Baseball is a sport that loves records and statistics. This site exists because the sport lends itself so well to documentation and the creation of statistics. These records and statistics help us to meld past, present, and future in a way that most other sports struggle. The league doesn’t matter, nor does the level of play. Records are kept and statistics have been created, it’s just a matter of us taking the time to explore what has happened, is happening, and will happen.
Mike Trout is a special player, no one who matters will ever deny this fact. He is on a trajectory to be one of the greatest of all-time. Some would even argue he is on a path to be the greatest of all-time. This has led to much hand-wringing over the lost games and statistical accumulation that Trout is enduring at the hand of COVID-19. The game of using your WAR of choice to track the player Trout is passing on the all-time WAR leaderboard has been suspended this year, and it has some people concerned that this lull in action will ultimately result in Trout falling short of the greatest of the all-time label.
Everyone who thinks the above needs to pump the brakes a little bit. There are many reasons why the brakes should be applied, but three stand out in particular. None are revelatory, but all are essential to understanding baseball, its greatest players, and the faults of the fans watching said players do their thing.
First and foremost, Trout doesn’t need to be the greatest of all-time to be an all-time great.
Is your admiration for Trout going to be any less if he finishes 9th in all-time WAR as opposed to 7th? If it is then you’re focusing on the wrong lessons in baseball. Stats and records are great, but they are meant to add to a player’s legacy, not define their legacy. Trout will be defined not only by the stats he accumulates but by the type of player he was and the way he was able to connect with fans as one of the greatest of all-time.
There’s also the problem of the unknown. I never got to see Willie Mays, Josh Gibson, or Babe Ruth play. I would love to have been there in the moment watching them play a level above every single other person on the field with them. No one reading this was able to watch them play and that creates a scenario where when Trout is compared to any one of them we aren’t really comparing Trout to another player but rather to a stat line. A great stat line is a great stat line, but we’re able to better understand how great Trout is because we’ve seen him making his stat line into a reality. It’s okay to wonder if maybe for all his greatness Trout falls short of a player the level of Gibson’s. We can’t truly compare player to player, so it may just be that a live an in-person Gibson would floor all of us in a way that Trout could never hope to accomplish.
Most of all, we need to do a better job of appreciating an all-time great in real-time. As stated above, we didn’t get to see Gibson, Mays, or Ruth, but we are getting to see Trout. I care less about where he will rank all-time and more about watching him accomplish feats on a baseball field that leaves the mouth watering. Looking at Trout through a historical lens isn’t wrong, but it needs to be tempered by genuine in the moment appreciation. It’s fine for Trout to not end up the best to ever play the game, I still got to see a legend during his prime and that is worth all the WAR in the world.
I’m not telling anyone how to watch and enjoy baseball. By all means, love the game the way that makes you feel the best. At the end of the day, I simply want people to appreciate what we have in the Los Angeles Angels center fielder. Generational talents don’t come around often, hence why they are generational. We have been given the opportunity to watch a generational talent right before our very eyes. Trout is a gift to the baseball world and it would behoove all of us to appreciate what our eyes are seeing here and now.