P&P Conversations: Hello, Goodbye

Eric:When our friendship was but a timid internet seedling, you wrote a blog called Waiting for Berkman. While the site wasn’t necessarily about the Big Puma, it wasn’t necessarily not about the Big Puma either. Now, almost three years after you and I joined forces at Pitchers & Poets, the Lance Berkman era could be coming to an end. He appears to have torn an ACL this weekend in Los Angeles, and has already floated the idea of retiring. Thank goodness, that in the first day of Berkman’s absence, a pair of large and similarly uncouth rookies performed astoundingly well.

The Cardinals called up prospect Matt Adams, who quite visibly exceeds his listed dimensions of 6’3″, 230 pounds, to replace Berkman at first base. He went 2-4. The Dodgers, meanwhile, won the game on a 3-0, pinch hit home run by Scott Van Slyke, son of Andy. Scott is 6’5″ and weighs 250 pounds. He has a puffy face like Berkman’s and, despite his lineage, a similar bemused working class demeanor.

My question is this: What would the end of the Berkman era mean for baseball? Furthermore, is he a replaceable entity?

Ted: Only if those big rookies actually move with a grace that belies their build will they inherit the Berkman crown. It’s odd to me that such a quietly capable fielder and hitting–so smooth and confident and patient–went down simply catching a routine throw. I felt like I was watching my dad come up lame in a pick-up basketball game; it was the injury of a twilight player.

The potential retirement of the Big Puma marks a kind of turning point in baseball player media relations. Lance was and is a maestro of the old media. When sportswriters needed a sound bit or an observant and humorous sports radio interview, they could bank on Fat Elvis. Berkman didn’t tweet, he talked. He is eloquent and funny as a conversationalist, in contrast to today’s young up-and-coming social media marketeers.

That and he could hit. I’m glad he got a ring.

If this is a year of departures, it’s also a year of arrivals. Are you a Trout guy or a Harper guy? (I’m a Bryce man, myself.)

Eric: Are we already aligning ourselves into camps? I heard John Kruk talking about this on ESPN the other night, and it didn’t even occur to me that anybody was picking sides. But I guess it makes sense. The Angel-faced, fishy-named Trout does present a helluva contrast with Harper and all his stylistic excess.

If this is the Beatles vs. Stones of our baseball-viewing generation, I want to align myself with the Stones. Because a Stones man is what I am. Musically, and I think/hope/hope not aesthetically. But then I watch these guys play. Harper’s super-aggressive, sizzling, kinetic assault on the baseball experience is the more captivating; Trout’s classicist embrace of all five tools, his left-handed game from the right side of the plate, is something more archaically, innocently beautiful.

At risk of reducing this to a Simmonsian level (not that Bill Simmons would ever engage in such old-dude categorization), Bryce Harper is the Rolling Stones and Mike Trout is the Beatles. And yet, despite myself, I find myself preferring Trout. Bryce Harper is changing the way we watch baseball. Mike Trout makes me feel like I’m watching the next Joe DiMaggio. His very swing feels steeped in history. Right now, that’s easier for me to consume and appreciate.

More importantly: Who is the Beach Boys of baseball?

Ted: The Tampa Bay Rays are the Beach Boys of BaseBall. Sunny disposition, coordinated beachwear, and an elevated level of quality that will outlast the schtick….

Give me Bryce Harper. Ordained for years as the second coming, scrutinized like a British royal, called up before his 20th, and how does he respond? By playing baseball with Pete Rose-level gamesmanship mixed with the grade-A talent that he didn’t even bother with at Triple-A. Trout has his appeal, the Dimaggio-like understated disposition, and his footspeed is a totally compelling characteristic. But thus far Harper is the cultural confluence.

Do you think there’s enough going on between the two of these players to create a Nomar-A-Rod-Jeter dynamic at some point down the line?

Eric: Even though I just finished reducing them to stale classic rock archetypes, I’ll now say I don’t even want to go there. For one, I’m not even sure I can explain the Nomar-A-Rod-Jeter dynamic. I was so young, and they were so big. Now I’m old enough that if I was an MLB player I’d be entering my prime soon, and Harper and Trout actually sort of seem like kids. To burden them with that sort of expectation would be unfair. I just hope they are both great, exciting ballplayers for a long time. I hope whatever energy that exists between the two of them only serves to enhance the way each is appreciated. I hope they can be as comfortable in the media landscape as tomorrow as Lance Berkman was in yesterday’s.

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