You can’t swing a laptop by its power cable without hitting some article about how great Mike Trout has been this season, and how such a performance from a rookie is so extremely rare. Since his call-up in late April and his subsequent tear through the American League, Trout has been a fantastic story. I get interested about a lot of things during the baseball season, but very few things get me legitimately excited. There is no rhyme or reason to my reactions, no excitement equation that can be solved for to predict what will pique my interest. It just happens. And Mike Trout has me excited, as I’m sure he does most fans.
But I shall not enumerate on how terrific Trout is. Plenty of writers have done that already, and any self-respecting baseball fan is paying attention to what’s going on with this young man’s season. Through some magical combination of luck, opportunity, hard work, and coincidences, Trout is doing wonderfully-silly things. He is defying definitions of what rookies should be able to do. He is a lock for rookie of the year, and will almost certainly be the AL MVP this season.
But I’m worried about Mike Trout. Actually, I’m worried about all those definitions he is defying. Because he’s not only deconstructing those definitions, but also creating new ones as he goes. These classifications he is leaving in his trail seem like they were meant for someone else. The molds he is breaking have to be put back together by some other rookie down the road. Now that Trout is a big thing, someone will be charged with the task of being the next big thing. We should mourn for this man and the men behind him still.
To put it bluntly, Trout is ruining things for the next crop of rookies. In the next season or so, we should see the likes of Jurickson Profar, Wil Myers, and Anthony Rendon come up to the majors. They each have a good chance of producing right away, but they’ll have to try and make tracks on a path that was just trampled by a giant. These men are Sisyphus, and Trout is their boulder. Even if no one is expecting them to produce like Trout has, that doesn’t mean they won’t be compared to him. Allow me to present two hypothetical phrases concerning a fictional rookie named Smith:
“Smith has a good chance to put up good numbers. I mean, not Mike Trout numbers, but still.”
“Smith had the highest OPS/wOBA/WAR for a rookie positional player since Mike Trout.”
How many years will we be hearing this? Five? Ten? How long will it take for Trout be usurped by the next Trout?
This isn’t anyone’s fault. The next crop of stud prospects cannot blame anyone, themselves included. But that does not preclude me, you, and every other fan from downplaying the next up-and-comers simply because they have the audacity to not put up one of the greatest, if not the greatest, rookie seasons of all time.
It’s not fair, but it’s going to happen.
We compare players to players, seasons to seasons. It’s one of the most fundamental elements in the discourse of the game. We use history to mine meaning from the present. Twenty years from now, when Timmy Thirdbase is turning in a heck of a rookie season, we will grab our pickaxes and go to that history mine. The walls of the mine will be painted with likenesses of a 21-year-old Mike Trout, cave drawings that will refill us with the excitement and pleasure this moment in time brought. We will remember that joy that had been washed away by the tides of time. We will have the sobering realization that what Timmy is doing just isn’t that special. Call for the lift. It’s time to go back to the surface.
There’s a chance that Mike Trout doesn’t end up to be a perennial superstar. It’s quite possible that he will turn in a chunk of solid years, and nothing more. But none of that matters now, because this is something new and exciting, and it’s new and exciting in a way we haven’t experienced in a long time.
This is the first season of South Park. This is Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) or Illmatic or Appetite for Destruction. This is a debut so strong that the next, and the next, and the next will pale in comparison for a generation.
Enjoy the musk of Trout’s rookie season, future prospects. You’ll be wading through it for years.