Sound like a load of overheated hyperbole? Not if you buy into the heaps of hype bestowed upon:
1) Stephen Strasburg, regarded by many to be the greatest pitching prospect in decades. And the way the fireballing 22-year-old out of San Diego State has dominated minor league batters over the past month, it’s hard to argue with that rather lofty proclamation. On Tuesday, Strasburg makes his Major League — sort of. It’s against the Pirates.
2) Bryce Harper, a 17-year-old catcher from Nevada with a staggering package of skills, not the least of which is eye-popping power, is expected to be picked first by the Nationals in tomorrow’s MLB Draft. A Sports Illustrated cover boy at 16, Harper is drawing to comparisons to . . .well, nobody. Simply because, with all due apologies to Joe Mauer, a catching prospect of his ilk has never been seen.
Between Alex Ovechkin, John Wall, Donovan McNabb, and a guy named Obama, there’s a lot of new star power (and the hope and change that is expected to follow) to contend with in the nation’s capitol these days. But if Strasburg and Harper come close to their advance billing, they could loom larger than all of Washington’s current monuments. Not only might they form the foundation for multiple championships (The Nats? Are you kidding?), but could stand alone as the greatest battery in history.
True, that’s a pretty long leap from dispatching AAA hitters and launching homers against high school and junior college hitters. Strasburg could blow out his arm like the legions of too-good-to-be-true young flame-throwers before him. And Harper could start to whither away prematurely like most who squat for a living. But there’s just too much raw talent and uncommon maturity between the two not to think they will be the exception rather than the rule of overhyped phenoms.
Think about great batteries — those comprised of two Hall of Famers or at least perennial All-Stars, enjoying five or more years of pitching and catching together and winning championships. Not too many come to mind — mainly because there haven’t been a lot of truly great catchers.
Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford may have been the best battery of all. Ron Guidry and Thurman Munson were quite a duo, but cut short by Munson’s tragic death. Johnny Bench, the greatest catcher ever in my book, never had a pitcher to equal his talent, although he and Tom Seaver hooked up for some good years in the late 70’s, albeit on the downside of both their Hall of Fame careers. Doc Gooden and Gary Carter had a few stellar seasons together with the Mets before Carter began to fade (followed not long thereafter by Gooden). More recently, Johan Santana and Joe Mauer had the makings of all-time battery, but that lasted just a few years before Santana was sent off to New York. Carlton Fisk had some good years with Luis Tiant and Seaver late in their careers. Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez, maybe the two best hitting catchers in history (before Mauer came along), caught plenty of solid starters, but few with any longevity or Hall of Fame creds.
I’m sure there are many more to consider, but never has there been the prospect of a young battery as enticing as Strasburg and Harper. Heat, power, versatility, youth. It’s enough to leave you wondering about the possibilities. Too good to be true, or the shape of things to come?