Mike Trout's mint-condition MLB career makes him Topps in baseball card world

Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout hits against the Oakland Athletics during the third inning of a spring training.

In July, Mike Trout will have been a major leaguer for 10 years. He would not have turned 30 by then, but he could retire on the spot and make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

No need to stop now, though. Trout is at the Topps of his game.

He is batting .420. And think about this for a second: He gets on base more often than he does not.

He leads the major leagues in on-base percentage (.524), slugging percentage (.783) and OPS (1.306), making his April one of the most productive months in major league history. Only two players have put up those numbers over a full season: Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds.

If you’re the trading card company that just signed Trout to the longest contract in your company’s history, in the hope that he can sustain his excellence into his 30s, this is what you want to see.

“There’s no better name in baseball than Mike Trout,” said David Leiner, Topps vice president and general manager of global sports and entertainment.

Between Bonds and Trout, Albert Pujols was the best player in baseball. In 11 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols won the MVP award three times, placed second four times, and never finished out of the top 10.

In his nine full seasons with the Angels, Trout has won the MVP award three times, placed second four times, and never finished out of the top five. He is on pace to crash the all-time top 100 in home runs in the same year he turns 30, passing such stars as Dave Parker, Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter along the way.

Angels start Mike Trout, right, is congratulated by Jose Iglesias after hitting a home run against the Houston Astros.

“A player like Trout comes every 50 years in this game,” Pujols said. “We just witness greatness every day. I’m blessed that I was out in the front seat, hitting behind him for a while, and now wearing the same uniform and taking the field every day.”

Pujols could not sustain his greatness into his 30s, in part because of injury. Does he believe Trout can sustain his greatness into his 30s?

“Only God knows that,” Pujols said. “I wish I could have a magic ball. For me, I had the best 10 years ever that anybody had, and I thought I was going to have the best career, I was going to continue to do it for the rest of my life. It’s just impossible to do that. I just hope he can stay healthy. If he can stay healthy, he probably can carry that for a while.”

Trout’s contract with the Angels extends through 2030. His contract with Topps extends “not quite” that long, Leiner said, but is “pretty darn close.”

As a kid, Trout said, he did not collect baseball cards.

“But, when I went into a Walgreens or a store, since I’m a baseball fan, I would see the cards next to the register and buy some,” he said.

Mike Trout trading card.
Mike Trout trading card. (Courtesy of Topps.)

The trading card business is enjoying a resurgence, Leiner said, with collectors relishing the chance to tear open a pack and find an autographed card. Trout will sign thousands of cards each year, so that Topps can insert them into packs.

“Thousands might sound like a lot but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s still really hard to find one of his autographs,” Leiner said. “You’re going to see over a million Mike Trout cards per year.”

Said Trout: “Some of the cards they come out with, it’s pretty crazy to see yourself with the greats. I was opening cards last week and I got, me, [Ken] Griffey [Jr.], a bunch of the young stars in the show today. It’s pretty cool.”

As part of his Topps deal, Trout will meet with fans — sometimes virtually, other times in person, perhaps for dinner or a round of batting practice.

“It’s not easy to be the best player in the game and carry that much weight and try to be humble,” Pujols said. “You’ve seen a lot of players — they’re just half of Trout, and then they think that they’re walking into a room where they don’t care about anybody. Trout is different. He is special.”

That represents a pretty significant investment of time for a player that commissioner Rob Manfred once said could not be marketed nationally unless he wanted to actively engage in such marketing.

That also represents a pretty significant commitment from Topps, in a year that the younger and flashier Fernando Tatis Jr. has been hyped as the latest face of baseball.

Mike Trout trading card
Mike Trout trading card (Courtesy of Topps)

“What Mike’s accomplished thus far in his career really takes him to a whole different stratosphere,” Leiner said. “There’s many great players in the game. We’ll do some stuff with Fernando Tatis Jr. But he’s still very young in his career, and we’ll see how he continues to develop and grow. You watch Tatis, [Ronald] Acuna, [Juan] Soto, all these young guys that are incredibly exciting.

“But, for this sort of deal, Mike is still relatively young too, and he still has a heck of career ahead of him. We feel, when it comes to an ambassador, with what he’s already done in the first 10 years and what he’ll do in the next 10 years, he’s a really solid guy for us to take to the next level and to partner with for a deal of this length.

“We love Tatis Jr. He’s awesome. He’s flashy. He’s fun to watch. But Mike Trout really resonates with Topps and with collectors. He’s kind of the face of Topps.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.