Apparently, Mike Trout is the problem with Major League Baseball.
Let's say that again, because your brain may need a moment: Mike Trout is the problem with baseball.
This is the man who racked up an American League Rookie of the Year Award, seven All-Star nods and two AL MVP awards by age 25.
Who said Trout is a part of the problem? No less an authority than MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Before we get to Manfred's remarks, let's review the real problem.
MLB is dealing with a pronounced attendance decline. In spring, it was plausible to ascribe the phenomenon to bad weather. Even then, it called into question the length of the season and length of each game and the possibility fans had merely lost interest.
Lucrative television contracts and revenue sharing have kept baseball profitable. Players' salaries rise. Bottom lines rise accordingly. Everyone's happy.
In the end, though, this sport isn't about balance sheets or opt-out clauses or the obscene dollars that change hands every winter.
It's about the product on the field. It's about the best baseball players showcasing their skills.
As we outlined above, Mike Trout is (ahem, arguably) the best baseball player on the planet.
So what did Commissioner Manfred have to say about Trout, the brightest star in his firmament? Here are some of Manfred's remarks, per Sports Illustrated's Jimmy Traina:
"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."
First off, Commissioner, we didn't need you to inform us that Trout is a great player. The stats and eyeball test confirm as much.
Second off, what exactly are you implying? Should he grow out his sideburns and become "Hollywood Mike Trout"? Should he start flipping his bat and getting into it with opposing pitchers?
Or is it merely that he's passing on marketing opportunities that would line the pockets of MLB?
He makes himself available. As USA Today's Ted Berg put it, "This is Mike Trout: Extraordinarily talented, friendly and patient with fans and media, and unlikely to generate any hotly contested sound bytes."
Then again, maybe Trout finally is.
OK, sure, we're referring to a statement issued by the Angels on behalf of Trout in the wake of Manfred's comments. Still, it features some pointed, if implied, barbs:
"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."
The statement goes on to mention Trout's "humility" and to note that the Angels "applaud him for prioritizing his personal values over commercial self-promotion."
Added Halos communications director Eric Kay:
Clearly, Manfred's words reached the ears of the best player in the game and the franchise that employs him. Trout isn't about to take the heat for baseball's wavering popularity or Manfred's possible insecurity over a dearth of marketable stars.
Trout isn't the Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper, for example, with his brash antics and "Make Baseball Fun Again" schtick.
Maybe Manfred wishes Harper was the face of the sport. Unfortunately, despite winning the Home Run Derby and clubbing 23 first-half dingers, Harper owns a .214 average and has had an up-and-down season in D.C.
Trout, meanwhile, keeps chugging along. He produces at historic levels. He doesn't foment discord or spout off in ways that damage the game. He hits, he runs, he catches, he smiles. He does good work on and off the field.
Isn't that enough?
Maybe not for the future of MLB, as it competes for clicks and attention and eyeballs in a crowded sports marketplace.
That problem is on Manfred, however, and the rest of his braintrust.
Trout, by all accounts, is a decent, accessible dude who also happens to be really, really good at baseball.
"In general, baseball does not do as good a job as other major sports in the U.S. as far as promoting their stars nationwide, especially compared to NFL and NBA," Henry Schafer of Q Scores, a firm that measures the appeal and recognition of sports figures, said, per Kilgore.
According to Q Scores, reserve NBA forward Kenneth Faried has a similar Q Score to Trout. Faried averaged 14.4 minutes and 5.9 points per game last season.
For that to be possible, Manfred should be asking himself, "What's wrong with baseball?" That's the right question.
Here's another question: Does Michael Nelson Trout owe MLB a damn thing?
Here's the answer: Nope.