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On Baseball: Mike Trout: Baseball’s Best, Without the Brand

Trout’s contract is not an issue. He is very well paid, but not overly so, given his talent, with a six-year, $144.5 million deal that ties him to the Angels through 2020. He signed it in 2014, just before he won the first of his two M.V.P. awards. (The other was last season.) Washington’s Bryce Harper, the National League’s answer to Trout, can be a free agent after next season, and his future team and price tag are regular sources of intrigue and debate.

Harper, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, has been famous longer than Trout. He plays — and sometimes speaks — with an edge. Espinosa, a friend and former National, said it was hard to compare the stars. “As far as personality,” he said, “they’re completely different people.”

Espinosa also pointed to the differences in their markets.

“We get five to 10 media people in the clubhouse; playing in D.C., you get 30,” Espinosa said. He later added: “Everybody’s awake for the East Coast games. You don’t get to watch Mike Trout if you’re an East Coast kid. That’s just how it is.”

It is true, of course, that many Angels games start after 10 p.m., Eastern time. ESPN does not help Trout’s exposure, either; no Angels games are currently scheduled for its “Sunday Night Baseball” showcase this season.

But the TV explanation goes only so far. A generation ago — long before every fan could watch highlights on a cellphone — a young Ken Griffey Jr. played for a more obscure West Coast team, the Seattle Mariners, and was essentially ubiquitous.

Photo

Kole Calhoun, left, Trout, center, and Albert Pujols celebrating a three-run homer by Pujols in a game against Texas last month.

Credit
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Griffey, whose father, Ken Sr., was still playing in the majors when he debuted, had a chocolate bar named for him; appeared on the first card ever produced by Upper Deck, at the height of the baseball card craze; guest starred on “The Simpsons” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”; and had his own video game with Nintendo, which owned the Mariners.

“He kind of crossed over into pop culture,” Brian Goldberg, Griffey’s agent, said. “He had some swag. He was cool without trying to be.”

Trout, the first player since Griffey to have a signature shoe with Nike, is squarely in his class on the field. On Baseball-Reference.com’s list of players statistically similar to Trout at the same age, Griffey ranks second, between Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron. Mantle and Aaron, though, both won the World Series by the time they were 25 — as did Derek Jeter, perhaps baseball’s last true crossover star.

The Angels, whose only title came in 2002, have not given Trout the same chance. They finished at 74-88 last season, entered the weekend one game over .500 and have reached the playoffs just once with Trout, in 2014. They were swept by Kansas City in the first round, as Trout went 1 for 12 at the plate.

Trout said he rarely thought about that series; it went by so fast. His better postseason memory is from Oct. 29, 2008, when he was a senior in high school. He tailgated with friends outside Citizens Bank Park the night the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series.

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