October spotlight would make Trout MLB's LeBron

May 5th, 2018

The question for the Angels' Mike Scioscia, who has seen it all from from the moment Trout hit the big leagues in 2011, was simple enough. It was about Trout's capacity, if he has one, to still surprise his own manager, as Trout continues to be the greatest star of his sport and one of the great stars of American sports, even if he is not discussed nearly often enough outside baseball the way he ought to be, which means as baseball's LeBron.

"Does Mike Trout surprise me?" Scioscia said when asked about Trout the other day. "No. Not anymore."

You see what LeBron is doing in his sport right now, the team he is trying to take back to the NBA Finals, which isn't even the same team with which he started the season because the Cavaliers made all the trades they made at the NBA's Trade Deadline. He is not just the best player in pro basketball, even as this will likely be one of those years when somebody else -- James Harden -- will be the MVP. LeBron isn't just the best all-around player of his time, he is the best of all time.

You can do what LeBron is doing right now and has done before, in a five-man sport. One transformative talent can carry a team the way he always does, as he tries to get back to the NBA Finals for the eighth consecutive time. It doesn't work that way in baseball, or for Trout, who is the best player of his time, on his way, if he is blessed by good health, to someday being called one of the most complete of all time. To this point, Trout has only played three postseason games in his career. He has just one postseason home run in the books. LeBron always has the postseason stage, and the brightest lights there are. So does someone like Tom Brady, who has played eight Super Bowls in his own career.

Not Trout, at least not so far.

It does not change who Trout is and what he has done in baseball and keeps doing, before his 27th birthday. From the time he played his first full season for the Angels in 2012, the only time he has finished worse than second in the American League's MVP Award voting was last season, when he got hurt and only played 114 games. Even with all the missed time, Trout finished fourth in the voting. So he has two MVPs already, three seconds, a fourth. As always, his personal stats continue to give off a beam of light.

When I suggested to Reggie Jackson, who lives in southern California and has had his own ringside seat to the way Trout plays the game, that Trout is the superstar who sometimes seems to be hiding in plain sight, Reggie said, "No. We all know that he's the best player."

Added Reggie: "You know how we always talk about five-tool players? You watch [Trout] play and sometimes you swear he's got even more than that. He checks boxes that you didn't even know were boxes."

And then Reggie, who played so much postseason baseball, including with the Angels, that they of course called him Mr. October, said, "You just wish for one thing for him: That he keeps getting trips."

Reggie meant trips to the plate.

"You want him to hit 500 home runs, or more," Jackson said, "and knock in 1,700 by the time he's through, or more, and score just as many."

is having a crazy season so far for the Red Sox, and through Friday night had hit more home runs -- 13 -- than the 11 Trout has hit for the Angels. Maybe Betts will go on to have the kind of MVP season for his team that had for his in 2017. But with Trout, his batting average hovering around .300 right now, there is the sense that he is just clearing his throat; that he is just getting started.

And maybe, just maybe, this can be the best team on which he has played in Anaheim. You see the record the Angels have so far, even though they have been swept at home by both Betts' Red Sox and the Yankees. But even if this is the best team Trout has had around him, the Angels are still in the AL West with the Astros, defending World Series champions, even if the Angels came into the weekend ahead of them. It means that even if Trout does punch his ticket back to October, the most he might get is a Wild Card Game. It isn't enough. You want him to have more, this time, because his talent deserves more.

Three postseason games so far. Fifteen plate appearances. One hit, a home run. Say it ain't so.

Sometimes, and especially if you are an East Coast baseball fan, you think of Trout as the guy doing wonderful things, hitting the kind of home run he did the other night against the Orioles that was the hardest ball Trout has ever hit in his life, that he is having the kind of career he is having, doing the kinds of baseball things he routinely does, after too much of the country has gone to bed.

Trout, the Jersey guy, does not become a free agent for two more years, after the 2020 season, and if he hasn't seen a real chance to win the World Series by then, you wonder what he will do, whether he might come back east, and just how much money he might make if he finally is on the open market. Already, in the middle of the extension he signed with the Angels a few years ago, he is the highest-paid player this season, at $34 million. That is one kind of number with Trout. Here are his OPS numbers, starting in 2012, when he was at .963. After that, it was .988 and then .939 and then .991 and .991 and 1.071 and now 1.119 this season.

"I'll tell you how he is like LeBron," Reggie Jackson said. "He's one of those guys even the opposition wants to watch."

Everybody knows LeBron. But sometimes you worry that not enough sports fans, outside all of us who love baseball, know enough about Mike Trout, and are really seeing him. LeBron always has May and June in his sport. He's having some month of May right now. Let Mike Trout finally have one real October. So everybody can see.