If Mike Trout did not have to work Sunday, he would be at Yankee Stadium.
“One hundred percent,” Trout said.
Trout grew up with a poster of Derek Jeter on his bedroom wall. On Sunday, the New York Yankees will retire Jeter’s number and immortalize him with a plaque in Monument Park.
Jeter is 42. He has not played in three years. And yet Sunday might be the most hyped day in baseball this season, at least until the Chicago Cubs arise from their slumber.
On the secondary market, the average ticket price for the Jeter number retirement tops that of the combined average price for the number retirements of Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams, according to TickPick. The Jeter ceremony starts at 3:30 p.m. PDT and ESPN breathlessly announced it would provide live reports starting as early as 5 a.m.
For all his greatness — five World Series championships, 14 All-Star appearances, sixth on the all-time hit chart — Jeter never was regarded as baseball’s best player.
Trout has been so dominant that he admits, yeah, he has thought about the day his number might be retired.
“It’s always in the back of your mind as a player, for a team to retire your number,” he said.
When that day comes, would America pause to pay homage? Or, assuming Trout finishes his career with the Angels, would ESPN even pay attention?
Trout turns 26 in August. He has been selected the American League most valuable player twice. There is only one player to win more than three MVP awards: Barry Bonds, who won for the first time at 26.
Trout has won zero postseason games. When Jeter was 26, he had won 46 postseason games, and four World Series championships. In ESPN’s ranking of Jeter’s 10 greatest moments, five came in the playoffs.
“I think you’ve got to win,” Trout said. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s all about winning.”
Jeter won his first four rings before the Yankees had their own television network, and before cellphones in general and TMZ in particular made a night out a dicey proposition for a high-profile athlete. He was the biggest star on baseball’s most star-studded and storied team. He dated models, smiled a lot and said little.
“You felt like you knew him, but you didn’t really know him,” said Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy, a teammate of Jeter in his final season.
“I think there are guys that are perfect for their era. Jeter was perfect for that. In this era, it might be a guy that has to be more social media forward, or a guy that has to be louder, or whatever it is. That isn’t Trout’s style.”
Trout turned down an invitation from “60 Minutes” for what would have been the kind of flattering portrait that would have broadened his national profile.
In each of Jeter’s last four full seasons, in which he was well past his prime, he had baseball’s best-selling jersey. Trout never has ranked higher than third and fell to 10th in the most recent rankings.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs, whose national “Bryzzo Souvenir Co.” commercials spotlight their dynamic personalities as well as their considerable power, ranked first and second in jersey sales, respectively, well ahead of Trout.
“If he has long October runs, if he hits a walk-off home run to beat the Cubs in the World Series last year, and that continues, and the Cubs aren’t winning, then he goes into a different stratosphere,” McCarthy said. “So much of it is just random timing and luck, and making sure you take advantage of that moment.”
Billy Eppler, the Angels’ general manager for the last two years and a Yankees executive for the previous 11 years, appreciates in Trout the consistency and drive that he long admired in Jeter.
“The common denominator I see between those two is the enjoyment they have playing the game,” Eppler said. “They enjoy being around their teammates. They enjoy the competition each baseball game brings.
“Generally, they’re smiling — 98.5% of the time.”
However, when September turned to October for the Yankees, Eppler said Jeter flashed a more serious side and repeated a three-word mantra in the clubhouse: “Season starts now.”
It is Eppler’s job to assemble the team that makes it possible for Trout to play in October. Ask him if he is confident he can do that in the four years before Trout can become a free agent, and he is too smart to answer with an unqualified yes.
“That’s exactly what we’re working for here,” Eppler said, “to have that opportunity for Mike, and for 24 other players as well, and our fans, and our ownership, and our entire community. We want everybody to feel that pride that comes with playing in October.
“Time will tell. I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Baseball America this week ranked the game’s 100 top prospects. None of them play in the Angels organization.
Eppler has a talent base to rebuild, with the Angels just emerging from the Josh Hamilton debacle that cost them the ability to replenish their farm system with a top draft pick and the ability to spend on free agents without triggering the luxury tax. Albert Pujols soon will become the ninth player in major league history to hit 600 home runs, but he and Trout by themselves will account for $61 million of the Angels payroll next year.
Ken Griffey Jr. never did get to the World Series. He played 22 years, won seven playoff games, and still he was elected to the Hall of Fame with a record percentage of the votes.
So, no, Trout does not have to win to get to Cooperstown, or ensure national interest in his retirement. Jeter never won an MVP award. Trout could play out his career in Anaheim, and his farewell ceremony would be more monumental than the one the Angels threw, say, for beloved star Tim Salmon.
“He’s carving his own way, a little differently than Jeter did,” Salmon said. “He’s got the MVPs. He’s making a name for himself for being the best player in the game. I don’t think Jeter made his name the same way. It was the championships, and the leadership he displayed on those championship teams. And, of course, being in New York really gave him that lift.
“From Mike’s standpoint, if the guy wins two or three more MVPs? He could have a comparable deal as Jeter, but it would be for different reasons. We still haven’t seen if this team is going to win any championships while he’s here.”
The clock is ticking. There is no evidence that Trout is unhappy with the Angels, but he wants deeply to win. It would be a shame if all of America got to tune in to Trout’s retirement ceremonies, live from somewhere that was not Anaheim.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin