SO WAIT...MLB IS STRUGGLING TO MARKET MIKE TROUT? REALLY?

 Bob Dutton

Bob Dutton

   SEATTLE — We’ll get back to our regular Mariners programming soon enough but, first, can we get an instant-replay review to give commissioner Rob Manfred a chance for a second take on Angels outfielder Mike Trout?

   It’s hard to believe the commissioner intended to pick a fight with the game’s premier player regarding the issue of marketability and overall impact in promoting the game.

   But that’s exactly what Manfred did, repeatedly, this week during a series of interviews at the All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. Among his comments were these on ESPN: 

   “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.”

   *****

   OK, let’s step back a moment.

   The marketing mavens at Major League Baseball have not only conjured up sponsors for everything imaginable, they’ve succeeded in turning a start-up media venture (MLB.com) into a colossal success in an era of journalistic armageddon.

   These folks can’t market Mike Trout?

   *****

   Part of what Manfred says is indisputable.

   Trout is, indeed, a “great, great player.” Manfred’s words also prompted a slew of unsolicited testimonials from other players that seem to validate that Trout is also a “really nice person.”

   There’s this from former teammate Huston Street on twitter: “To be absolutely clear: @MikeTrout is an unquestioned great person. His humility is what we all dream our sons have after such success.

   “He took time for my 3 sons, ALWAYS, he gave them kind words and is the prime example of leading by example.

   “HE IS WHAT THE GAME SHOULD BE!”

   As for marketability, whatever struggles that Manfred’s minions are experiencing, Trout’s Q-Rating (or whatever you want to call it) seems just fine with many of those who know and care about the game.

   Fans understand: Trout has been an All-Star in each of his seven seasons and was voted as a starter on five occasions.

   The two exceptions were his rookie year, when he wasn’t on the ballot; and last year, when he missed seven weeks immediately prior to the game because of a thumb injury.

   Coaches and managers understand: Trout won five Silver Slugger Awards in his six previous full seasons.

   Ballwriters certainly understand: Trout was the American League’s Most Valuable Players in two of his six previous full seasons and finished second on three occasions.

   And players…well they know best, don’t they?

  Typical is that response from Washington outfielder Bryce Harper when asked this week whether Trout was the game’s best player: “If you don’t (think he is), then you’re not watching.”

   I’ve seen Trout a lot in recent years, and he regularly interacts with fans.

   Look, lots of players do this. Trout isn’t unique in that sense, but whenever I’ve watched, he always seems just as excited to talk to a young fan as that young fan is to talk to him. Maybe it’s an act. If so, it’s a heck of a good one.

   The Angels, not surprisingly, fired back hard at the commissioner: “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.”

   So, again, Trout appears to be everything baseball should want in its marquee player. Picking a fight with him seems like an idea hatched by those folks who turned IHOP into IHOB.

   Perhaps Manfred simply believes Trout merits even greater recognition than he receives. If so, that view came out clumsily. Much too clumsily for a lawyer who is usually good with words.

   Now hear Trout, who released a statement late Wednesday: “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!”

   This is a guy you can’t market?

   Here’s a tip: Ready to just play some baseball.

   Try that.