By Nancy Armour |
Mike Trout is not to blame for Major League Baseball’s problems.
The Los Angeles Angels outfielder found himself thrust into the middle of a controversy this week after MLB commissioner Rob Manfred put the onus on Trout for not being a bigger star, the intimation being that he’s part of the drag on baseball’s popularity. That’s as wrongheaded as it is unfair.
Trout’s job is to play baseball, and it’s one he does very well. A two-time AL MVP, he currently leads the majors in on-base percentage (.454), ranks third in home runs (25) and is sixth in runs scored (71). It’s true the Angels have made the playoffs only once with Trout, losing in the first round in 2014, but that has more to do with their injury-plagued pitching staff and inconsistent offense than Trout.
Trout does what he’s paid to do, and he has a legion of fans who love him for it. Love the fact that he’s not a self-promoter or a phony, either.
While Trout has chosen not to turn himself into a promotional machine or national pitchman, he doesn’t exactly hide in the dugout. He can be seen signing autographs before every game, and when a fan started the #MikeTroutMoments hashtag Wednesday, it quickly filled with photos and stories of Trout interacting with fans.
There’s the young boy who can barely contain his excitement as Trout signs a ball for him. There’s another child standing next to Trout during batting practice after the slugger pulled him out of the stands. There are stories about his charitable activities.
“Mike Trout is an exceptional ambassador for the game,” the Angels said Wednesday in a terse rebuke of Manfred’s comments. “He continually chooses to participate in the community, visiting hospitals, schools and countless other charities. One of Mike’s traits that people admire most is his humility. His brand is built upon generously spending his time engaging with fans, both at home and on the road, while remaining a remarkable baseball player and teammate.”
These interactions might not make headlines, but they’re what make lifelong fans. And Lord knows baseball can use more of those these days.
Baseball’s popularity is sagging not because of Trout or any other player, but because the game has not kept pace with time. Literally. In an age when attention spans are shrinking and society demands immediacy, the game drags on. And on. And on.
Manfred has tried to address this, only to meet resistance from the players union and a small group of fans who howl about “Tradition!” when ways to improve the game are floated.
“There are always unintended consequences to changes,” Tony Clark, head of the MLBPA, said this week during the All-Star festivities. “That’s not to say we shouldn’t be willing to talk about them. I’m simply suggesting to you that the ones most affected are on the field.”
Is putting a runner on first in extra innings or shortening the game heresy? Sure. Would limiting visits to the mound by pitching coaches and managers handcuff them strategically? Possibly.
But it’s better than having the game slip into irrelevance.
The decrease in attendance the first half of the season cannot be attributed solely to weather problems, and everyone in baseball ought to be alarmed. Yet MLB’s strongest move so far has been to go after the Chicago Cubs’ Ben Zobrist for wearing black cleats. The horror!
Fans are clamoring for MLB to lift its antiquated “home team” blackout rules for streaming games – good luck seeing anything west of the Rockies if you live in Las Vegas, which doesn’t even HAVE a home team – and Manfred’s response is to criticize Trout’s reluctant stardom.
By the way, nobody ever considered Derek Jeter particularly outgoing or warm and fuzzy. But he played for the New York Yankees, and simply putting that uniform on makes someone an attention magnet whether he’s in the five boroughs or Phoenix.
(Do you think Aaron Judge would be as big a name as he is if he played on, say, the Miami Marlins? Yeah. Me either.)
After watching “stars” such as Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun – just to name a few – drag baseball through the mud, Manfred should be grateful that Trout’s headlines are limited to what he does on the field. Baseball has problems, but Trout is not one of them.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.