Trout's injury a cruel fate for an icon and fans

July 6th, 2023

You thought this would be the year -- with the way Shohei Ohtani just performed in June and the way was starting to come on -- that Trout would finally catch a break. You thought this might finally be the year when Trout made it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, finally make it back to the kind of great October stage that frames great baseball players the best.

Now he does get a break. To the hamate bone in his left hand. A break that required surgery to repair it. Just like that, instead of wondering if Trout and the Angels would make the postseason for the first time in nine years, the math changes for him, and we are talking about the four to eight weeks to the season he is expected to miss while his wrist heals.

Here is something Trout, a New Jersey kid, told ESPN in February when he was watching his Philadelphia Eagles make another run to the Super Bowl:

"It crushes me, because I want to experience the playoff atmosphere. I got a little taste of it in ‘14, but it’s been a while since I've been back. I can't imagine what the players are going through, and I think everybody that competes in sports wants that feeling. That's the goal every year, is to get back to the playoffs. You know it, everybody asks me, ‘We gotta get Trout to the playoffs.’"

It can still happen for him this time, even in what has been a nightmare week for the Angels. Trout broke his wrist after fouling a ball against Nick Martinez of the Padres. Ohtani left his start against the Padres with a blister on his pitching hand. Anthony Rendon left the same game after fouling a ball hard off his shin, even if Rendon remains on the active roster for now.

On June 27, the Angels were 44-37. Ohtani was crazy hot and Trout was getting hot and they looked as if the Angels were playing themselves into the thick of the American League Wild Card race. Now Trout has had wrist surgery. He will miss four to eight weeks, and baseball will once again miss him. The All-Star Game will be diminished without him. Baseball will be diminished without him, for as long as he is sidelined.

More than ever, there is a Mickey Mantle quality to Trout’s career, and not because when he was younger he could run the bases and run the outfield and hit for power the way Mickey did before his knees betrayed him. It was Mickey’s knees that slowly robbed him of his magic, finally forcing him out of the game by the time he was 37. But even with all that, Mickey Mantle was a Yankee. He was in the World Series 12 times by the time he was 32, which is the age Mike Trout will be in August.

“Everybody knows I did a lot,” Mickey Mantle told me before his last Old-Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium in 1994. "But I think everybody will always wonder how much more if I could’ve stayed healthy.”

It was knees with The Mick. It is different with Trout, who had missed 274 games in the six seasons before this one, and could be about to miss 40 or 50 more this time. The list of injuries is a long one: In 2018, Trout suffered from right wrist inflammation. It was foot surgery sidelining him for a time the next year. In 2021, back problems limited him to 36 games, and last season, it was mostly back problems again for him that shortened his season by 43 games.

Ronald Acuña Jr. is magic himself on a ballfield, running wild on the bases and hitting for power. He has suffered one major injury in his career, a torn ACL. The resulting surgery saw Acuña miss the second half of the 2021 season, and the first quarter of ’22. It was that one big thing for him. It has been a lot of things with Trout. Now wrist surgery.

For years and years, before Ohtani came along, there was no debate about who the best player in baseball was. It was Trout, hands down. Starting in 2014, he was MVP three times over the next seven seasons and finished second in the voting two other times. We routinely talked about him in baseball the way we talk about LeBron James in basketball. LeBron has been in the NBA Finals -- 10 times -- almost as often as Mickey Mantle was in the World Series.

Trout has played three postseason games. Gotten one hit. A home run. Nine years ago. We thought this season might be different for him. Maybe it still can be. For now, it is like a lot of others. He is hurt again.