Mike Trout would rather talk about the Angels
By Tyler Kepner
It’s a thankless job, being the commissioner of a sports league. Sure, it comes with power, but everyone’s a critic. It might not be worth the hassle.
“Am I going to resign?” said Mike Trout, who plays center field for the Los Angeles Angels when he’s not running a suddenly famous fantasy football league. “I haven’t made that decision. I don’t know. But every commissioner I know always gets booed.”
Trout spoke to reporters outside the visitors’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. The briefing had been scheduled to talk about the Angels’ next series, a rare trip to Philadelphia, near Trout’s beloved hometown, Millville, New Jersey, for interleague action. He also took a few questions, wearily, on the oddly captivating feud from his fantasy football league.
Tommy Pham, a Cincinnati Reds outfielder, slapped the San Francisco Giants’ Joc Pederson across the face before a game last Friday, earning a three-game suspension. Pederson outlined the details of the dispute — he had insulted Pham’s former team, the San Diego Padres, with a GIF in a group text, and stood accused of stashing a healthy player on injured reserve — and Pham revealed Tuesday that Trout was commissioner of the league, which has a $10,000 entry fee.
“Trout did a terrible job, man,” Pham told The Athletic, which reported that Pham at least hinted at a smile while he spoke. “Trout’s the worst commissioner in fantasy sports.”
Pham, who admitted nobody actually wanted to be commissioner, said Trout could have solved the problems, but instead allowed them to happen.
So, Mr. Commissioner, did Pederson cheat? Trout wasn’t saying.
“I talked to Tommy, I talked to Joc, everybody that was a part of it — just passionate about fantasy football,” Trout said, adding later, “A lot of people put their hearts to it. I do, too. I lost that league.”
For all of his trouble controlling unruly owners, Trout’s problems cannot compare to this vexing issue for Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball: getting his sport’s best player back to the playoffs.
Trout, 30, has won the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times but has played in only one postseason series: a three-game wipeout by the Kansas City Royals in 2014. The Angels have had mostly losing seasons since; even in 2020, with a 16-team playoff field after a regular season shortened to 60 games because of the pandemic, they failed to qualify for the playoffs.
That kind of drought, in any sport, can be excruciating.
“I went through it rooting for the Eagles, and then they won the Super Bowl,” Trout said, adding later, “Obviously, that’s all I want to do here is win and get to the playoffs and see what happens. That’s the goal in this clubhouse. We’re going through a little skid right now, but we’ll get through it.”
The Angels lost their last six games in May, but entered June with a 27-23 record — good enough to be on track for a wild-card spot. Baseball expanded the playoffs this season to six teams per league, and every team with a winning record through May would qualify.
A contending Angels team would be a godsend for MLB marketers, with Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese star and the best two-way player since Babe Ruth, coming off his own MVP season for the Angels in 2021. An October showcase for Trout and Ohtani would be an ideal way to grow the game.
“Being over here with Mike and Shohei, you get the draw, you get why people say that, because they deserve to,” Angels reliever Archie Bradley said. “Obviously, Mike and Shohei are the 1-2 face of baseball. It would be good for the sport, good for California. I get it, for sure.”
Trout missed almost all of last season with a calf injury but has quickly reclaimed his status as the sport’s premier player. Through Tuesday he was leading the AL in wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference, batting .302 with 13 homers and a 1.038 on-base plus slugging percentage.
“This is actually the best I’ve felt, my body — besides that dive last night; I haven’t dove like that since I was a kid,” said Trout, who could not snag a drive by the New York Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo on Tuesday. “I think the preparation I’ve been doing in the weight room, activating my legs instead of just going right into things, that’s been helping me.”
The Angels lost Tuesday 9-1 with the Yankees chasing Angels right-hander Noah Syndergaard in the third inning. Even so, the Angels’ starters entered June with a 3.59 ERA, ranking 10th in MLB — a major improvement for a team that finished 29th out of 30 teams in starters’ ERA. in 2019 and 2020 and 22nd last season.
Syndergaard — who had Tommy John surgery with the New York Mets in 2020 and pitched just two innings last season — signed a one-year, $21 million contract last November. The Angels also signed right-hander Michael Lorenzen, a longtime reliever, for one year and $7 million and added him to the team’s six-man rotation.
“That really alleviates the idea of these guys going 190, 200 innings,” general manager Perry Minasian said. “We haven’t skipped the sixth starter on off-days, and that’s by design, to make sure guys get proper rest. Because we know we’ve got a staff that’s different. We’ve got a couple of younger guys without a ton of big-league time. We’ve got a starter who was a reliever in the past. We’ve got a starter who threw two innings over the last two years, we’ve got Shohei — so it’s a different type of rotation, from a historical standpoint, and we’re doing everything we can to keep them healthy.”
The Angels have not been so lucky with the health of third baseman Anthony Rendon, who is struggling through another subpar season. He was placed on the injured list last week with wrist inflammation, another pressing issue for a team whose bullpen has also stumbled lately.
“We know we’ve lost six in a row, but — in the best way — it’s the most calm, levelheaded, professional losing streak I’ve been a part of,” Bradley said. “We know we haven’t pitched well. We know the back end of the bullpen has let go of some leads. But usually you can see a kind of energy shift, or you see one side of the room get a little stir crazy. It’s a pretty mellow group, and that’s what makes me confident.”
More mellow, it would seem, than the rowdy bunch in Trout’s fantasy football league. Whatever happens with the Angels — and with his post as commissioner — it is safe to say Trout will at least be competing in something this October.
“Everybody loves fantasy football,” he said, smiling. “Who doesn’t?”