.A. Dickey, who then walked Yunel Escobar on four pitches. Ian Desmond bunted the runners over.
With first base open, Harper singled to centre for the only run Washington would need. A scoring fly ball resulted in a 2-0 win.
Pitchers can’t hit? Zimmerman now has three hits this season, four less than Josh Thole, who had two on Tuesday, three less than Michael Saunders and two more than Munenori Kawasaki.
We asked a pro scout this week who would he take right now?
Trout or Harper?
“Trout is the better runner, I wish he’d walk more like he used to, I’d still take Trout,” said the evaluator, “there was a gap, but Harper is closing it quickly. It’s a good who-do-you like argument?”
For now, I’m sticking with Trout ... but it’s early as they say.
That’s a word no one is using with much conviction about the Blue Jays chances in the American League East.