Just Wednesday morning, Grant Brisbee wrote an article about Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. The headline even began with "Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, And".
Do we need another article about Harper and Trout? They're the biggest story in baseball right now, as they've been for a month, and it wouldn't make much sense to avoid the biggest story just because something's already been written about it. If something terrible happened to the President, and the New York Times wrote something about it, the New York Times wouldn't subsequently stop writing about it. In this paragraph I have vaguely threatened the President and compared myself to a writer for the New York Times. This is one of my more powerful paragraphs.
Already Wednesday, Harper has played a game and batted five times. It wasn't one of his more productive efforts, as he finished just 1 for 5, but he did smack a double, and his OPS stands at .933. Harper is younger than most of the things in your medicine cabinet. Trout hasn't played yet Wednesday but he will, and his OPS stands at .958. Trout is older than Harper, barely, but he's also still younger than most of the things in your medicine cabinet. This is intended to note that Harper and Trout are incredibly young, and that you're incredibly reckless about some of the things you ingest.
And you can't go anywhere right now without reading about Harper, or Trout, or both. They're all over the place here, they're all over the place on MLB.com, they're all over the place on ESPN, and they're all over the place in places that might not ordinarily devote that much coverage to Major League Baseball. Harper, at least, because Harper is a sensation of an unusual sort. Trout is just as good, if not better, but he doesn't quite have Harper's transcendental character profile.
Harper and Trout have not-literally exploded onto the scene in 2012, and they've taken the sport by storm while having a combined age lower than that of Raul Ibanez. They are individually wowing all who observe, and we're having to wrap our heads around the new reality of a difficult game made to look simple by two guys who could drink if they wanted to, but not legally, like college students. With less talent, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout could right now be underclassmen in college. Sitting back, watching baseball, and gushing over Matt Moore and Todd Frazier. Or drinking and hanging with ladies. You know, college things.
Right now, we are in the process of appreciating all of which Harper and Trout are capable. We might not yet appreciate them enough. We're still learning new things about them as players and as people, and everything feels so fresh. It feels so great for the game to have this sudden infusion of unstoppable youth.
There's a dirty, dark secret, though, that nobody's keeping because nobody wants to think about it: it isn't always going to be this way. The way we feel about Bryce Harper and Mike Trout now is not the way we'll feel about them in months or years.
And I'm assuming that Harper and Trout will continue to be fabulous. No reason to doubt that they will, since they're not top prospects anymore. They're actively establishing themselves as stars at the highest level in the world, and once you do that, you're proven.
The other day over dinner, my girlfriend was explaining to me the Three Bite Rule. It sounded sensible enough. The first bite you have of something is the best. The second bite confirms the first bite, the third bite is to be savored, and then it all comes down. After three bites, whatever it is isn't special anymore. The rule seems a wee bit simplistic, but, in general, it's easy to believe.
Or we can go about this in a more relatable way. With Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, we're in the discovery stage. If you think of this like a relationship, we're still learning about Harper and Trout, finding new things about them that we like, and finding new things about them that we find quirky. We can't stop talking about Harper and Trout to our friends. They shine this light on a life that used to be dimmer, and you can't believe how empty things were before in retrospect.
We're still seeing Harper and Trout do things we've never seen them do. Occasionally we're seeing them do things no one's ever done. Our images of them are still forming, and all we know for sure is that the final image, once complete, will be awesome. Look at how hard he hit that ball! Look at how fast he can run! Is there anything these players can't do?
But after the discovery stage comes ... another, different stage. I'm not a relationship expert and I've never written any books, but I have enough relationship experience and sports experience to know that the feeling changes. The spark eventually goes away, and you settle into a routine wherein you start taking things for granted. Few things anymore are new, and many of the things that are new are unpleasant. It's not that things are necessarily bad -- it's that the wonder and curiosity are reduced. You reach a point where you have appreciated something or someone so much that seldom do you feel yourself actively appreciating anymore.
In a personal relationship, there are still forever those rejuvenating moments, and you try hard if the other person is right. In a fan-athlete relationship, there will also be those moments on occasion, but you don't try as hard, and you set your expectations to such a level that it's easier to be disappointed than amazed.
Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are so good and so new and so novel. We're getting to know them, and it's thrilling -- it's maybe the best possible thing that could happen for the league. They are climbing to the level of stardom. But once they get there, they'll be stars, and in time they'll be like other stars. They'll stop being so young, and they'll stop being so impressive, because we'll expect them to be impressive and being impressed is mostly relative to expectations.
Grant was right when he said that we'll probably be debating who's better for years. Sports fans love those arguments, and it helps that the two players play in opposite leagues, at similar ages. But those arguments won't be fueled by steaming, simmering passion -- they'll be fueled by numbers. Harper has x many whatevers. Trout does y whatevers z amount of the time. People will cite their outstanding statistics without really appreciating how outstanding those statistics are, because people will have gotten used to them.
Those decade-old arguments about who was the best shortstop in baseball went the same way. Hell, take Stephen Strasburg now. It wasn't long ago that Strasburg was a phenom unlike any the game had seen in ages. Maybe that wasn't true, but that's how he was hyped. Strasburg was awesome, he had surgery, and now he's awesome again. Wednesday afternoon he became the first pitcher in baseball with 100 strikeouts. Now Strasburg's old hat. We know he's amazing, but we're used to that. Most of the talk about Strasburg at the moment doesn't concern his breathtaking talent, but rather the innings limit the Nationals swear they'll hold him to. This is important, because people assume that Strasburg could help in September.
They assume Strasburg's success. Before long, we'll assume Harper and Trout's success, and if they have less success than we'd like, they'll be disappointing. This is a problem with starting so fast. Harper and Trout have left themselves little room to grow. We'll grow accustomed to their talent, and should one end up on a go-nowhere team, some of the team's fans will think about trading the guy for prospects. They'll draw criticism for not doing enough if one of their teams underachieves, regardless of how great their performances might be.
Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are two spectacular baseball players. There's very little that either of them can't do on a baseball field. Eventually, this will be understood. At that point, as with all great players, the magic will still be there in the players themselves, but it'll be harder for us to feel. Savor this, now. This whole experience. Before long, we'll be hyping up other, newer young players instead, and those players won't be as good as the two we've got today.