Something magical is happening in Anaheim, where perhaps the two greatest offensive players of the past twenty years are hitting back-to-back at the heart of the Angels’ order.
Mike Trout, the cherubic face of a brave new era, and Albert Pujols, the wily hero of a time gone by, continue to set the American League alight, breaking records, producing big hits, and honing an unlikely friendship that is beguiling to watch.
At 23, Trout looks predestined for the immortal realm. A barrel-chested stallion blessed with precocious agility and a sumptuous swing, the reigning AL MVP already has 99 home runs, 103 stolen bases and 582 hits through the first 500 games of his Major League career, enabling him to chase the greatest ghosts of this great old game.
Pujols, now 35, is able to relate to Trout’s journey because, once upon a time, he was Trout. In the early-2000s, Pujols was the bright-eyed kid with a starling array of skills. He was the most feared hitter in baseball. He was baseball’s star attraction. He was the king.
Albert has achieved almost everything to which Trout presently aspires. MVPs? Pujols has three. World Series rings? Pujols has two. Home runs? Pujols launched the 522nd of his career last week, passing Ted Williams, Frank Thomas and Willie McCovey for 18th on the all-time list.
Albert has lived Trout’s life, as the ultimate icon on whose shoulders the hopes and expectations of a baseball-crazed nation are placed. This puts Pujols in a unique position, in that he’s able to teach, coach and advise his princely teammate, who, in turn, benefits from the wisdom of a man who has completed the journey on which he is about to embark.
In many ways, Albert is the past master, the veteran savant, the former head of state. Trout is the apprentice, the prodigious newcomer, the heir to Pujols’ crown. They’ve been teammates for three full seasons, but the dynamic between them has never been so intriguing. At this point, Trout is obviously the better player. He’s now outgrown Albert’s shadow and, as the bona fide megastar of baseball, has designs on rewriting the record books. On the other hand, Pujols has taken a step back with age, yet, after redefining himself, still has a legitimate shot at etching his name deeper into the aforementioned annals.
With a contract running through 2021, Albert will likely join the prestigious 3,000-hit club and become just the ninth player to hit 600 home runs. He may even reach the stratospheric plateau of 2,000 career RBI. Meanwhile, with the prospect of perhaps fifteen big league seasons ahead of him, Trout also figures to have a genuine shot at 3,000 hits, 500 or 600 home runs, 500 stolen bases and 2,000 RBI.
Thus, in essence, Trout is already chasing, and hoping to outperform, the records and legacy set by Pujols. Arguably, Mike is playing alongside Albert, whilst simultaneously chasing the ghost his achievements will undoubtedly leave.
Pujols is already one of the all-time brilliant baseball players, but Trout’s blend of scintillating skill at such an early age gives him a unique opportunity to become the greatest player who ever lived.
Accordingly, one would expect a sense of animosity or discomfort in the relationship between the two players. We’ve see it before, with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, where the established hero resented the adulation heaped upon the raw phenom who succeeded him.
But, with Trout and Pujols, there is no bad blood, no jealousy. They’re seemingly anathema to one another, in terms of ethnicity, upbringing and even physique, but they share a story and a mutual quest. The story? That of the baseball hero, striving for greatness from an early age. The quest? To jointly drive the Angels to a World Series championship.
Therefore, what we’re watching is truly unique in the history of baseball. We’re witnessing a special bond between a Dominican sage and an all-American wonderkid; a smiley, heartfelt affection between the departing icon and the arriving hero. We’re witnessing two of the most exciting, entertaining and enthralling players of all-time bat second and third for Anaheim, on the hallowed road to Cooperstown.