WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- We’ve talked all week about Mike Trout, the best baseball player in this world, signing a contract with the Angels that is out of this world. We know Trout, if healthy, will hold up his end of the deal and continue to be one of
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- We’ve talked all week about Mike Trout, the best baseball player in this world, signing a contract with the Angels that is out of this world. We know Trout, if healthy, will hold up his end of the deal and continue to be one of the great all-around baseball players who has ever lived. Now the Halos have to hold up their end and build a team around him good enough to make it to the end of October.
Maybe the people running the Angels can take solace in the fact that Michael Jordan didn’t make it to the NBA Finals and win his first title until he was 28. Trout turns 28 this August. Baseball is not a five-man sport like basketball. (OK, math class is now over.) It was the old basketball coach Bill Fitch who, when talking about the basic differences between the two sports, once said that in baseball, it doesn’t matter whether the left fielder knows the catcher’s name. So Jordan could carry the Bulls to six NBA Finals, winning them all. And LeBron James could make it to eight NBA Finals, basically with three teams: the Cavs of his youth, the Heat, then back to the Cavs.
It is more complicated in baseball. Way more. That’s why Willie Mays, who was Trout before Trout was born, only played in two World Series when he was still Willie Mays (1954 and '62). By the time he made it back with the Mets in '73 at the age of 42, he was a shell of his former self.
The great Henry Aaron played in two World Series in 1957 and '58. Mr. Aaron played 18 more seasons after that and never made it back to the Series. Barry Bonds, who would break Aaron’s all-time home run record, never made it with the Pirates and played his one and only World Series for the Giants in 2002, losing to the Angels -- the one and only time the Halos have made it to the end of October.
Alex Rodriguez, who hit 696 home runs in the big leagues, played a grand whopping total of one World Series in his career (2009), despite playing 12 seasons with the New York Yankees.
Ken Griffey Jr. was a near-unanimous Hall of Famer, a player who had so much Willie Mays in him and who was an even more thrilling sight on a baseball field in his prime than Bonds was -- Bonds once told me he thought of Junior as "the golden child." He never played in the World Series, despite playing nearly 2,700 games in the big leagues across 22 seasons.
There are plenty of Hall of Famers who never made it to the Series, of course. One of these days, Ichiro Suzuki, who said goodbye to Major League Baseball in Tokyo in memorable scenes, will enter the Hall of Fame and join a long list of such players, including Ernie Banks, Andre Dawson, Rod Carew, Ryne Sandberg and Edgar Martinez. Frank Thomas was still with the White Sox when they won the 2005 World Series, but he was injured and did not play.
"To not ever play in the World Series, let alone win it, still hurts," Banks said once. "It's the ultimate achievement for a player."
Mostly, though, Trout does not want to be Junior, someone he saw electrify baseball with his own eyes as a child. Junior made the postseason four times in his 22 seasons, and he played in the American League Championship Series once. Just that. So far, Trout has played three postseason games in his life. He has hit one postseason home run. Of all the superstars in North American professional sports, Trout is the one who has been least seen by a wide audience; he has never had the kind of stage that LeBron had eight years running, and that Jordan had six times in eight years.
We talk about the huge bet that Angels owner Arte Moreno has made on Trout. But in so many ways, Trout has made just as big a bet -- maybe a bigger one -- on his team. It is their job to build a baseball team worthy of him. Worthy of baseball's Michael Jordan.
“We’re his baseball home,” Halos general manager Billy Eppler said the other day.
The Angels are likely to be Trout’s home for the rest of his baseball career. They gave him the moon to keep him. Now we find out when, and if, they can give him the last week of October.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.