The Angels’ Mike Trout is a definite All-Star, and the Nationals’ Bryce Harper should be in the game, too.
We are talking, quite possibly, about a baseball version of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, two once-in-a-generation players we’ll be comparing for the next 20 years.
There is no other way to say it: Something will be terribly wrong if the two prodigies do not represent their respective leagues in Kansas City, Mo.
Each league’s roster consists of 34 players. The selection rules create certain restrictions, but does anyone seriously think the sport has 68 players more riveting than Trout and Harper?
If baseball did, it would be more popular than the NFL.
I know what some of you are thinking. I saw your missives Saturday night after Tim McCarver said on MLB on Fox that Harper should be an All-Star, and I seconded the notion on Twitter, saying that Trout also should be on the team:
Too much hype.
Other NL outfielders are more deserving than Harper.
These guys have plenty of time to play in All-Star Games.
Watch these kids play.
Watch Trout, 20, go home to first in under four seconds, make a big catch in center field or fill up a boxscore with yet another multi-hit game.
Watch Harper, 19, do what he did recently at Fenway Park, drawing a one-out walk as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning, then running on the pitch and scoring the go-ahead run from first on a double into the right-field corner.
Almost every day, it’s something else with these two. Almost every day, they take over games in fresh and meaningful ways, dazzling baseball people with their skills.
And the coolest part?
Both Trout and Harper are throwbacks, playing with a passion that enhances their respective talents — a passion that represents everything that baseball should be.
I’m guessing that the calls for both to appear in the All-Star Game will build to a fever pitch. But for now, the candidacies of Trout and Harper are in question.
Neither is on the fans’ All-Star ballot; both made their 2012 debuts on April 28. Baseball has not yet decided whether to include them on the players’ ballot, which will be distributed soon.
If the fans, players and managers filling out their rosters do not select Trout and Harper, then baseball can just include the two rookies on the five-man Final Vote ballots and give fans one last chance to elect them.
If that fails — and I seriously doubt that it would — then Trout and Harper would be available to replace injured players.
But really, it shouldn’t come to that.
Yes, I work for FOX. Yes, we’re broadcasting the All-Star Game. And yes, I believe that more people might watch if the participants include two of the most exciting young players to enter the sport in years.
Would that be a bad thing?
Oh, wait, here comes another complaint: The game, thanks partly to my network, is now a competition, “This Time It Counts,” determining home-field advantage for the World Series. The best players must play!
Well, Trout and Harper are two of the best players, as I will explain in a moment. But this notion that the game is no longer a showcase … please.
If that’s the case, let’s eliminate the fan voting, which at its worst amounts to little more than a popularity contest.
Let’s eliminate the rule that each team must be represented (I’m trying to figure out which Padre would be more deserving than Harper).
Let’s pick the hitters by OPS-plus and the pitchers by ERA-plus and suck the life out of the process but good.
Oh, wait, you don’t like those ideas?
The “This Time It Counts” concept was created, in part, to ensure that the game is played more competitively — and by that measure alone, the concept has been a success.
The All-Star Game, however, also remains a premier marketing event, occurring at the one of time of year when baseball is at center stage on the crowded sports landscape.
Conflicting agendas, mixed messages — welcome to baseball. Still, the inclusions of Harper and Trout on All-Star rosters would satisfy both the sport’s competitive and promotional desires.
Making an All-Star case for Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg after his astonishing debut in 2010 was more difficult (though I supported Strasburg, too). Strasburg did not join the Nats until June 8, and had made only six major league starts at the time the teams were selected.
The bodies of work for both Trout and Harper are more substantial. Trout leads the AL with his .335 batting average, is fourth with his .395 on-base percentage and tied for 11th with his .528 slugging percentage.
Harper, batting .278/.357/.480, would not figure as prominently among the league leaders, but his offensive statistics compare surprisingly well to most of the standout outfielders in the NL.
Squeezing Harper onto the roster would be tough — Matt Kemp, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun, Carlos Beltran, Giancarlo Stanton, Melky Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen and Andre Ethier all are quite deserving.
Well, those are just eight names. Ten different outfielders found their way onto the NL roster last season. Braun and Shane Victorino, the Final Vote winner, bowed out due to injuries.
Oh, there’s a spot for Harper somewhere.
Don’t believe me?
Watch him play. Watch Harper, watch Trout, and tell me they don’t belong in Kansas City.