My dad once told me that the day Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s home run record would be the last day he watched baseball.
Although that day has come and gone, and my dad continues to watch baseball every day of the summer, the statement in and of itself is indicative of how the last generation of stars are viewed by the baseball world.
Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, and many others who were viewed in their primes as once-in-a-generation talents, have since seen their public images get shattered by drug controversy. For several years, baseball fans were forced to sit anxiously at the edge of their seats and wait to hear which of their other beloved athletes would be outed as steroid users.
Would Frank Thomas be next? What about Todd Helton? Albert Pujols?
That time has thankfully gone away, or at the very least calmed down. But for an entire generation of baseball lovers -- my generation -- we’ve been conditioned to actively root against, or at the very least, be highly suspicious of, the players we see dominate the game.
Which brings us to Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Mike Trout.
On Friday night, Trout hit his 100th career home run, 253 days after his 23rd birthday. When combined with his 104 career stolen bases, it made him the youngest player ever to reach the 100/100 milestone, a place formerly held by Rodriguez. He’s also made some of the best plays we’ve seen in the last decade in center field, and finished no worse than second in MVP voting in any of his first three full seasons.
If he played in a league that didn’t have Miguel Cabrera playing in it, he would already have three MVP awards.
Trout is the rarest of rare on the field. His quiet, all-business demeanor endears him to crotchety sportswriters. His consistent improvement on already-otherworldly numbers makes him beloved by even the most advanced statheads. And his raw power and speed in the lineup and flashy playmaking in the field combine to make him an instant favorite for fans of all ages and obsession levels.
He’s the best player in the league right now. By the time his career is over, he might be the best player of all time.
Trout was already the best player in the league at the end of his rookie season, a year that watched him hit 30 home runs and drive in 87 runs in just 139 games. He also stole 49 bases, and logged an outrageous 10.7 wins above replacement.
Last year, he finally won his first MVP award, in what was statistically the worst season of his young career. His home runs and RBIs were career highs, but so were his strikeouts. His batting average also dipped 36 points from the previous season, while his WAR fell to a career-low 7.9.
In this young season, Trout has already shown the return of his MVP-caliber play. He has a .364 batting average with three home runs -- one on opening day off Felix Hernandez, and then his two on Friday night -- nine RBIs, and a 1.034 OPS, all team highs.
Trout, hopefully, has many years left in his career. And I want it to be as long and successful as possible.
As fans, we’ve seen so many "can’t miss" prospects, well, miss. We’ve seen players start their careers with bangs, only to fizzle out into baseball’s median. And we’ve seen the greatest of greats come crashing back to earth with drug scandals. It's time for one player to emerge from the pack spotless.
Is it a logical expectation? Of course not. Baseball players are human beings. Human beings age. Human beings make mistakes.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t find one guy and root for him so much it hurts. And the most worthy player of that type of bandwagon is Mike Trout. No matter what team you root for, root for that team and Trout.
Other sports have their own generational, “nobody can touch them right now” athletes. Basketball has Lebron James. Football, at least until recently, has had Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Those guys that you would pick first 100% of the time if you were trying to build a team to win you one game. The undoubted king of the sport.
For baseball, that’s Mike Trout.
So here’s looking forward to a career that’s as good as it can possibly be. Let’s see him collect 3,000 hits. Let’s see 500 home runs and 500 stolen bases. Let’s see him play baseball and be good at it until he’s damn near 40.
And let’s see him do it all without a single positive drug test. Let’s see him do it without ever having to watch him suffer some kind of Machado-esque injury. Let’s see him do it while somehow avoiding becoming a caricature, the way Derek Jeter became. Let’s see him teach the next generation of baseball fans that it’s okay to give a player all your hope and support without ever having to wonder if he was going to betray you.
Let’s see him do it without ever making us wonder if he is, in fact, human.