Bryce Harper’s career arc from teenage sensation to full-fledged superstar has been an 11-year process, reaching a crescendo on Sunday night when his two-run homer in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series proved to be the decisive blow that sent his Philadelphia Phillies to their first World Series since 2009.
One of gaming’s biggest stars is finally on gaming’s biggest stage.
Meanwhile, the wait for Mike Trout continues.
Their careers have been linked since they were teenagers, when Sports Illustrated introduced Harper as “baseball’s chosen one” and Trout began drawing comparisons to Mickey Mantle. They had nearly impossible expectations even before stepping into a big league roster, touted as the game’s next superstars.
Somehow, Harper and Trout were about as good as advertised.
They are now mature ballplayers, both in their early 30s and each on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Harper is one of the most feared hitters in the game. Trout patrols center field for the Los Angeles Angels, MLB’s top all-rounder for most of the past decade.
Trout has largely dominated the debate over the best player. But Harper has at least one element missing from Trout’s resume — a signature October moment. Thanks to its home run on Sunday, the Phillies travel to face the Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday.
“This game is ‘What have you done for me lately?'” Harper said of the Phillies’ journey this season. “That’s how it’s always been.”
Purely by the numbers, trout have an edge in most categories.
He is a three-time AL MVP while Harper was named NL MVP twice. Trout made 10 All-Star teams while Harper was seven.
If sabermetry is your thing, base-ball-reference.com says Trout has earned 82.4 wins over replacement (WAR) in his 12 seasons. Harper has 42.5 WAR over 11 seasons.
Or if you prefer dollars: Harper set a North American professional sports record with his 13-year, $330 million free agent deal with the Phillies in 2019 – then immediately and unsuccessfully tried to sign Trout for join him in Philadelphia.
Trout instead extended his contract in Los Angeles for $360 million and 10 more years, surpassing Harper’s record total.
It’s hard to blame Trout for the Angels’ misfortunes, but Harper’s recent run amplifies what little team and playoff baseball success Trout has seen. Even in a year when 40% of MLB teams made the playoffs, the Angels finished past the regular season, finishing with a disappointing 73-89 record.
Those were confusing years for the Angels, who paired Trout with several superstars throughout his career. Currently, Shohei Ohtani is the best two-way player in the game since Babe Ruth.
“We have two of the greatest players of all time wearing uniforms, but we need more,” Angels general manager Perry Minasian said recently. “It’s not a 2v2 game. If it was, I would love our chances.
Trout has only played in the playoffs once, in 2014. The Angels were swept by the Royals in the AL Division series and Trout was 1 of 12 at the plate, although his only hit was a circuit.
Looking back, it was a prophetic streak of games earlier this season in June, when Harper’s Phillies swept Trout and the Angels in a three-game series. It was the start of Philadelphia’s rise that culminated in their unlikely trip to the World Series.
The Angels were mired in a 14-game losing streak at the time and continued their slump while Trout was eventually injured. His back problems this season have been a reminder of the fragility of professional athletes: as great as he is, the 31-year-old won’t continue to post MVP-caliber numbers forever.
“I do everything I can to stay on the pitch, but things come up,” Trout said. “I play the hard game.”
It’s unclear if the Angels will be competing for the championships anytime soon. The team’s wage bill has always been competitive under owner Arte Moreno, but now he is considering a sale of the teamwhich brings more uncertainty for the franchise.
“I trust Perry to bring a winning team here,” Trout said. “He says it every day, ever since we got knocked out (from the playoffs), bringing a big group here to compete.”
The good news for Trout is that playoff fortunes can change quickly. Harper weathered his own four-year playoff drought from 2018-21 before leading the Phillies to the World Series this season.
For their part, Harper and Trout share a mutual respect. Even when Trout was struggling — he was 0-for-11 in all three games when the two teams met in June — Harper said it wouldn’t last forever.
“I think everyone goes through times like this,” Harper said of Trout, talk to the LA Times in June. “I’ve done it in my career. He is one of the best of all time. Everyone knows how good he is.
“He’ll get through this, and by the end of the year, nobody’s even going to think about that stretch he’s in. He’ll be the same Mike Trout and hit .300 with 40 home runs.
Harper was pretty much right. Trout finished with a .283 batting average and hit 40 home runs despite back issues, continuing a stellar career that rivals some of the all-time greats.
Here’s hoping baseball fans can see him in the playoffs one day.
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