If you root for a baseball team, Mike Trout, who turns 26 today, is the player you’d draw up in a lab to anchor it. He produces year after year after year on the field, and has no drama or baggage. Twenty years ago, this would have been enough for him to be on billboards, fronting video games, and much more all over America. But, if you’re marketing the game nationally in 2017 you need more pizazz and personality to work with.
“I just want to be a guy people like,” Trout told The Ringer this past March. “Kids like me, and I just [want to] respect the game.”
Baseball fans know and like Mike Trout, but he’s not somebody who transcends the game like Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken, and Ken Griffey Jr. did. Lots of outlets — The Ringer, NY Post, and USA Today, for example — have sought to figure this out, and there are a number of reasons.
He plays on the West Coast. His Angels only made the playoffs in 2014 and lost in the first round. You can bet that if he played on the Yankees or Cubs or even a sexy West Coast franchise like the Dodgers he’d be a lot more well known outside the realm of big sports fans.
In the 80’s and 90’s, Trout would’ve been a gigantic national star just on the basis of his play. His understated likability — which, as he said, is by design — would have been a huge asset for his marketing prowess.
But today, everybody is always “on.” ESPN has grown its tentacles from television to everywhere digitally. The leagues all have their own networks. Players are constantly churning out their own content on social media. Good luck writing a post from Mike Trout’s Twitter or Instagram, and getting people to click on it.
Whether the Angels and MLB should have done more up to this point to expose Trout to the world is a matter of opinion, but it’s actually admirable that Trout has opted against overt attention-seeking and let his game do the talking. People who know him like him. He’s going to make over $100 million before endorsements in the next three years, and he’ll come up for a new mega deal while still in the end of his prime. Things could be worse.