If you heard that Bryce Harper had more homers than Aaron Judge, you'd nod in agreement. If you heard that Harper had more hits, runs scored, and runs batted in, you'd still nod the same.
But what if you heard that Bryce Harper is younger than Aaron Judge? It doesn't feel quite right because Harper has had so many more plate appearances, signed a $330 million contract, and has way more time on television. But it's true. Harper is 27. Judge just turned 28. Harper has played eight MLB seasons, twice as many as Judge (4).
Harper got an early start on his big-league career, a phenom at age 19, while Judge is something of a late bloomer, with his first full MLB season coming at age 25. (Judge didn't have enough at-bats to qualify as a rookie in 2016.)
Another Big Apple baseball star just had a monster maiden season, at age 24. That would be Judge's counterpart in Queens - Pete Alonso - who snapped Judge's rookie record with 53 homers last year. And, like Judge, Alonso was an All-Star and Rookie of the Year.
So if you had to pick which player will have the better career, would you go with the young Yank or the younger Met?
We've seen Judge play longer. Judge also plays an excellent right field - MLB Network has twice labeled Judge the best right fielder in baseball - with a bazooka for an arm. Meanwhile Alonso plays first base, where great hitters are often hidden on the field.
And Judge laps Alonso in the eye test. A monstrous man, Judge is listed at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, an NFL edge rusher playing the outfield. Judge looks like he was fused together in a lab, sans fat or wasted movements. Meanwhile, Alonso made his name making big hits and having teammates rip off his jersey to reveal a milky-white torso, with none of the vascular, muscular look of the hulking Judge.
But part of the ancient beauty of baseball is it allows for folks of all characters and contours. A pitcher built like a milkman (Greg Maddox) can win four straight Cy Young Awards and have his mail forwarded to Cooperstown. A batter built like a mailman (John Kruk) can be a three-time All-Star and career .300 hitter over ten MLB seasons. And someone like Alonso, nicknamed "Polar Bear," can look like the best young slugger the Mets have had since Darryl Strawberry.
Still, baseball is churning out more athletic players than ever. But as Judge looks like the better player and sports the longer résumé, he's saddled by the one curse that has killed many a career - the injury bug. Indeed, a shoulder injury he suffered last September has bled into this season and blossomed into something else. A March diagnosis of stress fracture in his upper rib has been opaque and ominous, leaving GM Brian Cashman to say his slugger will be ready sometime this summer.
It's part of a haunting montage for Judge, who has played just 214 games over the last two seasons. On top of the aforementioned maladies, Judge has suffered a significant left oblique strain and a fractured right wrist. So if Judge is injury-addled at 27 and 28, how sturdy will he be at 31 and 32?
For his part, Alonso just had one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history. To go with his MLB-best 53 homers, he scored 103 runs, drove in 120 runners, and sported a .941 OPS. And in an age when players believe in rest as much as RBI, Alonso played 161 games in 2019. And, for now, there are no torn tendons or mangled limbs in Alonso's body.
But if Judge can slap away the swarm of injury bugs, he will have a better career. He's nestled in the middle of a loaded lineup - the Yankees blasted 306 homers last year - and will be flanked by Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela, Gary Sanchez, and maybe even Giancarlo Stanton. And if they ever play baseball this summer, the Yankees will be the best or second-best team, behind the ever-choking Dodgers.
Alonso is by far the best slugger on a team that could contend for a playoff spot. And, frankly, Jeff McNeil is the only other true young star in the lineup. And no one is picking the Mets to moonwalk to the NL East title, or whatever mutated division the sport creates for this most odd summer. On the bright side, Alonso is a stand-alone slugging star for a starved Mets fan base. It will be easier for Alonso to soar into legendary orbit in Queens than it will be for Judge in the Bronx, where it feels like half the jersey numbers are retired.
But Judge just has too much talent and talent around him to finish second in this virtual race. That's if he stays healthy, which, over his short years in the majors, has been far from assured. And while New Yorkers hate when someone says they're a New York baseball fan, the Big Apple truly wins with these two big boppers, no matter where they play or how different they look. Just a few more will rise for the Judge than the Polar Bear.Twitter: @JasonKeidel