This article is by our newest writer Joe Pines. Joe will be writing articles that deviate away from our usual analytically driven content and offer a fresh perspective on the less measurable narratives surrounding American’s pastime. Enjoy!
Flashback to 1999. The world underwent a millennium ending hysteria. Y2K was on the horizon and many were wondering about what the future would have in store for them. Us fans of the national pastime ignored it all as we concerned ourselves with topics of a more hypothetical and fanciful nature.
It is the nature of the baseball fandom at large to have an obsession with rankings. It is only in baseball that such passionate feelings arise over the inconsequential numeric rankings of luminaries such as Mike Macfarlane and Tim Naehring (very underrated I felt). Naturally, the consensus proper way to celebrate the end of the 20th century involved ranking and assembling an All-Century All Star team. With enthusiasm- and much debate- a team was created. Famously, only one active player was on the roster: Ken ‘The Kid’ Griffey Jr.
One of the most exciting players to ever grace the game, Griffey dominated the 90’s in memorable fashion. Tragically, nearly the rest of his career was wiped out due to chronic injuries. The skill was still there, but unfortunately the opportunities to display his prodigious talents were few and far between. With hindsight, the ranking of him as an All- Century player was a bit hasty.
Fast- forward 18 years. We are solidly entrenched in the new millennium. Despacito may have replaced The Macarena, but baseball fans are still obsessed with rankings. Mike Trout’s ascent to the top of the league is reminiscent of the electric rise of Ken Griffey. His on field credentials are impeccable and he is already carving out a place on the short list of all time baseball greats. Everyday tweets go around with some statistical comparison between him- usually favorably- and a Hall of Famer. Will this GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) persona surrounding Trout last? The Griffey saga has taught the importance of patience. The legacy and final ranking of Michael J. Trout will to a large extent depend on how the remainder of his career plays out.
Decline phases are intriguing. Age happens to everyone. The aging curve has been analyzed in depth and a consensus has emerged. Players peak at ages 26-27 and maintain close to peak levels for a few years. The onset of rapid decline is around age 33-34. The curve is assembled using data points from all extremes. On one end of the spectrum, the late career peak of Barry Bonds dominates. The other side is filled with types like Al Kaline, with entire careers spent declining from the heights of dominant first couple seasons in the majors. The key to those who dwell on the extremes is unknown. To realistically ascertain if a player will blossom or wither in the latter half of a career is nearly impossible
The perspective of a star and his legacy is primarily formed by his peak. It is better that way. Memories of glory ought not to be tainted by the sight of a man failing to recapture his previous heights. However, inevitably an affect upon the grand perspective of his career will take place. Enough end- of- career failings will result in a severe tarnishing of a legacy – a la Ken Griffey.
What will come to be of Mike Trout? Will injuries sabotage the rest of his career? Will he defy probabilities and maintain excellence beyond the thresholds of normality? Only time will tell. Let’s do a little stargazing.
Mike Trout Hank Aaron style: The King of Consistency: Realistically the aging curve has to bite somewhere. A 35 year old man, no matter what shape he may be in, does not compare physically to a 25 year old man. The effects of the waning of physical strength are most clearly evident in a decline in fielding and baserunning. In nearly all cases, a fade in hitting will occur as well. Hank Aaron was remarkable in that he did not show signs of an offensive decline until his 40’s, an age when nearly all have hung it up for good.
Aaron was incredibly talented and a lot of that talent remained with him for the extent of his career. However, undeniably a few circumstantial factors fortified him throughout his would-be decline phase.
From the offensive low of 1968, offense rose incrementally every following year. Although still below historical averages, the league wide increase in offense definitely had an effect on Aaron. Another significant factor was his home park. Atlanta Fulton County stadium may not have been at the level of 1990’s Coors, but it was the premier hitters park of the time. A boost would be expected for any player and Aaron is no different. The fantastic numbers Aaron had during the late 1960’s and 70’s were clearly somewhat boosted by these two factors. It is quite possible that Aaron never breaks the home run record without the artificial help. His legacy as one of the best home run hitters of all time is the real winner.
Let us now project Trout’s career in this vein. Through 2025- his age 33 season- Trout maintains his current level of greatness. At this point he embarks on free agency. A bidding war ensues and when the dust clears, Trout is now a member of the Texas Rangers. His athleticism wanes over the next five years. Stolen bases and fielding numbers come down to pedestrian levels, but his sheer hitting numbers stay legendary. The hot Texas air and the friendly confines of the home ballpark prove to be a boon for him. Over the last two years of his career, struggles with injuries prove to be his undoing and at age 40 he hangs up his spikes. His career statistics are mindboggling. From ages 21 through 38, MVP caliber offensive numbers were the norm for him. To us ranking obsessed fans, Mike Trout and Babe Ruth are neck and neck in the best ever conversation. Yankee fans refuse to hear the possibility, but the statistical argument is quite favorable towards Trout. In 2037, Mike Trout becomes the first player to be elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame.
Mike trout Ken Griffey Jr. style: The Tragic What Could Have Been: The first half of Griffey’s career was memorable. The pure swing, infectious smile and trademark backwards cap are the first things that everyone remembers. The back half of his career is not remembered nearly as fondly. The performance was not there, and the happy go lucky image began to crack as the stresses of stardom intensified. He retired after a decade of injury and frustration. A no doubt Hall of Famer, but one with whom the caveat “what could have been?” is always in close proximity. The great achievements of his peak only serve to highlight the disappointment that was the latter half of his career.
A projection in this nature is far more disappointing. Mike Trout suffered his first serious injury in 2017. At the time it was blown off as a freak injury, especially considering how upon his return, he immediately picked up from where he left off. Over the next few injury-free years, he continued posting top of the line stats. The Angels were mildly successful, but Trout wanted to play for a team closer to home. In the offseason of 2022, Trout was traded to the Phillies, a mere hour and a half drive from his beloved hometown of Millville, NJ. After his first successful year in Philadelphia, the injury bug began to hit. Year after year, a different body part fell to injury. When he could get his broken body on to the field, he still produced at extraordinary levels, but that was quite rarely. After 7 years with Philadelphia, the Phillies cut loose on Trout and he eventually wound up back in LA being a designated hitter for a couple years. The last decade of his playing career was practically a net zero in regards to on-field value. Trout was a first ballot Hall of Famer, but like Griffey, the legacy was tainted by what could have been. The potential to be the best ever was wasted and that is what sticks the most with us.
In many ways perspective is more important than reality. Hank Aaron enjoys a reputation as the King of Consistency. The facts may not be in complete agreement, but that is rendered irrelevant by public perspective. Mike Trout may have the GOAT label for the rest of his life. He also may not. Only time has the answer for the facts. However, sometimes the facts don’t create the image. Reality creates perception, but more often the perception creates the reality. We the people are the creators of this. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the present greatness that is the prime of Mike Trout.