Mike Trout and the Rookie Legends: Rookies of the Year and More
By all accounts, Mike Trout is having one heck of a season. His wins-above-replacement stat—9.2 games—is more than one-and-a-half times that of the next-highest ranked player in the bigs. His .335 batting average and 42 steals lead the AL, and his OPS of .979 is second only to Miguel Cabrera. Though Cabrera and Josh Hamilton may give him a run for his money, Mike Trout is very likely to win the AL MVP award this year.
And to top it all off, he’s just a rookie.
If Trout wins both the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, he’ll be joining a very select group of athletes in any sport who’ve managed the feat. Who are the others, and what did they do?
Wilt Chamberlain (1959-60)
Wilt Chamberlain’s rookie year in the NBA was, by all accounts, one of the greatest seasons for any player ever. His 37.6 points per game and 27.0 rebounds per game that year both set new records for performance that to this date have never been equaled.
Chamberlain went on to claim three more MVP awards in his career, but none was ever sweeter than his rookie season.
Wes Unseld (1968-69)
Future NBA Hall of Famer Wes Unseld entered the league a 22-year-old center/forward out of the University of Louisville. That year, the undersized 6’7” rookie muscled his way to the NBA rebounding crown, beating out the legendary Bill Russell 1491-1484 in Russell’s final year in the league.
Coupled with solid shooting from the floor and leadership that brought the Baltimore Bullets an Eastern Division championship (after finishing a dismal sixth the year before), Unseld’s season was so strong, voters decided it merited both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors.
Interestingly, in winning that ’69 MVP, Unseld barely beat out another future Hall of Famer and former Rookie of the Year, a man who would go on to win the MVP award the very next season: Willis Reed.
Fred Lynn (1975)
Back to baseball. After a cup of coffee with the big club in 1974, Fred Lynn strolled onto the field for the Boston Red Sox in 1975 a man on a mission. And he delivered.
Leading the league in runs, doubles, slugging and OPS, Fred Lynn won both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards nearly unanimously. (He claimed over 90 percent of the first-place votes in each.) He was named to the All-Star team, he won a Gold Glove and along with fellow rookie Jim Rice, he brought hope to the Fenway Faithful.
Lynn never won a World Series title, but he was a nine-time All-Star and enjoyed an MLB career very nearly of Hall of Fame caliber.
Earl Campbell (1978)
The only man to ever win the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in the same year in professional football, Earl Campbell took to the field with the 1978 Houston Oilers with something to prove.
He’d been the Heisman Trophy winner. He was the No. 1 draft pick. He was a two-time All-American, and he’d just led the University of Texas through an undefeated 11-0 regular season only to lose to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, costing UT a national championship. He had something to prove.
And prove it he did.
Earl Campbell carried the Oilers all the way to the AFC Championship game in his rookie year. In recognition of his exploits, the Pro Football Writers Association, the Newspaper Enterprise Association and the Sporting News all named Campbell the 1978 NFL MVP.
Earl Campbell would eventually rush his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Fernando Valenzuela (1981)*
There are no statistics to determine whether or not Fernandomania swept the nation more rapidly than Beatlemania had two decades before. Either way, it was close.
From the moment the stocky southpaw first stepped to the mound for the 1981 L.A. Dodgers, it was clear that Fernando Valenzuela was something special.
Valenzuela pitched the Dodgers to a 2-0 shutout win over the Astros on Opening Day that year. With a 13-7 record and 2.48 ERA in a strike-shortened season, he carried the team all the way to the World Series title.
There’s a star next to Fernie’s name because he didn’t win the Rookie of the Year award and the MVP in 1981—he won the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young. Still, he’s the only MLB player to have ever accomplished that feat, and there’s no doubt that no list of great rookies could ever hope to be complete without him.
Ichiro Suzuki (2001)
If Trout hopes to capture both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards this season, he’ll be following in the fleet feet of two men: Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki.
Though Suzuki had already racked up solid numbers in the Japanese league before his arrival in the States in 2001, nobody could have been prepared for the kind of numbers he put up once he signed with the Mariners. In his first year batting against major league pitching, Ichiro hit .350, best in the AL and tying Larry Walker for best in the majors. He also led all of baseball with 242 hits and 56 steals.
Though Suzuki looks to be near the end of his career, he won 10 straight Gold Gloves in right field for the Mariners and was selected to 10 straight All-Star teams. He’s a Hall of Famer for sure, and Trout would do well to model his career after Ichiro, or anyone else on this list.