Saturday, July 7, 2012
Bryce Harper an All-Star? Absolutely!
By Christina Kahrl
What’s the news? That Bryce Harper is an All-Star after all. Sure, he may have taken the back entrance to make it into the All-Star Game. He’s been tabbed only because an equally exciting young player, Giancarlo Stanton, had to beg off the honor. But does the game suffer any by having Harper make it onto the team just 62 games into his major league career? Hell to the no, I say, and bring him on.
It might seem premature. Harper is hitting .283 AVG/.355 OBP/.475 SLG, with eight steals and eight homers. That’s good, but is that an All-Star? I’ll argue that it is.
If you’re hitched to the notion of absolute, immutable standards it might seem contradictory that the roster’s made up of newly minted big leaguers at the same time that it’s honoring Chipper Jones in what has already been an injury-shortened final season for the future Hall of Famer. But that’s the All-Star Game in a nutshell: There is no absolute standard of who is and who isn’t an All-Star. The mishmash of criteria and different electorates leads to odd results.
At age 19, Bryce Harper is the youngest position player to reach the All-Star Game.
After all, Harper’s now the youngest position player to make it to the All-Star Game. Who did Harper, who turns 20 in October, take the honor from? That would be Twins catcher Butch Wynegar, in 1976, four months past his 20th birthday. Wynegar wasn’t an injury replacement or the token Twin (Rod Carew won the fan ballot at first base), and after hitting .294/.402/.426 at the break as a rookie, you can be generous and accept that Wynegar had earned an All-Star look as the third catcher behind Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk.
Maybe that’s a warning to Harper, because Wynegar’s career was a bit of letdown from there. If you actually remember Wynegar, you’re probably a Twins fan who had a long wait until 1987 ahead of you, or a Yankees fan who endured the dark days of the Boss-led ’80s. Either way, hats off to you for enduring.
What’s really tantalizing is the company Harper’s keeping as the third-youngest All-Star ever, behind just Dwight Gooden (’84) and Bob Feller (’38). That’s as electrifying a duo as the mound ever boasted, players who became national phenomena as soon as they showed up. That’s where Harper is now, and with all due respect to Butch Wynegar, it’s another reason why you can enjoy Harper’s latest claim on history.
It’s also newsworthy that we’ve got a record five rookies in the All-Star Game, as Harper joins Wade Miley, Mike Trout, Yu Darvish and Oakland’s token, Ryan Cook, in Kansas City. Does that diminish the game any? Absolutely not. On some basic level it’s fun to see fresh faces. Is it unjust that Darvish is in and Jake Peavy is out? Of course it is.
That might seem capricious, especially when the All-Star Game “counts.” But more important, the All-Star Game matters. What it really gives baseball fans isn’t its impact on the postseason, it’s its value as entertainment. That means seeing something as amazing as Bo Jackson create an indelible moment at Rick Reuschel’s expense -- that 1989 ASG home run stayed in orbit longer than Skylab. But it’s also the never-ending arguments that it fires up, over who’s in and who’s out, every single season. It’s entertaining to talk about.
That, in a nutshell, is why it’s worth throwing a parade right now this instant, now that Harper is going to be in the All-Star Game. Nobody would have wanted it at Stanton’s expense, because Stanton himself is a first-time honoree. Stanton is -- every bit as much as Harper, if not more -- one of the future faces of the National League’s best ballplayers for the next decade. But if we can’t have Stanton, you bet we want to see Harper, on the off chance he does something that we’ll never forget.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Is it Christmas in July? Todd Frazier really likes that he just ripped a double.