When my grandfather passed away last spring, the family had to clear out and sell the wonderful little house in northern Virginia that he had lived in (with my grandmother, until 2008) since sometime in the sixties. Among the few things that I ended up with, being the baseball guy, was my pick of whatever I thought was salvageable of a large, worn stack of sports magazines that had belonged to my dad and uncle -- primarily SPORT Magazine, with some Sports Illustrateds, Sporting Newses and Athlon Baseball Season Previews mixed in -- with dates ranging from 1963 to 1969.
I ended up keeping most of them, and I've been saving them in a stack in my basement, sure I would want to look through them and write about them eventually. And I'm still sure I will, but what brought them to mind just now was this: when they focused on baseball (as most issues did, with much less competition in those days), their covers were dominated by two men. Two men who, by that time, were old news.
Start with any given issue of SPORT (or so it seemed to me -- what follows is an exaggeration, but seriously, I'm not far off; check the actual list here), and Willie Mays might be on the cover. The next month, it was probably Mickey Mantle, then the month after that, it could be Mantle again. Then maybe there's a month where it's Hank Aaron or Sandy Koufax or something about football or boxing. Then Mantle again, then Mays again. Mantle and Mays were plainly the two stars in all of sports at that time. And the bulk of the magazines I have are from 1966 through '68, when both were fifteen-plus-year veterans in their mid-thirties -- Mantle was essentially done, and Mays was pretty clearly slipping.
I bring this up because Jeff Sullivan has written a characteristically good piece over at SBNation, titled "Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, And What's Sadly Fleeting," in which he likens baseball fandom's current relationship with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout to the early, "discovery" stages of a romantic relationship, and -- more illustratively, I thought -- to something called the Three Bite Rule:
The first bite you have of something is the best. The second bite confirms the first bite, the third bite is to be savored, and then it all comes down. After three bites, whatever it is isn't special anymore. The rule seems a wee bit simplistic, but, in general, it's easy to believe.
It is, and I think in most cases, it's right on. Great new things seem to fascinate us less because they're great than because they're new, and once we're used to them, they could be just as great as ever, but they become a lot less interesting. And that's probably going to be true for Trout and Harper, too.
Probably, but not necessarily. And I'd like to think about another possibility for a second. What if it's Mantle and Mays all over again?