Mike Trout is not the problem, but going home in October doesn't help

Tim BrownMLB columnist

Mike Trout is not the perfect ballplayer sent to save a league from its bouts of economic downturn and self-loathing. He is merely the perfect ballplayer, or as close to it as the living have seen. What comes with that is a young man who asks in return that he be allowed to be him, whatever that may be, which seems more than fair.

Baseball, in my opinion, was not Mike Trout’s plan to get rich, although he is. It was not his plan to become famous, and you’re free to argue whether he is or isn’t, because I don’t care and he almost certainly cares less than I do.

Baseball was what Mike Trout was good at. And it was what made him happy. It fed his desire to compete and win and keep score. So he kept doing it.

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The reason he was good at it, the reason it made him happy, I’m guessing, was because it was a game played in a box, and he was comfortable there, and he could tilt his head and roll his shoulders forward and get on with it.

Over seven major league seasons, gradually, he has raised his eyes, stood taller, accepted the love and tumult that comes with being the player everyone is straining to see. To understand. To borrow a piece of.

I’ve never seen him walk into a clubhouse without a smile, presumably because there’d be a game that day. He leaves the clubhouse the same way, sure there’ll be a game the next day. If you think bigger than that, that if the game is to survive it must nourish itself on the desperate souls of gluttonous men out to get theirs while they can, then, well, maybe Mike Trout is not your savior. Instead, he can be your favorite ballplayer, the young man who’d probably rather pull a kid out of the stands for a game of catch than pose in front of a green screen for a commercial shoot.

A fan wears a t-shirt with an image of Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout before the Angels baseball game with the Seattle Mariners, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP)
A fan wears a t-shirt with an image of Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout before the Angels baseball game with the Seattle Mariners, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP)

So, let’s allow for authenticity. Let’s kill the overdone “face of the game” conversations. Let’s understand that what sells the game is individuals, people – men, for now – being exactly who they are. Who they were meant to be. True to themselves. True to their strengths and frailties, and not being inflated into supermen, which is false and transparent and failed last time, in the long run.

Let’s start over.

The commissioner of baseball did not say Mike Trout should conduct himself or his business in ways other than he already has. Rob Manfred is perfectly pleased with the player and person and businessman Mike Trout is. The way he put it on Tuesday afternoon was, “Player marketing requires one thing for sure: the player. … That’s up to him,” and millions of headline writers took it from there. He said more, but that was the gist.

The Los Angeles Angels reacted with something of a sledgehammer, that being swung from the offices of owner Arte Moreno and president John Carpino in defense of Mike Trout (who was in no need of defending), reading, in part, “We applaud him for prioritizing his personal values over commercial self-promotion. That is rare in today’s society and stands out as much as his extraordinary talent.” While company officials insist the statement was intended to address the entire conversation and not to backhand the commissioner, it played as the latter.

When Aristotle mused, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” he may have been thinking of the Wednesday between baseball’s All-Star Game and the official beginning of its second half. The conclusion of the Manny Machado saga was not enough to fill the emptiness. And nature would like a vacuum just fine if all there was otherwise were the crumbs of an apparent feud between the commissioner and one of his owners, with the game’s best player caught in between.

If you got that far while picturing Mike Trout standing off to the side, hands on his hips and shaking his head at the adults in the room, then you were rewarded when Mike Trout himself cleared his throat.

“I am not a petty guy and would really encourage everyone to just move forward,” he said in a statement forwarded by his agent to the club. “Everything is cool between the Commissioner and myself. End of story. I am ready to just play some baseball!”

For those who believe Mike Trout is underpromoted, undermarketed, whatever it is (and Mike Trout clearly is not one of them), that is not as much a baseball issue as it is an Angels issue. In his eighth summer, he has played in one fall, and that lasted three games. The crowds come in October. The nation leans in in October. Stars are born – and raised — in October.

The Angels go home in October.

Mike Trout has only played in three playoff games in eight seasons. (AP)
Mike Trout has only played in three playoff games in eight seasons. (AP)

Given its century or so as America’s pastime, a good run for a diversion that for a long time invited only its type of America, and was for that century bulletproof anyway, baseball seems to have developed an inferiority complex. Rules are challenged. Methods are thrown out. Core elements of an old game are debated over two or three years’ worth of data. Maybe that’s healthy. Maybe it feels panicky. Maybe baseball should just be itself and not succumb to the trappings of a new world that expects everything to be exactly what it wants. Baseball should be good at what it does. To even be great at what it is. First, though, it has to know what it is.

Works for Mike Trout.

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