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What if Harper and Trout are Mantle and Mays all over again?

Jun 14, 2012, 12:36 PM EDT

Mantle Mays

Great piece over at The Platoon Advantage by our friend Bill today, looking back at the days when Mantle and Mays dominated national coverage of the game.

Bill notes that it’s so rare to have a couple of guys dominate the baseball conversation for so long because fame — and extreme peak value — is fleeting. but he wonders if Bryce Harper and Mike Trout might get the same treatment, if for no other reason than because of the superficial similarities between those two and Mantle-Mays:

Mantle and Mays were both rookies in 1951; Mantle was in his age-19 season, Mays his age-20. Harper is 19 and Trout 20, as you probably know, both technically in their rookie seasons — though they’re over a year apart, while Mantle and Mays were closer to six months. All four players have been centerfielders, and in both pairs, the older of the two appears to be the more defensively gifted and more likely to stay and excel there long-term … In both cases, the younger appears to be the slightly better hitter, while the older has stolen base titles in his future. In both cases, the younger had been hyped as a golden boy from well before day one, while the older took the sport somewhat by surprise … They’re superficial comparisons, but there’s an eerily large number of them to be made.

One difference, I guess is that Mantle and Mays both made it big in big New York, and were both in the World Series from the get-go. Indeed, they faced each other in 1951. Mays wowed the world in 1954 with that famous catch and Mantle made the World Series his home for most of the  next 13 years.  Baseball also had way more of a share of the national sporting consciousness in the 1950s and 60s than it does today.

But those quibbles aside, I do agree that we’re seeing something special here. Two stars, so young and so exciting.  If the Angels face the Nats in the World Series this year — and hey, that’s as good a pick as any right now — watch out.

  1. jarathen - Jun 14, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    It’s very exciting, but I feel like the hyperbole left the station long ago. We’re in the far reaches of the galaxy when it comes to frothing at the mouth over these guys. Too many players fall apart due to injury, or shine brightest while very young, and while I certainly hope they’re both Hall of Famers because that’s EXCITING, it’s incredibly early.

    I also wonder how it would go if MLB had decided Trout’s 2011 campaign was his rookie one (since it was pretty darn close).

    • sabatimus - Jun 14, 2012 at 4:06 PM

      100% agree. I also think that asking a what-if like this is unnecessary at best, especially given the 60-year difference between their careers. I’m probably taking the fun out of the comparison, I admit. But again, this is the job of sports journalists: to speculate. “Josh Hamilton’s in line for the Triple Crown”, etc.

  2. ajcardsfan - Jun 14, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    Does mean crediting quotes is interchangeable now?
    “A team is where a boy can prove his courage on his own. A gang is where a coward goes to hide.” – Bryce Harper
    “That’s a clown question bro.” – Mickey Mantle

    • 18thstreet - Jun 14, 2012 at 1:25 PM

      Taking nothing away from his skills as a player, but there is no way on earth Mickey Mantle said those words. Never.

      • ugglasforearms - Jun 14, 2012 at 1:33 PM

        I Googled the quote. It’s attributed to Mantle all over the place.

      • 18thstreet - Jun 14, 2012 at 3:07 PM

        Did he say it out loud, or did a ghost writer put it in one of his four autobiographies?

      • paperlions - Jun 14, 2012 at 6:23 PM

        So what….as Yogi Berra would say, “I didn’t say 1/2 the things I said.”…..by which he meant, he didn’t say 1/2 the things attributed to him.

        Similarly, Mark Twain didn’t say a 10th of the things attributed to him…yes he was whitty and could turn a phrase, but every clever phrase without an author has become commonly attributed to Twain (just like ever clever and pessimistic thing said about politics is attributed to Churchill).

  3. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Jun 14, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    Definitely the sign of a new generation. These guys have the ability to be among the best.

