CINCINNATI — Baseball is renowned for its obsession with its history, for better or worse, and the “better” seemed to be on display before Tuesday’s 86th All-Star Game, when the “Franchise Four” of the Reds and the “Greatest Living Players” of Major League Baseball walked gingerly onto the field at Great American Ball Park to the crowd's applause.
It was fitting, then, that history unfolded in the game itself, and it was fitting that it came from a player in Mike Trout who, at 23, has already made plenty in his brief career and who seems destined to become one of those honored greats when his time comes. His resume is already starting to fill up, and he added to it again on Tuesday. He became the first player to win back-to-back All-Star Game MVP awards in the 54 years that the honor has been given out after yet another impactful performance in his fourth midsummer classic.
Trout’s age is mentioned so often with his name because it seems impossible that he’s able to do what he does night after night, despite almost always being one of the youngest players on the diamond. But this is the way it’s been almost from the moment he entered the big leagues four seasons ago. His peers are far from awed, or reticent to lavish praise at this point. They know he’s great, and they’re matter-of-fact about it.
“It’s kind of tough to put what he’s able to do on the baseball field into words,” said Tigers starter David Price, who benefited from Trout’s strong performance by earning the win Tuesday night. “I’m happy he’s kind of my generation of player so I don’t have to watch it on highlights or hear about the great Mike Trout. I get to see it first-hand, so it’s special.”
Trout’s career so far has been defined by history; the statistics he’s put up and the awards he’s already won have put him in too many select groups in the annals of baseball to list.
Trout didn’t play out of this world in the AL’s 6–3 win, but in a game where hitters rarely get more than three at-bats and pitchers are lucky to get two innings, he did plenty to stand above.
And he did so immediately, opening the game with an opposite-field rocket off Zack Greinke that cleared the short rightfield fence at Great American Ballpark and gave the AL a 1–0 lead. That it came off Greinke was impressive enough—the Dodgers righthander hasn’t allowed a run in 35 2/3 consecutive regular-season innings—but that it made Trout just the fourth player to lead off an All-Star Game with a home run (and the first since Bo Jackson) was perhaps more so. Even more history made.
In the fifth inning, the proud Millville, N.J. native then wowed with his speed, scoring easily from second on Prince Fielder’s single to leftfield off Clayton Kershaw, giving the AL a lead it wouldn’t lose again. That run was only possible because Trout had earlier extended the inning by busting it down the line to beat out his potential double-play grounder.
Lauding players’ hustle can be a troublesome exercise, but the All-Star Game is hardly treated universally as a must-win, even though the winner gets home-field advantage in the World Series. Price, for example, said Monday that he treats the midsummer classic like a spring training game. As Trout said Tuesday, he plays hard every inning of every game, one of the reasons he’s been able to convert his otherworldly talent into a burgeoning Hall-of-Fame career and been able to come up with nights like Tuesday on a regular basis. AL manager Ned Yost recognized as much, saying he had planned on leaving Trout in longer than any other player because of what he brings to the game.
“He’s just special,” Yost said. “He can do anything that anyone can do on a baseball field … And when you look at Mike, you don’t look at a 23-year-old. You look at a guy that is one of the best baseball players on this planet.”
Trout wasn’t the only one with a memorable performance on Tuesday. Rangers slugger Fielder turned back the clock, delivering the aforementioned go-ahead single and adding another insurance run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh. Jacob deGrom and Aroldis Chapman of the NL All-Stars had the most impressive outings of the night—each struck out the side in their lone innings of work, blowing away their hitters with unhittable fastballs. deGrom needed just 10 pitches. Lorenzo Cain of the Royals had two hits and an RBI, and Andrew McCutchen and Brian Dozier each added home runs of their own.
But Trout outshone them all, as he did in last year’s game, and as he did over the course of last season, when he became the youngest player to be unanimously selected as MVP (Never mind that he was perhaps even more deserving in his first two years, when he finished second behind the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera). His talent and abilities don’t need validation, but that’s what Tuesday night provided, yet again.
Despite the procession of aging legends that preceded the first pitch, the story entering this year’s All-Star Game was its infusion of youthful stars, which reflected the larger trend of this season. A new generation has burst into the major leagues, giving fans a preview of who will be dominating their airwaves and social media, not to mention actual stadiums, for the next decade-plus. Players such as Trout, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have already established themselves; Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa and Cubs outfielder Kris Bryant have also arrived this season, and they will have a big say in the playoff race come the second half.
Trout likely won’t be the most effusive spokesman of this new group. As usual, he shared few words about his most recent landmark achievement, not saying much more than that it was an “honor.”
He will, though, continue to be the next generation’s dominant presence. Trout made history again on Tuesday and more is promised: more All-Star games, more MVPs, more incredible plays, hopefully more October opportunities. Let the breathtaking ride continue.