Mike Trout wants to do the right thing. He decorated his boyhood room with posters of Derek Jeter, after all. We asked Trout whether he might ever yield to the veteran temptation to skip the All-Star game in favor of four days off, and you could almost see Jeter nodding at the response.
“I’ll never do that,” Trout said. “You play baseball to win a championship, but there are things that come along with that. For me, it’s a special honor.”
Trout should be granted another special honor. Major League Baseball should appoint him as captain of the American League team for the home run derby.
This All-Star game will be the first under Commissioner Rob Manfred, whose top priorities include widening the sport’s appeal to young fans. The home run derby, the only major American sporting event on that date, should be a showcase for eight of the most marketable players baseball can offer.
There is nothing traditional about the current format, under which the captain of each league picks the rest of his squad. That format dates to 2011. Keep the captain, but let the league pick the most attractive field — and four sluggers from each league is enough, thank you very much.
Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, who hits a home run just about every other day, should highlight the National League squad. Giancarlo Stanton, the $325-million man from the Miami Marlins, should be there, along with NL captain Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds, whose team is playing host to the All-Star game.
Harper, Stanton and Frazier are the top three home run hitters in the NL through Friday. The final member of the NL derby squad should be Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs, who hit so many home runs in spring-training games that the players’ union called his demotion “a bad day for baseball.”
Bryant, who was called up April 20, did not hit a home run in his first 20 games. Then he hit seven in 17 games. He belongs, and the young fans want to see the young guy.
Give the people what they want in the AL too — league home run leader Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners, Trout and the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera in a reprise of all those most-valuable-player debates and, yes, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees.
Rodriguez can play the villain; no prime-time drama is complete without one. But he belongs too; that field includes four of the top nine home run hitters in the AL through Friday.
The All-Star game is July 14, the day after the home run derby. We’re told baseball officials are a few weeks from selecting captains or considering suggestions for contestants, in part because the league would prefer them to be All-Stars, not just sluggers flying in for the derby. We hope officials from the league, and the players’ union, will lean on players to participate, for the good of the sport.
That brings us back to Trout, and how much he wants to do the right thing.
He declined an invitation to participate last year, when he had more home runs than any of the 10 contestants. Angels Manager Mike Scioscia suggested the derby could harm his swing, and Trout chose not to go against the wishes of his team.
Trout was careful last year to say the decision was his, not Scioscia’s. He was careful last week to dodge the question of whether he would participate this year, saying he had not thought about it.
Scioscia said last week his concern was that players take an unusual “volume of swings,” almost always at maximum effort.
“If you go all the way, it would be like being on a driving range for 2 1/2 hours,” Scioscia said.
However, Scioscia called the derby “an incredible event” and said neither he nor the Angels’ front office would try to stop Trout from competing.
“That is a personal choice for a player,” Scioscia said, “that we would never get in the way of.”
Trout said he is a big fan of the home run derby.
“I enjoy watching it,” he said. “When I was a kid, I enjoyed watching it on TV.”
This generation of kids should get to enjoy watching Trout in the derby, and Harper, and Bryant, and even A-Rod. The league should spare him the moral dilemma of balancing interests to determine the right thing. Ensure him a starring role in prime time, for the good of the game. Make him the AL captain.
Bright lights of Las Vegas
Bryant and Harper grew up in Las Vegas. The two played travel ball together, on a team Bryant said was called “the Hitmen.”
But, for Harper, there was more.
“He threw like 82 mph when he was 12,” Bryant said. “He did everything back then. He does everything now.”
Not that Las Vegas lacks for parties, but there could be a special one there in November. Bryant could beat out the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson for NL rookie of the year. Harper, who is 9 months younger than Bryant, could be the NL MVP.
“You can call him a veteran, and he’s still the youngest,” Bryant said. “It’s crazy. He’s a special talent. Everybody knew this would happen. He’s always been better than everyone else.”
Harper, 22, leads the major leagues in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He is on pace to hit 60 home runs, a feat accomplished by five players in major league history: Sammy Sosa three times, Mark McGwire twice, and Barry Bonds, Roger Maris and Babe Ruth once each.
David Ross, the Cubs’ veteran catcher, was there for Jason Heyward’s debut with the Atlanta Braves in 2010. Heyward caught the ceremonial first pitch from Hank Aaron, hit a three-run home run in his first at-bat, and immediately was blessed thusly by Aaron: “He can certainly bring the excitement back, not only for Atlanta but also for African American players.”
Said Ross: “They were expecting the kid to be the savior.”
But Ross said he never has seen anything like the hype around Bryant, where his mere presence is an event.
“Maybe it made news when a guy got his first hit, but it didn’t make news when he walked out of the dugout,” Ross said. “I’ve never seen a guy with so much poise.
“When you’re talking about how he has handled everything, it’s a 10 in every respect.”