Sports every season have their share of "PHENOMS" and this year's no exception. Baseball's phenom this year is Bryce Harper the 19 year old who made his MLB debut with Washington April 28th. Harper's the youngest position player to come into MLB since Adrian Beltre in 1998. The youngster first came into the public's national consciousness three years ago as the youngest baseball player ever to appear on the cover of SI. To many, that magazine cover set Harper up to fail more spectacularly and visibly than he would have otherwise. Now, three years later, in the Major League uniform of the Washington Nationals he's the best hitter on a first place team. The 19 year old is living up to his hype. Harper's presently hitting .295. He's not simply holding his own - he's dominating. Among players with at least 160 plate appearances Harper ranks 12th in the National League with a .908 OPS. In the last 40 years, the only 19-year-old to play regularly and hit at an above-average level was Ken Griffey. In fact, with one exception, Harper has out-hit every teenager in Major League history. The one exception, the New York Giants Mel Ott who in 1928 at age 19 had an .921 OPS compared to Harper's .908.

Now comes the big question, can the youngster sustain this level of play? Baseball's had their share of rookie phenom's. Who remembers Kevin Maas? Maas was living a dream when he was the heir apparent to take over for New York Yankees star Don Mattingly at first base in 1990. Maas started with a big bang and by the end of his rookie season he had 21 home runs and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Fans were so thrilled that a group of young women, called the "MAAS TOPS," would remove their shirts and jump up and down whenever the Hollywood handsome slugger hit a homer. They were banned from Yankee Stadium and quickly enough the "MAAS MAGIC" was gone too. In 1991 he hit 23 homers, but struck out at an alarming rate and was no longer a full time big league player by 1992. Maas bounced around baseball a few more years, he picked up a hefty $255 thousand dollars playing in Japan during the 1993 season. Last we heard he works as a financial consultant for Charles Schwab in California.

America is a nation of optimist. Somewhere there's a teenager who's destined to be the "best" ever at their sport. Is he here now in the form of Bryce Harper? Many in the media believe Harper's the real deal. A future super-star. I don't believe that.
I'll wait till he goes around the league several more times. Make no mistake, ML pitchers learn quickly a hitters weakness. Every hitter has a weakness. With 40 ML games under his belt Harper is simply in an unsustainable hot stretch. If he doesn't cool down, level off by season's end, he'll have the greatest rookie season in baseball's 126-year history. I don't see that happening. Just because after 40 games it appears Harper's an All-Star caliber ballplayer at age 19 doesn't mean he's guaranteed to scale greater heights as he ages. If anything, by setting the bar so high at such a young age, he's created such high expectations that he could become one of the signature players of his generation and still leave people wanting more. How many recall pitcher Kerry Wood striking out 20 Houston Astros in just his 5th Major League game? Sport writers gave Wood the "hype." Last week he retired from baseball after playing 14 years. His pitching record, 86-75 with an 3.67 ERA. Not exactly Hall of Fame numbers.

Bryce Harper is 19 years old - he's been in the Major Leagues for just six weeks - he's accomplished almost nothing. He's on a team leading their Division and he's the teams best hitter. That's about all. Will Harper become the new "Mickey Mantle?" Or another Kevin Maas, a member of a select group of players who burst on the scene with brilliant play, and just as quickly fade to "obscurity?" (Phenoms to Flops)
"PHENOMENONS," like "COMETS," can streak across the sky and disappear without much trace - let's all remember, "few sports phenoms have lived up to expectations." That's the sad truth

By Larry Upton
Wednesday, 13 Jun 2012


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