Throughout the history of sports, there comes the appearance of a generation of superstars whom along with their clubs, rival each other in terms of team superiority, statistical races, and award chases.
In the NBA, you had Russell vs Chamberlain in the 1960s, Larry vs Magic in the 1980s, Jordan vs everyone else in the 1990s, Kobe and Shaq vs Duncan and Robinson in the late 90s and early 21st century, and now we have LeBron vs Carmelo vs Durant.
In other sports, you have greatest ones like Nicklaus and Palmer, Tiger and Mickelson, Sampras and Agassi, Ali and Frazier, and Nadal and Federer, but baseball has some of the most classic rivalries you’ll ever see and they reflected their time.
In the pre-WWI dead-ball era, the two greatest players were Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner, and they faced off in the 1909 World Series, with Wagner’s Pirates defeating Cobb’s Tigers.
In the 1930s and 1940s, a time when America was trying to recover from the Great Depression and WWII, the legendary Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was highlighted by the performances of the Yankee Clipper Joe DiMaggio and Boston’s Ted Williams. Williams may have been the better overall hitter, but Jolting Joe’s Bronx Bombers consistently won it all and DiMaggio won three MVPs to Williams’ two (though voter bias played a role)
In the 1950s, the world of baseball centered around New York City, much like how the rest of the world did and and still does. The Yankees of the Bronx, the Giants of Manhattan, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn were at their peak. The baby boomers looked up to NY’s great three hall of fame center fielders: The Commerce Comet, Mickey Mantle, the Say Hey Kid, Willie Mays, and the Silver Fox, Duke Snider, and the often clashed throughout the season and the World Series as well as fought for MVP votes and the love of fans’ hearts.
In the 1970s, a time of chaos, was reflected in the epicness of baseball’s biggest events, and the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry because more intense than ever, and centered around the clashing catchers Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk, as well as the in-house fighting of Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner.
In the late 1990s and early 21st century, the shortstop was further advanced as Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Alex Rodriguez became the center figure of their respective franchises in a competitive AL that was dominated by Jeter’s Yankees but A-Rod and Nomar put up the hardware and numbers.
Now, there is a clash between the game’s newest young superstars: Washington’s Bryce Harper and the Angels’ Mike Trout, both Rookies of the Year in their respective leagues last year.
Clearly, Harper and Trout were born and destined to be rivals. Harper was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year old in Nevada. He idolized and bases his game around another mid-western kid who broke in the big leagues at 19: The Mick. But his cockiness and “I’m-better-than you” attitude resembles A-Rod.
The same year Harper was touted as baseball’s answer to LeBron James, Trout was a sleeper pick in the late first round out of high school in Southern New Jersey. Although growing up a fan of the Phillies, he idolized another legend on 161 St and River Ave, Derek Jeter, and seems to take after his balanced approach to the game: Speed, patience, contact, defense, power, everything. His calmness and humbleness seems to be inspired by his Pinstriped idol.
Both have already made their impact in the sports world. Harper became the first teen since Ken Griffey, Jr. to mash 20 HRs on his way to winning NL ROY. He led the Nationals to their first playoff appearance since they were the Montreal Expos last season. He’s only improved: 12 HRs in 139 ABs and a whopping .995 OPS. He can’t even drink alcohol yet, not that he would want to, famously.
Trout was just a bit better than Harper last year, finishing as the unanimous AL ROY and the MVP runner in a close debate with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. He’s certainly not suffering a sophomore slump either, posting just under a .300 batting average with a .944 OPS. On Tuesday, he became the youngest American League player ever to hit for the cycle at 21 years and 288 days. It may not be too soon to call him the greatest overall player in the game at this age and time, and he’ll only get even better.
Although the two players will likely not to meet until a potential World Series matchup or next year in interleague play, they seem to be the new faces of the game and throwbacks to a time before the era of steroids.
Both players, at their peak, could be dominant in every single asset in the game. Both are very good outfielders, they can hit for .300+ averages, they have plenty of speed (although Trout may be faster), they have excellent throwing arms, and they can crush the ball (although Harper may have even more). Don’t be surprised if one or both accumulates a 40-40 season, a batting title, 50 HR season, or a couple of MVPs and championships by the time they are both done.
They are both that good. They are this generation’s answer to each era of baseball’s individual rivalry and excellence.