You have probably heard or read the phrase "clown question, bro" 682 times already today. A reporter asked Bryce Harper if he was excited to try a beer because 19-year-olds can drink legally in Canada. Harper, a Mormon who abstains from drinking, didn't like the question and said "That's a clown question, bro." Then the interview continued as if nothing had happened.
But it's become a thing, a meme. It might not be up there with "talking about practice" or "playoffs?" in the soundbite hall of fame, but it'll do for the short term. I've watched it 15 times, and I can't figure out why people think it's interesting. I guess it's as simple as "clown question" terminology punctuated by a non-ironic "bro" = funny. Okay. And another day goes by where I'm ecstatic that no one recorded the things I said when I was 19 and solicited the world's opinions on them.
So on tap for today: Bryce Harper talk, Bryce Harper talk, Bryce Harper talk. Did you see? Did you hear? Clown question, bro. Lisa needs braces. Clown question, bro. Lisa needs braces. Clown question, bro. Lisa needs braces.
Not on tap for today: Mike Trout talk.
This sort of thing has become a bone of contention for Angels fans. Harper saying "clown question" is news. Mike Trout could have questioned the moon landing in his post-game interview, and no one would have noticed. Trout gets the articles with headlines like "Mike Trout Is Pretty Good, Too" because the unspoken assumption is that Bryce Harper will get the bulk of the phenom-related attention, and Trout can deal with what's left over.
I've seen this described as "East Coast bias", but I think that's way, way, way too simple of an explanation. It makes a difference that Mike Trout's home games end at 1:00 a.m. where a lot of writers live, yes. But not that much of a difference. Let's explore the real reasons Harper gets more hype, in chronological order. I'll try to jam them into one sentence:
Harper was in a video that went viral when he was 16, showing off power that teenagers should not have, and that video started an avalanche of hype that eventually led to him being on the cover of Sports Illustrated, where he hinted that he was going to take the unprecedented step of leaving high school two years early to get in the draft quicker, and he did just that, enrolling at a community college and obliterating pitchers who were several years older than him and winning the Golden Spikes as the best college player in the country before becoming the first overall pick in the draft, and as he was leaving a trail of broken pitchers from college to the minor leagues, he was getting suspended, painting himself like a member of a Norwegian black-metal group, blowing kisses to a pitcher after a home run, and getting drilled by All-Star pitchers because he made the grave sin of existing in the first place.
Mike Trout was drafted 25th overall, one pick after Randal Grichuk, and then he was really, really, really good in the minors at a young age, and now he's really, really, really good in the majors at a young age.
You can blame East Coast bias. But that's a weird thing to focus on -- it's like reviewing a restaurant based solely on the quality of butter they serve with the pre-meal bread. There's a lot more going on. Hype isn't just about talent; it's a cornucopia of different factors. And it doesn't mean that one player is better than the other.
Here's the important thing, though: The hype will fade. We'll slowly get used to Harper and Trout as amazing, electric talents, and instead of them being "19-year-old" this, or "20-year-old" that, they'll just be the best players in baseball. Harper gets the hype now, but as they progress together, they'll be thought of as a tandem. Like Mays and Mantle, Williams and DiMaggio, or Sabo and Gruber.
(The last pairing is to leave open the possibility that Trout and Harper won't be first-ballot Hall of Famers -- we should wait until they're 21, at least, before making that sort of prediction. But I'll err on the side of the first two pairings, and I don't care if it looks stupid in five years.)
This is the opening of a movie about two aliens who come to Earth, and play baseball as a way to position themselves for world domination. We're just living through the opening montage. Harper gets more hype now. But when the hype fades, it will be Harper vs. Trout, Trout vs. Harper, and it should be -- if baseball doesn't act like a jerk and ruin this -- one of the more enduring baseball debates to come around in a long time.
If they're as good (and for as long) as we think they'll be, no one will remember who got more hype in the first few months of their respective careers.