Michael Baumann (At The Ringer) published a terrific feature on Angels outfielder Mike Trout, race in baseball and many other topics. Trout, 25, is a two-time American League MVP Award-winner and the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner. He’s already the greatest position player of his generation and is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest baseball players of all time.
Recently, I ruffled a few feathers here by calling Trout boring. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick said as much last year. And the simple truth is that, for reasons Baumann explains, he is boring by choice. Trout wants to be a role model for kids. His agent Craig Landis said, “I have Little League and high school coaches come up to me all the time and tell me that they tell their kids, ‘This is how you do it. Period. In all aspects. This is your role model.’” Trout is the only active big league client Landis has. If he wanted to, Trout could have super-agent Scott Boras on bended knee begging for him to sign.
Trout is friendly to everyone and doesn’t come close to controversy when he speaks to the media. The most controversial thing Trout has said, Baumann recalls, is that his go-to order at Wawa is chicken noodle soup. For the uninitiated, Wawa is a popular gas station-slash-convenience store in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey as well as Maryland, Virginia, and Florida. Wawa is known for its coffee and its hoagies, even starting “Hoagiefest” almost a decade ago offering discounts on hoagies to its patrons. To go to Wawa just to get chicken noodle soup is akin to sacrilege — just ask any Wawa devotee. There are lots of them.
Trout does not bark at other players for playing the game differently, more emotionally. He himself doesn’t celebrate wildly when he does something great on the field, which happens to be quite often. He has taken what is, for a player of his stature, the bare minimum in endorsement deals.
It is a shame for Major League Baseball, and for its fans, that Trout has no interest in becoming a superstar. As you’ve no doubt read here, baseball has had trouble reaching younger audiences. The only sports with a lower percentage of kids 17 years of age or younger watching are golf and NASCAR. 17 percent of those aged 18-34 watch baseball, a far cry from the NBA’s 32 percent and the NHL’s 28 percent. When I was a kid, Ken Griffey, Jr. was arguably the most popular athlete among my peers. We imitated his batting stance when we played backyard baseball and stepped into the batter’s box in Little League. MLB marketed him like no baseball player had ever been marketed before, bringing him into our households on a regular basis. Griffey was in countless commercials, put his face on video games, and was a pop culture personality. Today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a kid who cares who Mike Trout is — or even Bryce Harper or Clayton Kershaw, for that matter — because they’re watching basketball, football, YouTube, Twitch and numerous other venues of entertainment. And MLB hasn’t made much of an effort to capture their attention.
Major League Baseball should be beating down our doors attempting to show us Trout’s otherworldly talent. Unfortunately, Trout has no interest in becoming the face of the sport the way Griffey did.
By BIll Baer