Mike Trout is baseball’s LeBron, just without the rings, and with just three postseason games in his entire career. But Trout is still the LeBron of his sport, its biggest star for a long time, one of the biggest of all time. He turned 29 on Friday, a week after he and his wife welcomed their first child, a boy, to the world. In his first at-bat as a dad last week, Trout hit a home run. He hit two more on Monday night against the A’s, the last a go-ahead shot in the eighth inning of a game the Angels would win, 10-9. The only time he seems to slow down on a ballfield is when he is once again trotting around the bases.
Trout went 4-for-5 in the game, scored four, knocked in three. Some night. In the morning, he still woke up in last place in the American League West. The Angels have played more than a quarter of the short season. But by Tuesday, only one team in Major League Baseball – the Pirates – had lost more games than they had. If the 16-team tournament were starting now -- happily it’s not – Trout would not be in it.
It is why, if you stayed up into Tuesday morning on the East Coast as I did waiting to see Trout do something routinely tremendous, you wanted the Angels’ victory over the A’s, one of the best teams so far, to be the start of something. Because of all the great things that can happen in baseball this season, if baseball is able to go the distance, the very best would be for Mike Trout to at least grab a piece of October.
He needs to be back on baseball’s great stage for the second time, and the first time since 2014, a division series against the Royals. The Royals swept the Angels that year. Trout had 12 at-bats in the series, and one hit, a home run. That is it. A LeBron who goes home every year before the lights get turned up and the most important -- and most watched -- games are played. Even Willie Mays, who played baseball with the same kind of thrilling skill set that Trout has (and only had one postseason home run himself), made it to the World Series four times in his career, and won one with the New York Giants in 1954.
If you love baseball, you have to be rooting for the Angels to be one of the 16 teams still playing after the 60-game regular season has been played. It is different for LeBron, of course, because basketball is a five-man sport, and one indomitable player will have the ball in his hands every time down the court. By the time LeBron was Trout’s age, he had been to the NBA Finals three times and won once and made himself the biggest star in American sports. But Trout is as good at what he does as LeBron is at what he does up the road in LA. Imagine what his profile would be if he’d won just a couple of times by now.
None of this means Mike Trout is some lost sports soul. He continues to bring not just his talent to his sport, but joy. He signed that $430 million, 12-year contract extension with the Angels. He is as good right now, in his 10th year in the big leagues, as he has ever been. And perhaps better.
Through that performance against the A’s on Monday night, he had played 13 games so far this season. His batting average was .333. His OPS was 1.124, which is right in line with three seasons before this, when the OPS was 1.071, 1.088, 1.083. He is slugging .741 in the short season; the last time he had a slugging percentage lower than .600 was 2016. He had seven home runs and 14 RBIs in the 13 games he had played around paternity leave. He had scored 12 runs in the 13 games.
He is our Mays. If you are looking for a more recent comparison, just in terms of talent plus flair and style, he is our Ken Griffey Jr. Here is what one of the guys he beat Monday night, Matt Chapman of the A’s, said when it was over:
“You think you’ve seen it all, and then he just keeps doing it. He can change the game with one swing of the bat. It’s always awesome to play against him. He’s, in my opinion, the best player in the big leagues and maybe the best to do it."
Trout himself? He smiled afterward and said there might be something to this “dad power” thing after all.
Someday we may very well call him the GOAT. If he is blessed with good health, this might only be the halfway point of his extraordinary career. There is nothing he hasn’t been able to do in baseball. Except make it to October. In a crazy year, there isn’t a lot of time for his team to change that narrative. But there is enough time. Right now No. 27 is scheduled to play his last regular season game on Sept. 27, against the Dodgers. In the best possible baseball season, Mike Trout gets to keep playing after that.