I have this friend. We’ve only known each other for a little more than a year now, but I talk to him with regularity. Sometimes we talk about life, but most of our conversations revolve around baseball, the Angels in particular, but it never stays that way. One way or another, the conversation turns into a Mike Trout love-fest. And why not? He has not only taken Major League Baseball by storm, but he has become the best player on the planet in the process.
His fWAR (Fangraphs WAR) of 10.0 in 2012 was the best ever for an age-20 season. Ever. Like, ever ever. His 8.2 fWAR so far in 2013 has him once again leading the known world in Wins Above Replacement, and will more than likely spark the same debate that dominated the awards season last year. Miguel Cabrera may, in fact, be the best hitter on the planet. But Mike Trout is the best player in the game. And last time I checked, there was more to playing baseball then swinging a club made from spun ash.
But we are getting off track. This isn’t a new take on an old debate. Nor is this comparing Mike Trout version 2012 to Mike Trout version 2013 (although I could do that. Daily). This is an exercise in word association. And an exercise in words that evoke certain feelings as it pertains to baseball players. Words like “great” and “amazing” have been used to describe Trout. I have used those words to describe Trout. Words like “adjustment” and “prepared” have been used to describe Mike Trout when being talked about in game situations. But there’s a word that I personally have avoided when referencing Mike Trout. That word, is “historic.”
It’s not that the word hasn’t been used before with regards to the now 22 year-old phenom. It’s what the word “historic” means to me.
When I think of “historic” baseball players, I think of the kind of players where you only need to use one name when referring to them. Cobb, Ruth, Wagner, Musial, Gehrig, Mathewson. You could say that the list goes on, but it doesn’t go on for very long. And at this stage of his career, Mike Trout is simply, Trout.
Through his age-21 season, he has posted a combined fWAR of 18.9, which is tied with another Hall of Famer, Mel Ott, for the most wins through a players age-21 season. And Trout still has a month and a half of baseball yet to play this season. He will almost assuredly be above the 20-win mark by the end of September, which would also make him the first player since Barry Bonds to post consecutive 10-win seasons, and the only player to do it in his first two full seasons in the Major Leagues.
The names behind him on this list read like a who’s who of baseball’s past. With more “one name” players following Trout. He’s passed players like Mantle, Griffey Jr. and Williams. The amount of, not just, inner-circle Hall of Famers, but inner inner-circle Hall of Famers that he has performed better than relative to age is astounding. And it brings us back to that word. Historic.
Mike Trout has been historic. The start to his career is historic. And just by looking at his numbers, it shouldn’t have been as difficult as it was for me to take that leap and just admit it. It’s just a word, right? But in this line of work, words are all we have. Words, numbers, and the feelings that they evoke when we use them. Some of those words carry more weight than others, and historic is one of those words.
I didn’t get to see The Mick, or The Big Train. I did not become fully ingrained in baseball until after Bonds had become a pariah. The Say Hey Kid and Sandy Koufax belong to my parents’ generation. I have Mike Trout. And he’s the best player to come along in my lifetime. Better than Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. Better than anyone my generation has to offer. And the fact that he came along during my lifetime, and has forced me to use historic in the present-tense, is the best gift baseball has ever given to me.