Mike Trout didn't arrive with quite the burden of unlimited potential that followed Bryce Harper, but it was close. And the Angels were 6-14 when he made his debut April 28 in Cleveland.
From that time on until the end of the season, the Angels were 81-58, a .583 winning percentage, when Trout was in the lineup. If you do not have your 2012 standings at your fingertips, that .583 would have been better than any American League team except the Yankees, which will probably lapse Artie Moreno and Angels fans into a cold sweat thinking about the might-have-beens if they'd had six full months of Trout racing around the outfield.
The Trout-Miguel Cabrera MVP argument will rage this week, and the fact that the Angels chose to play Vernon Wells -- a testament not just to the contract he earned in Toronto but the fact that so many know he tried to live up to the expectations -- may cost Trout the award because of what Cabrera accomplished in playing 161 of the Tigers' 162 games, because reliability is one of the game's most underrated factors.
GREAT FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Here is a look at what arguably have been the greatest rookie seasons.
Mike Trout (20)
Ted Williams (20)
Albert Pujols (21)
Fred Lynn (23)
Ichiro Suzuki (27)
Hal Trosky (21)
Mark McGwire (23)
Mike Piazza (24)
Dick Allen (22)
And feel sorry for Yoenis Cespedes in the rookie race, because in most seasons, he would have been a runwaway winner; in fact, there is a strong argument to be made for his inclusion in the top six for MVP considering how he carried the Athletics into first place. But Trout was simply better and different, whether you're stuck on his 10.7 WAR or you just watched him jump walls, roam the alleys or run the bases.
There were also many years when Yu Darvish would have won the award; there just haven't been many years when a Trout has risen to the Majors.
Is this the greatest rookie season of all-time? Probably not. Ted Williams in 1939, Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, Fred Lynn in 1975 and Hal Trosky in 1934 had arguably greater seasons. Lynn was the AL Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and won a Gold Glove in center field in helping the Red Sox make it to the seventh game of the World Series before losing to a great Cincinnati Reds team. Suzuki, too, was Rookie of the Year, MVP and a Gold Glover, albeit at the age of 27.
We all get Arizona's feelings for Wade Miley. We also understand why Todd Frazier was the Players' Choice for National League Rookie of the Year. He helped save the Reds with injuries to Joey Votto and Scott Rolen, with 19 homers and a .829 OPS that outdid Harper. Frazier defended, he played hard, and he played wherever Dusty Baker needed him.
It's just that Harper endured the expectations and the taunts that went with them. This 19-year-old, who was drafted as a catcher, made like Dale Murphy, playing center field with total abandon, and with a rocket launcher for an arm.
In the end, Harper was still a teenager, and while his season isn't there with Williams or Suzuki or Lynn, it was a season worthy of being Rookie of the Year and a constant on a Nationals team that was the best in the NL in the regular season.
Harper's comparison may be Tony Conigliaro, who in 1964 was also 19, with a handful of games in A-ball for a resume. Before looking at the numbers, remember that Conigliaro the next year became the youngest player to lead his league in home runs and was the youngest player to reach the 100-career homer level before being beaned in 1967, at age 22, and essentially losing the sight in one eye. Before the beaning, Tony C. was a Hall of Famer.
A comparison of Bryce Harper's 2012 rookie season and that of Boston's Tony Conigliaro in 1964.
Bryce Harper (19)
Tony Conigliaro (19)
By the end of the season, what stood out most about Trout and Harper was the intrepid natures of their games. They ran out every ball, they dashed from first to home on balls in the alleys, they went hard into second base. Harper, like George Brett, leaves the box on every ball he hits thinking double; on one missed popup in May, he reached third.
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper had expectations that preceded them. They met them in terms of performance, but they exceeded them in the way they played, and did so in the middle of the field. Pete Rose would love both of these guys. Brett already does. In this age of analytics, we sometimes overlook what it means to play the way Rose and Brett played, the way Darin Erstad and Derek Jeter and Grady Sizemore have played.
The way Mike Trout and Bryce Harper play, every day after day after day.