On Aug. 29, Bryce Harper accomplished something very few players in baseball history have ever done:
He passed Mickey Mantle on an all-time home run list.
The list in question is for most home runs by a teenager. Harper will not turn 20 until Oct. 16. So all season long, as he has gradually added to his home run total, he has passed some true baseball legends.
When Harper hit his ninth home run, he passed baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. Like Harper, Killebrew began his career in Washington, as a Senator. But the outfielder would play only seven seasons in DC before the team became the Twins and moved to Minnesota, where Killebrew played 14 of his 22 MLB seasons.
Harmon hit 40 home runs in a season eight different times, en route to leading the AL in home runs four times and all of MLB in home runs twice. He finished with 573 home runs for his career.
Harper hit his 12th home run on Aug. 19 in New York to pass Robin Yount, another member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Milwaukee Brewers shortstop debuted as an 18-year-old, and he hit three home runs that season and eight the next season before turning 20 prior to the 1976 season. Yount finished with 251 career home runs to go with 3,142 hits.
Ten days later, Bryce hit his 13th and 14th home runs, for his first two-homer game in the big leagues.
But that game was significant for another reason: Harper passed Mickey Mantle for fifth on the list of most home runs by a teenager. This was especially meaningful for Harper because he considers "The Mick" as one of his idols, and Harper's No. 34 uniform is an homage to Mantle's No. 7 in pinstripes.
Mickey Mantle hit 13 home runs as a 19-year-old, during his rookie season of 1951. He hit for the Triple Crown five years later, and would go on to hit 536 home runs for his career, all with the New York Yankees. He is widely considered the greatest switch hitter of all-time.
Since passing his boyhood hero, Harper has not slowed down. Wednesday night at Nationals Park, Harper again hit two home runs in a game, bringing his total to 17 for the season. He passed another all-time great on the teenage home run list, this time in the form of Ken Griffey Jr.
In 1989, "The Kid" hit the first 16 home runs of a Cooperstown-caliber career. The smooth-swinging lefty finished with 630 home runs, and reached his career high of 56 home runs in consecutive seasons. But injuries slowed Junior down, and he was unable to reach the Ruthian milestones he was projected to achieve earlier in his career.
Ott debuted in 1926 as a 17-year-old and hit 19 home runs over his first three seasons, with 18 in 1928. Mel proceeded to lead the NL in home runs six separate times on his way to 511 home runs during 22 years in the major leagues.
But the question should not be "Will Bryce Harper break the NL record for most home runs by a teenager?"
Instead we should be asking "Will Bryce Harper break the MLB record for most home runs by a teenager?"
With 24 home runs, Tony Conigliaro set the bar pretty high at 19 years old during his rookie season of 1964 with the Boston Red Sox. But a closer look at Bryce Harper's statistics reveals that the precocious slugger has an outside shot at setting the all-time record for most home runs by a teenager.
After Wednesday's game, Harper has played in 113 games with 437 official at-bats. He now has 17 home runs, giving him 25.71 at-bats per home run. For the season, he has averaged 3.87 at-bats per game. This means he hits a home run every 6.64 games.
The Nationals have 26 games remaining on their schedule. Assuming both that Harper plays all 26 games and that he stays on his season pace, he will hit four more home runs and finish with 21 for the season. This would put him past Ott and past his personal goal of 20 home runs, but short of Conigliaro.
But Bryce Harper now has five home runs in his last 10 games. If he continues this torrid pace for the next two weeks or so, he could pass Conigliaro with a few games to spare.
And if Bryce Harper has taught us anything during his whirlwind rookie season, it is to never count him out.
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