Bryce Harper is to Major League Baseball what LeBron James is to the NBA. To a lesser and more imperfect extent, he is to baseball what Tim Tebow is to the NFL.
Like King James—alas, LeBron can now justifiably wear the title—Harper graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high schooler. Like James, The Washington Nationals' outfielder enjoyed a tremendous wave of hype that propelled him right out of high school and into the professional ranks.
Each was the first overall selection in his draft and arrived in the pros with much fanfare and an unreal-expectations chaser.
Like Tebow, Harper took the league by storm even before his on-field exploits merited the extensive coverage and honors. Like Timmy Terrific, Bryce is a social-media revelation; an icon made for and by the Twitterverse and pages of Facebook.
If you need proof, the impertinent youngster spawned his first pop-culture meme before he'd collected his first All-Star selection.
Add to this the "genius" of the world's most successful human parasite, Scott Boras, and you have a 19-year-old license to print money.
Incidentally, the teenager can play a little ball, too.
Posting those numbers at any age against the best baseball players on the planet is impressive; to do it at such a young age in your first taste of major-league pitching is amazing.
So some of the mania over the apple of the Nats' eye makes sense, but not all of it. Especially not when juxtaposed with the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout and what he's doing.
That's no knock against Harper, at least no more than it would be a knock against any other player in the show.
Trout, who just turned 21 during the first week of August, has simply been one of the best players in baseball this year—if not the very best.
Yet, because he's about 14 months older than Harper and lacks the other hysteria-inducing bona fides, the Millville Meteor hasn't endured a fraction of the ink and cyber-equivalent that his counterpart in the National League has.
Bristolmetrics tracks the content ESPN features each week on Sportscenter, and a quick scan reveals just how out of whack the Trout vs. Harper coverage has been. During the week of July 27 to August 2, Harper was mentioned 26 times, while Trout was referenced a mere 10 times.
Indeed, it took until the first full week of August for Trout's Sportscenter mentions to top Harper's. Of course, the Halo also topped the mentions list for the entire sport of baseball. So I guess we know what it takes for the center fielder to displace his Senior Circuit doppelganger....
While ESPN's experts and baseball observers the world over were fixated on pushing Harper's legend beyond its expansive borders, Trout had to settle for expanding his using a bat and glove.
When Harper was lapping up the Sportscenter spotlight at the end of July with a slash line of .254/.330/.415, Trout had other obligations. Like blasting the damn cover off the ball en route to a slightly more impressive slash line: .346/.409/.601.
For the uninitiated, if your batting average is higher than another player's on-base percentage and your on-base percentage is approaching that other player's slugging percentage, well, you're having a slightly superior campaign.
But, again, Harper is not alone in his inferiority.
With less than 50 games left in the regular season, Trout is leading the major leagues in wins above replacement (as calculated by Fangraphs), runs scored and stolen bases. He's leading the American League in batting average while checking in at second in slugging percentage and third in on-base percentage.
For good measure, the kid can be found in the Junior Circuit's top 20 for both home runs and runs batted in.
Meanwhile, his defense trails only slightly behind his lumber.
In other words, Trout has obliterated the AL Rookie of the Year field and is beginning to pull away from the AL MVP also-rans. Frankly, the competition for MVP honors is only marginally closer than the non-competition for AL RoY (congrats to Yoenis Cespedes for staying visible in Trout's rearview mirror there).
Put another way, Bryce Harper may be a superstar in the making, but Mike Trout is a superstar right now.
And it's not as if the future face of the Angels franchise came out of nowhere.
Until Harper's star outshone all the other lights in the up-and-coming galaxy, Trout had quite a bit of hype working in his favor. He was a top prospect, won a slew of awards in the minors and made his MLB debut in 2011 as a 19-year-old (just like Harper).
Of course, he struggled in his teenage cameo, and that was all the loss of momentum Bryce's hype train needed to leave Trout's in a cloud of media-induced dust.
Which is fine.
We're not making public policy here, not discussing matters of life and death or anything else of supreme importance.
Hype has its place and serves a purpose in the sports-entertainment world. It cultivates interest—both positive and negative—which generates publicity, which increases newspaper circulation and page views, which facilitates the pursuit and attainment of the almighty dollar.
Sports entertainment is a business like any other, so there is nothing wrong with hype, per se.
Except that, when masquerading as objective reporting or analysis, it can be incredibly misleading.
Like when it creates the impression that a promising young talent is on par with one of the best players in the game—thus obscuring the accomplishments of the latter.
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