Mike Trout had a fabulous debut season for the Los Angeles Angels and everyone knew his selection as the American League rookie of the year announced Monday was a no-brainer. The foregone conclusion came to pass and Trout received his deserving reward with this stamp of recognition.
It’s always a treat when young talent reveals itself and Trout is young. At 21 he became the youngest AL rookie of the year winner in history after playing most of the season at age 20. His all-around season was phenomenally impressive. Trout batted .326 with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs, stole 49 bases, scored 129 runs, and recorded an on-base percentage of .399. That will win you rookie of the year notice every time. He also showed talent in the outfield and some believed he would win a Gold Glove award for his fielding, but he did not.
Current U.S. society is not especially good at keeping things in perspective. We seem to live day to day in extremes. In sports you are either great or terrible. Trout was great in 2012, but that doesn’t automatically mean he will be great for the rest of his career. His statistics might well herald greatness, but there are things such as one-year wonders in sport for many reasons. Sometimes injuries factor in.
We all hope we have seen the beginnings of a terrific career taking shape, but the path to greatness is littered with unfortunate developments. Mark Fidrych was great for a year. Herb Score was supposed to be the best pitcher since Bob Feller. Injuries and bad luck curtailed their careers. We do not wish any such impediment on Mike Trout, but we hope he is more level headed than the world around him. It will take a few years before he can legitimately be compared to Joe DiMaggio.
DiMaggio being one of the baseball greats who never won the rookie of the year award because it didn’t exist in 1936 when he broke in. The rookie of the year award was officially created in 1947, athough the Chicago Baseball Writers chapter chose a rookie of the year between 1940 and 1946. In 1947 and 1948 only one rookie was chosen for the award, but in 1949 it was split to honor a rookie in the American League and a rookie in the National League. The first official rookie award was presented to Jackie Robinson when he broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and in 1987 the award was named after him.
There has been talk that Trout’s rookie season was the best ever, but again people’s enthusiasm should be carefully tempered. A guy named Albert Pujols, who is Trout’s Angels teammate, had a pretty fair rookie season in 2001 when he batted .329 with 37 homers and 130 runs batted in. That was a pretty good year for rookies since Ichiro Suzuki broke in with the Seattle Mariners that season, hit .350, stole 56 bases and scored 127 runs. Of course, Suzuki had years of experience in the Japan League, leaving some to question whether he was a genuine rookie just because he hadn’t played in the U.S. majors.
In 1950, Walt “Moose” Dropo, playing first base for the Boston Red Sox, hit 34 home runs, led the AL with 144 RBIs, and batted .322. Jaw-dropping rookie year, but Dropo never came close to matching any of those statistics again in a 13-year career. Trout’s season has also been compared to that of Fred Lynn. Lynn won AL rookie of the year and the Most Valuable Player award for the Red Sox in 1975, hitting .331 and drive in 105 runs.
Taking note of one more Red Sox player, Ted Williams was a rookie in 1939 at age 20, and he hit .327 with 31 homers, a league-leading 145 RBIs, 11 triples, 185 hits, with a .436 on-base percentage because he also walked 107 times, and a .609 slugging percentage.
And the casually mentioned Joe DiMaggio at 21 in 1936 batted .323 with 29 homers and 125 RBIs, with a league-leading 15 triples among his 206 hits.
If Mike Trout keeps up his rookie pace he will forever acknowledged in the same paragraph as a Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. If he falls off to lesser numbers, but remains solid, he will be compared to Fred Lynn. If his season proves to be a fluke, he will be compared to Walt Dropo. All baseball fans hope for Trout to join the Williams-DiMaggio category.