Mike Trout may be Superman. We know he can leap centerfield walls in a single bound. We know he can fly (on the base paths). He might even change into his uniform in a phone booth.
But with all due respect to Matt Harvey, if Mike Trout is Superman, Bryce Harper is Batman.
The contrasting styles of these two young superstars is evident, in part because they have recently made statements that seem to almost intentionally highlight their differences. In an interview with ESPN Harper said:
“Baseball’s tired. It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair.”
While not a direct response, just a few days later Trout told the LA Times:
“We mess around in the cage and stuff. During the game, I just hit the ball and go. I go out there and try to respect the game. I go out there and play. My parents always taught me to be humble.”
The timing and content of Trout’s quote seem very purposeful. He seems to be assuring the good people of Metropolis that they can count on him to follow the chosen path of humility and respect, even if other stars won’t. He knows the rules of baseball conduct, and he will be the young star that follows them. He is setting himself up to be the noble Superman, and the opposing force to Harper’s grittier, angst-ridden Batman. Like Superman, Trout didn’t make the rules, but plans to follow them in the name of the greater good.
Harper is claiming the darker, harder path to baseball glory. One that may end up in Cooperstown, but loops through many more dark alleys if he plans to continue to play the game his own way, which flies in the face of tradition and humility. Harper feels that the game is broken, and he is the one to fix it. He’s a public relations vigilante right now: doing things nobody asked him to, but he feels need to be done to save Gotham. Like Batman, Harper didn’t make the rules, but he feels justified in breaking them (and risking his already limited popularity) if the ends justify the means.
From a performance standpoint, everything has come relatively easy to Trout. In his first full season (shortly after his escape pod crash landed in a cornfield outside Anaheim) he hit .326 with 30 homers and almost 50 stolen bases, and gained unanimous Rookie of the Year honors . He has an MVP trophy on display in his Fortress of Solitude, but would have several more if not for the pile of AL MVP-Kryptonite in Detroit named Miguel Cabrera.
Harper was also Rookie of the Year (2012) but it took several seasons for him to truly put it all together like he did in his 2015 MVP season.
Trout is confident, smiley, and very well liked.
Harper is darker, edgier, and disliked (or misunderstood?) by many.
Trout has won over the fans baseball already has.
Harper wants to win over people who may have written baseball off in favor of flashier sports.
Trout is a spokesman, and a symbol of strength, speed, and success.
Harper gets in fights with this Joker (1:18 mark).
Trout is the young star everyone wants around. We marvel at what he’s capable of, and his presence on the field is captivating.
Harper, like a glowing beacon in the foggy night sky, can no longer be ignored or expected to fade away. He has been in the league long enough that most fan opinions have likely crystalized by now. Some will love him and his actions, but more will likely hate him, even if it turns out that his approach is what’s needed to save his sport from slumping ratings. To put a small twist on the quote: “Harper is not the hero baseball deserves, but he may be the hero baseball needs”.
Both Trout and Harper are young, talented beyond belief, and determined to leave a mark on the game in their own way. If baseball is lucky, someday perhaps we will see Batman vs. Superman in October.