Life is pretty much going the way Bryce Harper planned it. So confident of his baseball ability that he left high school early, obtained a GED, and played a year of junior college ball to speed up his draft availability, Harper was orchestrating his baseball life by the time he was 17. Then he did indeed get drafted high by the Washington Nationals, signed a rich contract, sped through the minors and by 2012 was playing regularly in the Washington outfield.
And playing well enough that Monday he was selected as the National League rookie of the year. There was plenty of competition for the award, too, so it wasn’t a walkover. But the just-turned-20-year-old who has had a book about him already, still got what he was after when it comes to a trophy you can only win once.
Harper batted .270 with 22 home runs, 18 stolen bases and 59 RBIs in 139 games as a Washington franchise qualified for post-season play for the first time since 1933. Unlike Mike Trout in the American League, Harper was not a runaway rookie winner. He was in a close race with Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley, who finished 16-11 with a 3.33 earned run average. There was also sentiment for Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds, who filled in at third base and first base when team regulars suffered injuries. Frazier hit 19 homers, drove in 67 runs and batted .273 in 128 games.
Harper, who has always had lofty goals, said he wasn’t satisfied with his season since Washington didn’t win the World Series, but he doesn’t seem like the type of guy to be content with a .270 average either. After all, he hit .443 in his lone season of junior college play.
Rookie of the year seasons are snapshots. They are strictly a reward for one fine year of play, even as they are used as a measuring stick to annoint future stars. History has shown what an inexact science this is, though. Being the best rookie in a league surprisingly does not serve as a portent of excellence to follow.
It would make for one of the great baseball trivia contests of all time to name the American League and National League rookies of the year since the award was officially established in 1947. Let’s just say that it helps to be a serious fan of a certain age to remember some of the winners because in truth their careers did not turn out as happily as their rookie of the year award hinted at.
We are 65 years into naming top rookies and one thing that is obvious based on the winners is that nothing is guaranteed. Still, it is comforting to note that some rookies who were great did indeed establish lasting greatness. These rookies of the year also have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame: Jackie Robinson, Luis Aparicio, Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr., Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench and Andre Dawson. Others who have not been retired long enough for consideration, or are still playing, may still make it.
On the other hand here are some rookies of the year that never lived up to the promise shown or had their careers slowed or wrecked by injures: Harry Byrd, Bob Grim, Don Schwall, Stan Bahnsen, Mark Fidrych, Herb Score, John Castino, Joe Charboneau, Pat Listach, Bob Hamelin, Marty Cordova, Ben Grieve, Angel Berroa, Bobby Crosby, Huston Street, Carl Morton, Butch Metzger, Steve Howe, Kerry Wood, Jason Jennings, and the worst calamity of all Ken Hubbs. The 1962 National League winner, Hubbs was a second baseman for the Chicago Cubs who after his second season died in the crash of a plane he was piloting.
From what we know of Harper, it’s no surprise to hear that he is not satisfied. The 2012 season was pretty much a warm-up act in his mind and he is certain things will only get better from here. The odds are on his side given the talent everyone says he has, but the path will be pockmarked with gopher holes so he must be sure not to trip.