CHARLOTTE, NC. Last week, Mike Trout not only became the highest paid professional baseball player you never heard of. He also signed the biggest contract in baseball history with the his current team, the California Angels.
Trout vs Harper: The Battle of the Baseball Star Net Worths
Only a few days earlier, former Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper set the record for the largest contract when he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for a 13-year guaranteed deal worth $330 million. Subsequently, the Major League Baseball (MLB) Network regarded that story as so big that it cancelled its regularly scheduled spring training coverage. In its place, MLB broadcast more than six hours of continuous analysis of the Harper-Phillies deal.
If you think Harper’s outsized offer was bizarre, however, it didn’t take long for Trout to top that contract with a 12-year deal of his own. The contract proffered by the California Angels is valued at an even more eye-popping $426,500,000. Presumably, the Angels know what they are doing. Presumably.
As baseball continues it reckless version of “The Price is Right,” though, you have to wonder if, when and where the current money race will end. At the same time, many people are asking “Mike who”?
In professional sports, it’s only money
First things first. What about the reasoning behind the payouts contracted by the California Angels and the Philadelphia Phillies? The net worth key is important here. Both Trout and Harper are known as reasonably reliable and durable everyday players. That means they will be expected to be in the line-up for every game in order to justify their teams’ massive monetary commitments.
This expectation is not unreasonable in MLB. Careers of many successful baseball are generally longer than than the careers of NFL or NBA athletes. 13 and 12 years are an eternity for any professional athlete. Even making a living as a gambler for more than five solid, healthy years is a stretch. But such rules don’t necessarily apply to the best players in professional baseball.
One argument many analysts also overlook is a team’s return on Iinvestment (ROI), given that pitching is often the key to winning championships. In other words, regardless of how potent an offense is during the regular season, chances are that pitching will ultimately grab the ring at the end of the season.
Star power, sports marketing and West Coast night games
That being said, both the Angels and Phillies are betting on the star power attraction of two of the best players in the game in a sport that runs a distant third promoting its players to the public. The NFL and NBA do a far better job of creating fan awareness of their stars.
One reason baseball lags so far behind in marketing its superstars has been duly noted by St. Joseph’s University sports marketing professor John B. Lord. He makes the following observation.
“Baseball is inherently a regional game, which makes it almost impossible to create a national campaign for an individual player.”
Point taken. Although Major League Baseball is a national sport, its fans follow baseball more locally than nationally.
Another thing that hurts baseball when compared to the NFL is playing with a West Coast franchise that has an abundance of night games on its home schedule.
True, professional football has West Coast teams too. But those NFL games are usually played late Sunday afternoon, following a round of early games that directly lead into the scheduled afternoon and evening games. Furthermore, when western NFL teams do compete at night, the games are almost always aired as special telecasts in prime time.
Then, there’s that regional thing
Finally, certain regions of the country are still not fully in tune with baseball. That’s because the game’s early history was so completely dominated by northeastern and midwestern ball clubs. The Deep South thrived on college football and basketball for decades before big time baseball considered moving into Georgia, Texas and Florida.
Even now, Florida’s MLB franchises struggle for bigger attendance numbers. Often the visiting team’s fans in the stands are larger than the crowds pulling for the home team.
In addition, college football and basketball had the advantage, and still do, of serving as a feeder system to the pros. That function gave many players name recognition and a national identity before they even become professionals.
To some extent, college baseball teams attracted attention, too. But college baseball, publicity- and popularity-wise was not in the same league as its two sister sports when it came to the caliber of competition. Worse, given MLB’s own longstanding minor league system, the league provided few outlets for national exposure until players actually managed to reach the big leagues.
With today’s massive television coverage, however, college baseball is becoming more noticed. So it’s probably only a matter of time before college baseball players become as identifiable as their football and basketball counterparts.
So how about Trout Fishing in America? And California?
Which brings us full circle back to Mike Trout who is, or was, largely unknown. Except, perhaps, to West Coast fans because he now plays for the California Angels.
Many analysts claim Trout is the best player in the game today. And, one day, he could even be in the running as the best ever. Apparently that’s what the California Angels are banking on.
Though Trout clearly flourishes as the best player you never heard of, he also possesses a combination of attributes that appeal to the national audience baseball so desperately seeks. We’re talking about work ethic, humility and personality, not to mention an overabundance of talent. As one writer put it before the big contract, “Trout is the ultimate all-star, and yet he is not a star.” The operative word being “YET.”
The obvious assets the Angels seem to be paying up for
One of Trout’s greatest assets – one largely lost in today’s game – is his need for speed. Trout hits for power and plays great defense. But in addition, his ability to turn routine grounders to short into singles, or line drives to left field into triples is where he truly excels far beyond his competition.
Unlike other popular sports, baseball players play offense and defense with no substitutions unless they come out of the game for good. Mike Trout is one of those rare five-tool players who can run, throw, play defense, hit and hit for power. If he stays healthy, California may actually get their moneysworth. Or more.
But only time will tell if Mike Trout and Bryce Harper can live up to their multi-million dollar signatures. Dispute those big contracts if you like. But as the man once said, personality-wise guys like Trout and Harper are “what’s right about baseball.”
— Headline image: Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Composite imagery derived from images illustrating Wikipedia entries on Harper and Trout. Both original images CC 2.0 license, modified composite image by T. L. Ponick.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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