  4. uyf1950 - Jun 14, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    There are several big problems as I see it in the comparison aside from what’s been mentioned in the piece. The players names. Mantle and Mays kind of has a flow to it and a natural rivalry. A white kid from a small southern city of in Ok. and a black kid from Westfield and Fairfield, Al. both playing within a stones throw of each other at least for the first few years.
    I just don’t see that with Harper and Trout the names don’t flow and the teams really don’t have a natural rivalry each at opposite ends of the country.

    Besides Mantle and Mays had such cool nicknames: Mantle “The Commerce Comet” and Mays “The Say Hey Kid”.

    • jarathen - Jun 14, 2012 at 1:56 PM

      The Angels fan community has only ever come up with “The Prince Fish”, itself a play on Tim Salmon’s nickname.

      I submit No-Out Trout. And it’s terrible.

    • offseasonblues - Jun 14, 2012 at 2:26 PM

      Agree abut the names. But the parallel is pretty cool.
      Especially because it can be extended to Trout, Harper and Hamilton / Willie, Mickey and the Duke.

      But for sure we need nicknames that work here.

  5. kkolchak - Jun 14, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    I was fortunate enough to actually be at Nats park when Harper hit his first home run. It will always be one of my most cherished memories as a baseball fan. It isn’t likely to happen, of course, but it would be great if Harper and Trout faced each other in the Series in their rookie years. :)

    • Francisco (FC) - Jun 14, 2012 at 2:14 PM

      Why not, it’s possible albeit the hurdles are much larger what with all of the post-season series in the middle.

      • kkolchak - Jun 14, 2012 at 4:25 PM

        Yep–that’s what I meant…as good as both teams are there are too many pitfalls in the way of both of them making it..

  6. natstowngreg - Jun 14, 2012 at 2:10 PM

    First time I’ve heard “Nats” and “World Series” in the same sentence without the word “not.”

  7. nbjays - Jun 14, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    Harper and Trout, while possessing amazing talents, are more than anything a product of the internet generation. Everyone knows about them because of the rabid and ubiquitous Internet media machine. Had they debuted in 1951, but outside of New York City, no one would have heard much of them.

    Mantle and Mays had the good fortune to debut in the center of the baseball universe on perennial World Series contenders. Yes, they were amazing talents and went on to Hall of Fame careers, but If they hadn’t been in what Ken Burns called “The Capital of Baseball”, they would have been much less visible.

    Think about it… if Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays made their baseball debut in New York or Boston today, they would break the Internet.

    • mybrunoblog - Jun 14, 2012 at 2:32 PM

      Last time I checked Washington DC and Anaheim(LA) are pretty big markets. These two guys are getting tons of coverage.

      • sabatimus - Jun 14, 2012 at 4:10 PM

        Seriously. I can remember earlier this year Harper’s MINOR LEAGUE at-bats being broadcast. Did they do that for Mantle?

    • jarathen - Jun 14, 2012 at 2:52 PM

      I don’t disagree about the influence on the internet on superstardom, but you’re discounting, in the very same post, how the internet makes it possible to have superstars in backwater burgs like greater Los Angeles/Orange County and our nation’s capitol. It’s more than hicks getting off their tractors to see these kids play.

  8. amhendrick - Jun 14, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Which of the two (Harper or Trout) is more likely to be the next Jason Heyward?

  9. jayscarpa - Jun 14, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    We need a Duke

  10. deadeyedesign23 - Jun 14, 2012 at 8:39 PM

    The pull quote seems to sell Mantle a bit short. He certainly had the base stealing ability when he came up before tearing up his knee in right field in 51.

    Also a big part of that hype was there were 3 teams in New York (even if the Dodgers and Giants left late in the 50′s they were still associated with one another), they were all perennial contenders for much of the 50s and 60s and each of them had one fo the 3 best CF in baseball. Willie Micky and the Duke. You’ll never see anything like it again.

  11. dexterismyhero - Jun 15, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    C’mon Craig. That is not just a pretty good reach, but way over the top.Good to generate hits and comments though so touche…….

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