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Column: Angels’ Mike Trout, the star of stars in July, yearns to shine in October

Angels outfielder Mike Trout takes the field during All-Star batting practice at Petco Park in San Diego on July 11.
(Paul Buck / EPA)

These are baseball’s best of the best, and yet Mike Trout has been one step better than best. This is not so much the All-Star game as the Mike Trout Invitational.

This is the 87th All-Star game. Trout last year became the first man named most valuable player in back-to-back years. If he is so honored again Tuesday, he would become the first three-time MVP in All-Star history, consecutively or otherwise.

He is so good that he stole the spotlight from Derek Jeter two years ago. Jeter was retiring. Jeter doubled. Jeter singled. Trout was the MVP.

Trout grew up with posters of Jeter on his wall. He admired the way Jeter carried himself, how he led his team, how he evoked star power without saying so.

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All that, and one other very important thing.

“He was a part of a bunch of championships,” Trout said. “That’s why he became the player he was. You get remembered when you win championships.”

As the sun goes down on Petco Park on Tuesday, the All-Stars will pack their bags and their memories, refreshed and ready to return to the pennant races. Trout will trudge back to the Angels, and to last place. The schedule mandates that the Angels play through the first weekend of October, but Trout’s season is effectively over in this second week of July.

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By the time Jeter turned 25, he had won three rings and 35 postseason games. Trout turns 25 next month, with zero rings, zero postseason victories and essentially zero chance at either this year.

The legacy question is complicated. Ken Griffey Jr. is remembered for greatness, and now for winning the greatest percentage of votes in a Hall of Fame election. He never won a World Series, or even appeared in one.

Baseball would be better off with its best player on its grandest stage. However, Trout’s legacy should not be stained by the failures of the Angels.

“It’s not his fault they can’t get in the playoffs,” Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said. “He can’t go out there and win the game every time.

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“What he’s done is incredible. He lost an MVP to a Triple Crown winner, finished second two other times and finally won it. If he stays healthy and just does half of what he’s done, he’ll go down as one of the greatest outfielders ever to play the game.”

Texas Rangers pitcher Cole Hamels was 24 in 2008, when he was MVP of the 2008 World Series for the Philadelphia Phillies. Trout is 24 now — too soon, Hamels said, to fret about whether October will continue to pass him by.

“I think he will get that opportunity,” Hamels said. “I just don’t know where it will be.”

The Angels are on the clock. Trout’s contract expires in four years.

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“Losing sucks,” Trout said here Monday. “If you don’t want a ring, I don’t think you should be playing baseball.”

In an earlier interview in Anaheim, Trout said he is not giving up on the Angels.

“I’m happy where I’m at,” he said. “We’re going through some tough times right now. We’ve got some guys banged up. We’ve just got to stay positive.

“I’m committed to the team.”

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The team has a major league payroll compromised by the signings of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, a minor league system widely regarded as the thinnest in the game, an offense that offers little beyond Trout, Pujols and Kole Calhoun, and a starting rotation dependent on three pitchers coming back from serious injuries.

“I think that the team hurt themselves, spending a lot of money in different places and not spending money in other places,” Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said.

Jones laughed off the notion that the most effective way for the Angels to replenish their talent pool would be to trade Trout.

“He ain’t going nowhere,” Jones said.” They could trade him and get the world for him, but they would take a huge PR hit.”

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That puts the onus on the Angels to rebuild quickly enough that Trout need not choose between pursuing a ring and staying in Anaheim.

Carlos Beltran and Zack Greinke each left the Kansas City Royals a decade ago, when that team was rebuilding with prospects rather than spending on major leaguers. Beltran, now with the New York Yankees, said the Royals were in a far different place then than Trout and the Angels are now.

“The organization has made moves to be contenders,” Beltran said. “They brought in Pujols. They brought in Hamilton. They brought in C.J. Wilson. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out for them.

“But it’s not that the organization isn’t trying. They’re trying. It’s just that it is not working. At one point, he will become a free agent and he will decide if he wants to stay there or move on.”

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That story is years away from developing. But it is a useful reminder that, despite all the nagging insistence from Fox and Major League Baseball, the All-Star game is nothing more than an exhibition game. Trout burns to win, and not in July.


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