Don't get me wrong. Bryce Harper is one of the best stories in baseball right now. He's slugging over .500. He hit a monster home run off the restaurant in Toronto last week. Harper is backing up all the hype, proving he was ready to perform on baseball's big stage at age 19.
But now it's getting personal.
Harper is going after my boyhood hero. Tony Conigliaro was 19 when I discovered baseball in 1964, at age 8. At the time, I didn't realize how rare it was for a teenager to be starting for the Red Sox, or for any big-league team.
Tony C was young and dynamic, and he hit these long, majestic home runs over the wall in Fenway Park. He was a Boston native, one of us. It was natural for a New England boy, newly smitten with baseball, to pick Conigliaro as his first idol. He hit 24 homers in 1964, a record for a teenager. The websites still get it wrong sometimes. Sorry, it wasn't Mel Ott (second with 19) or Ken Griffey. Tony C has the record. But I'm getting more worried by the day. Harper, who was promoted to Washington in late April, is making a run at him.
As of Wednesday, Harper had seven homers in 45 games. At that pace, if he played every game the rest of the way, he would finish with 22. Harper didn't hit his first homer until his 15th game, however. If he maintains his home-run pace of the last six weeks, he'll blow by Tony C in mid-September.
They say records are made to be broken. Hearts, too. I have a soft spot for Tony C. He suffered a horrible beaning in the '67 pennant race, ruining a career that seemed destined for the Hall of Fame. He became a sports announcer and was headed to an interview for a job in Boston when he suffered a massive heart attack in 1982. He lay in a coma for eight years before dying in 1990.
Well, good luck to Harper. He's good for baseball. Assuming Harper doesn't lead the NL this season, Tony C will still have the record for youngest player to win a home run title. He led the AL with 32 in 1965, when he was 20. Harper will turn 20 three months sooner than Tony C did that year. So that record is safe for now.
Baseball trivia is the big winner, I suppose. By now, you've probably guessed that it's time for my annual baseball trivia quiz. There are 46 possible answers. Whine if you must, but any baseball trivia maven should get 30, which is 65 percent. As always, all statistics are from 1900 or later:
1. OK, so Tony C was the youngest home run champion. Who was the oldest player to lead a league in homers?
2. Name the four players who are career franchise leaders in singles, doubles, triples and home runs. If you're looking for a time frame, they all played with or against Gaylord Perry.
3. Who is the only player in the top 10 all-time in home runs, walks and striking out? A big clue: He played a couple of games with the Bisons.
4. This forgotten slugger was AL Rookie of the Year in 1949. He had 95 RBIs five straight years for the Senators in the 1950s. In 1957, he led the AL in homers (42) and RBIs (114), but finished third in the MVP vote behind Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.
5. Who is the only active right-handed pitcher with 2,000 career strikeouts? Last week, he played a key role in an odd, historic game.
6. Six current big-league managers hit 25 home runs in a season at least once. I'll raise a toast to you if you get the entire six-pack.
7. Name the five men who have 200 stolen bases for the Yankees. One of them, as you should know, is the team's career leader in hits.
8. Speaking of Yankee base-stealers, this guy stole 74 bases for the Bombers in 1914 and held the team record for 71 years.
9. Barry Bonds is the only player to win three MVPs in a row (he won four straight). This pitcher won back-to-back MVPs and narrowly missed a third straight, finishing second to Ted Williams in 1946. He was the last pitcher to win 25 games three years in a row.
10. Who are the only two players who have won the Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and MVP awards (not in the same year, of course)?
11. He went 17-12 with a 2.05 ERA for the Yankees to win the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1968. Later, for the White Sox, he won 21 games one year and lost 21 the next.
12. In the 10 seasons from 1988 to 1997, Rickey Henderson and Kenny Lofton combined to win nine AL stolen base titles. Who won the other?
13. Four players have had 50 doubles, 40 homers and 150 RBIs in a season. Three of them did it before World War II. The other came at the height of the steroid era.
14. Alphabet trivia time! Name the six players with 350 or more career homers whose last name starts with "K." Come on, it's a gimme.
15. Since World War II, only two right-handed hitters have had 230 hits in a season.
16. On May 8, Josh Hamilton became the 14th player since 1900 to hit four homers in a game. Name the two players who hit four HRs in a game three weeks apart in May in 2002.
17. He was the winning pitcher for the Red Sox in the memorable sixth game of the 1975 World Series. But he's better known for the game in which he tossed a no-hitter and hit two homers.
18. Name the only two AL players who have been top five in the MVP voting five years in a row, but never won it. One is active, the other in the Hall of Fame. A little esoteric, but hey, it's my quiz.
19. Last Sunday in Toronto, Jim Thome hit his 100th homer for the Phillies, making him the fourth player to hit 100 dingers for three different franchises. Name the other three men.
20. One of the studs from Question 2 is the only player in history with 600 doubles, 100 triples, 300 homers and 200 stolen bases. ?