Rob Manfred, Mike Trout, and Knowing When You’re Winning

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. He has 25 homers (third in the league), a 20.7% walk rate (best), and has contributed nearly five runs on the bases (12th). He’s also made 100% of routine plays, 100% of likely plays, and 100% of even plays in center, good for a 3.4 UZR/150. He’s tied with Jose Ramirez for the league lead in WAR. Mike Trout is good at everything! You know this. I know this. All hail Mike Trout.

Commissioner Rob Manfred recently identified what he regards as a flaw, though:

Player marketing requires one thing for sure — the player. You cannot market a player passively. You can’t market anything passively. You need people to engage with those to whom you are trying to market in order to have effective marketing. We are very interested in having our players more engaged and having higher-profile players and helping our players develop their individual brand. But that involves the player being actively engaged.

Mike’s a great, great player and a really nice person, but he’s made certain decisions about what he wants to do and what he doesn’t want to do, and how he wants to spend his free time and how he doesn’t want to spend his free time. That’s up to him. If he wants to engage and be more active in that area, I think we could help him make his brand really, really big. But he has to make a decision that he’s prepared to engage in that area. It takes time and effort.

Manfred’s comments prompted the Los Angeles Angels to release a statement of their own:

On behalf of the Angels Organization and baseball fans everywhere, congratulations to Mike Trout on another outstanding All-Star Game performance.

Mike Trout is an exceptional ambassador for the game. Combined with his talent, his solid character creates a perfect role model for young people everywhere. Each year, Mike devotes a tremendous amount of his time and effort contributing to our Organization, and marketing Major League Baseball. He continually chooses to participate in the community, visiting hospitals, schools, and countless other charities.

One of Mike’s traits that people admire most is his humility. His brand is built upon generously spending his time engaging with fans, both at home and on the road, while remaining a remarkable baseball player and teammate.

In addition, Mike spends quality time as a husband, son brother, uncle, and friend. We applaud him for prioritizing his personal values over commercial self-promotion. That is rare in today’s society and stands out as much as his extraordinary talent.

And for Trout to contribute his own statement, as well:

I have received lots of questions about Commissioner Manfred’s recent statement. I am not a petty guy and would really encourage everyone to just move forward. Everything is cool between the Commissioner and myself. End of story. I am ready to just play some baseball!

There’s a lot to tackle here, but it probably makes sense to note first that Trout hasn’t been entirely absent from the public eye. He’s done commercials for Subway, BodyArmor Sports Drink, and Major League Baseball. He’s done charity work, contributed to hurricane relief, shown support for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and visited hospitals and nursing homes. He’s not a shut-in.

But let’s put this aside for a moment and consider some language from uniform baseball contract.

Specifically, I’d like to draw attention to the passage stating that a “Player agrees to… participate in any and all reasonable promotional activities of the Club and Major League Baseball…” What this suggests is that the Angels and MLB possess some real power here in terms of marketing and publicity as it pertains to the league’s best player. It would appear from the language here that, if MLB wants to market Trout, then Trout doesn’t necessarily have much grounds for refusal (within reason, of course). It would appear that, if Trout isn’t being marketed, the onus is on his club and the league to ensure that it happens.

And there’s lots to market. Mike Trout is a walking highlight reel. He’s fast.

He plays highlight-reel defense.

And, of course, he has power.

Relative to Trout’s skills, though, he seems to have received relatively little space in MLB’s publicity.

The league has actively marketed Aaron Judge, for example. Judge is awesome, but he’s not Trout. They’ve marketed George Springer and Giancarlo Stanton. They’re awesome, too! But neither of them is Trout. And, curiously, Trout has never appeared on the cover of MLB: The Show, one of the means by which the sport can reach younger fans. Sony chooses the cover player but also requires the league’s permission, meaning the latter has some input in the decision. And yet, just last year, that space was occupied by… Ken Griffey Jr. For all of Griffey’s merits, he’s a 48-year-old retired player. Also, there’s an argument that he was never even as good as Trout. His best season ever 1996, when he posted 9.7 WAR. Trout, meanwhile, has recorded two seasons over 10 WAR and a third at 9.6 already. Trout has 61.7 WAR already, and he’s not yet 27. Griffey Jr. had 77.7 WAR in his entire career.

There are lots of interesting things about Mike Trout to market. Trout, somewhat famously, likes the weather. Loves it, in fact. And loves reporting the weather. He reported the weather during the All-Star Game. Why not have Mike Trout report the weather on national morning shows once in a while? He’d love it. Mike Trout also likes chicken noodle soup. Hello, Campbell’s?

Part of the trouble might be MLB’s sometimes clumsy way of handling players’ attempts at self-expression. A couple months ago, the league warned both Mike Clevinger and Ben Zobrist that their custom shoes violated league policy. SBNation’s Whitney McIntosh diagnosed the problem with that sort of micromanagement:

Recently, the league decided it would behoove them to crack down on some players’ personal touches that they had been adding to their uniforms. Creative cleats, meaningful arm sleeves, or patterns that might make fans feel like they know these players a little more intimately? Absolutely not. That’s for leagues who know how to market themselves (the NBA says hello.)

Rob Manfred has been given a gift — namely, the best player baseball has ever seen, in his prime and doing great things. If we take for granted that, as Article II of the MLB Constitution suggests, the Commissioner’s role is to do what is in the best interests of baseball, then publicly criticizing the game’s best player likely doesn’t represent a fulfillment of his mandate. All Manfred has to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. The first rule of being a litigation attorney is this: “When you’re winning, shut up.” Thanks to Mike Trout, Rob Manfred is already winning.

Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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5 years ago

Here we are 8 days later and still this is getting discussed. Heard more about Mike Trout in these last 8 days on national radio/tv than we have maybe ever. Just heard Clay Travis talking about it this morning on his radio show even.

5 years ago
Reply to  stever20

Are you implying this is a Vince McMahon vs Stone Cold style marketing strategy?

Because i’m 100% here for that!

5 years ago
Reply to  Moate

don’t think it was intended to be like that- I think Manfred 100% believed what he was saying- but the results feel very WWE like. Got a heel in Manfred and the face in Trout.

It’s a shame that in this period where Trout has gotten so much attention that he’s been so off of his usual self- 2-12 since then with 1 hr.

Planet Dustmember
5 years ago
Reply to  stever20

And he still has an OPS of .917 and 4 steals in those 5 games, wRC+ of 160

5 years ago
Reply to  Planet Dust

Even with a .917 OPS and 160 wRC+, he for the 1st half had a 1.080 OPS and a 187 wRC+. So this isn’t the classic Trout IMO. Especially for casual fans….

5 years ago
Reply to  stever20

all I was saying is that it’s a shame he didn’t come out of the break and have a game like…. last night. 3-4 with 2 hr. now that would have been the way to have him answer the Manfred noise…

Mean Mr. Mustard
5 years ago
Reply to  stever20

Here’s a newsflash for you – human performance involves variance.

5 years ago

Right, and I get that. But still if he had been able to come out after this and have a huge first few days of the 2nd half while even guys like Clay Travis who never talk about baseball in general, let alone Mike Trout- that would have been pretty big. But like this morning, there was no mention of his great night last night.

5 years ago
Reply to  stever20

Oof, these commenters are rough. You have a valid point, that for casual sports fans tuning in to ESPN and hearing about this little row, it would definitely be more memorable if he went out and socked 8 dingers the next week