When reflecting on a player’s career, one word comes to mind: legacy. The most legendary athletes take years to build their resumé for their spot in the Hall of Fame. Then there’s a baseball player named Mike Trout.
Some purists will call that heresy: how can a position player in just his ninth full MLB season be guaranteed a plaque in the Hall of Fame? But Mike Trout is no ordinary player. Ever since his first full big league season in 2012, Trout has established himself as the best player in the sport. He has never finished lower than fourth in the MVP voting through the 2019 season and his batting average and home run and RBI statistics are better than most players will ever have in their long careers. But nowadays, there’s far more to analyze than just those standard stats.
Mike Trout already has 74.3 wins above replacement, which is higher than many Hall of Famers, such as Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Tony Gwynn and Johnny Bench. Trout’s career OPS (on-base plus slugging, which takes your on-base percentage and adds it to your slugging percentage) is .993, which is the eighth-best all time, out of the more than 15,000 men who have played in MLB.
If you’re unconvinced by the new statistics such as WAR and OPS, consider Trout’s old-school stats. He has a .304 batting average, 944 RBIs and almost 800 runs, and he recently hit his 300th career home run, all before turning 30. If Mike Trout were to retire today, he would have a pretty compelling case that he should be in the Hall of Fame.
We can talk all day about Trout’s historical feats, but there is one glaring thing missing from his resumé: the all-important championship. Trout’s LA Angels team has never been good enough to reach a World Series, but it is unfair to hold that against him. Baseball is one of the few sports where one player can’t carry their team to the playoffs.
That’s much easier in the NBA, or even in the NFL, where more players are on the field at the same time. Legendary quarterbacks have shown their ability to raise the level of play of everybody around them. In baseball, no one player has that power on the diamond. Trout doesn’t pitch; he only hits. An outfielder can go an entire game and never have a ball hit his way; he may never get up to the plate with runners on base for him to drive in.
Trout has done about all a baseball player can do to get his team to a World Series. He has won the MVP award three times, but has made the postseason only once. The Angels have failed time and time again to build a team around Trout that is remotely competitive.
Which raises the point: Though the Hall of Fame awaits, Trout may never be in the conversation for the greatest player in history without rings. Babe Ruth won seven championships. Derek Jeter won five. Hank Aaron was able to get one title under his belt to go along with all of the records he set. They obviously have the stats to back up their plaques in the Hall of Fame but, fairly or not, we think of those players as winners.
They were known for their competitiveness, their drive to win and their ability to accomplish the ultimate goal. Through no fault of his own, Trout is not going to be viewed in that same light unless the Angels get their act together. Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth are the greatest of the greatest in the game of baseball, but when we are trying to determine the greatest player of all time, we have to nitpick in order to seperate them.
This is true in other sports, too. Micheal Jordan (six championships) and LeBron James (four) are in the argument for greatest ever in the NBA. In the NFL, it is Super Bowl winners like Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas, Drew Brees and the greatest winner of all time, Tom Brady—but not Dan Marino. Marino is up there, but with no Super Bowl title on his resumé, he will not be considered in debate about the greatest of all time. Although we should hold baseball to a different standard, it is going to be really difficult for Trout to be mentioned alongside the Lou Gehrigs of the world if he never wins a World Series championship.
If Trout retired today, at age 29, he would probably make it to Cooperstown. But when it is all said and done, he will ultimately never be compared to other generational talents that had success when the lights shined brightest in October.
Alex Rubinson ’22