KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chipper Jones can see his time running out. He knows that baseball no longer belongs to him and the other players of his generation, the “old fogeys like me,” he said. He sat in the corner of a room full of all-stars Monday afternoon, across from Washington Nationals rookie Bryce Harper, who occupied the same seat Mike Trout had earlier. The game, Jones said, is in good hands.
“You’re looking at Trout and Harper as being the faces of baseball in their respective leagues,” Jones said. “For a long, long time.”
Jones may well receive the heartiest ovation when the All-Star Game begins at Kaufmann Stadium on Tuesday night. But that will be a goodbye, a final salute, as he makes way for who’s next. Harper is 19, Trout is 20, and they are both all-stars, both rookies who have taken the league by the throat.
Harper has been one of the Nationals’ primary catalysts as they survived injuries and sprinted to the best record in the National League. Since the Los Angeles Angels called up Trout on April 28, the same day Harper received his promotion, they have gone 40-24 and surged into the American League playoff picture. Trout leads the league in hitting at .341 and in steals, with 26.
Their rapid, simultaneous rise has connected Harper and Trout in a sport that invites and celebrates comparison. They gave a dual interview during the all-star workout Monday evening. As they walked off a makeshift studio, photographers ambushed them. Trout and Harper locked arms and smiled as the cameras clicked for posterity.
“I’m pretty used to it by now,” Trout said. “I get asked a lot of questions about him. It’s pretty fun. We’re good friends. The thing is, we both love baseball.”
Harper and Trout became friends last fall, when they played for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. They still send each other text messages a few times each month. They congratulate each other after good games, or to tell each other they’re swinging well. Harper fired Trout a note when he made the all-star team, and Trout later returned the favor. Back in Arizona, they never envisioned the pace at which all this would happen.
“Actually, no,” Trout said. “It’s pretty incredible how fast it came. I look back at it: It seems like I played with him yesterday in the Fall League. Where he came up and I came up the same day, it’s pretty neat.”
Harper and Trout have inspired a favored parlor game in baseball circles: Given the choice to start a franchise with either, which player would you pick? Trout has undoubtedly outperformed Harper this season; he might be the favorite to win the AL most valuable player award.
But it’s not that simple. Last year, Trout received a major league cameo at 19. He had taken more than 800 professional plate appearances, dwarfing Harper’s minor league experience before he came to the majors in late April. In 40 games last year, Trout hit .220 with five homers and a .672 OPS.
The Angels eventually sent Trout back to the minors for more seasoning. The Nationals were prepared to do the same; General Manager Mike Rizzo even mentioned Trout’s path by name. The notion quickly turned into a farce. Harper has hit second consistently and compiled an .827 OPS.
“The things he’s done this year, at his age, is pretty incredible,” Trout said.The most frequent answer to the win-win question is indecision.“You can’t pick, man,” Nationals all-star Gio Gonzalez said. “You enjoy both of them every time they play.”