BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),
Watching the ESPN ticker during the Subway Series game Wednesday night, it mentioned Angels slugger Mike Trout could play with a rare spinal condition on his back for the rest of his career. This stood out to me. I couldn’t help but think about David Wright and Don Mattingly when I saw the news about Trout.
Wright and Mattingly suffered through back problems during their stellar baseball career. At the tail end of their career, they never were the same again. This could be the same for 30-year-old Trout. Remember Wright and Mattingly started to have back problems in their thirties.
The Angels superstar is on the injured list with rib cage inflammation. This came after he left the game against the Houston Astros on July 12 with what was first called back spasms. It can’t be encouraging when Angels athletic trainer Mike Frostad mentioned Trout has a rare spinal condition that he has right now in his back.
There has been no timetable on when Trout will come back. Considering how bad the Angels are, there’s no rush to bring him back from their perspective. It could be we may have seen the last of him this season. Here’s hoping that’s not the case.
Here’s also hoping this does not start the demise of a future Hall of Famer. In his prime years of his career, he still has so much to offer based on him hitting .270 with a .368 on-base percentage and a .599 slugging percentage while hitting 24 homers and 51 RBI through 79 games this season. He is in the prime years of his career. He should be able to keep playing at an elite level throughout his 30s.
But doubts could creep in after this development. Remember Trout only played 36 games last season after a calf injury ended his season.
Of course, Trout put a positive spin on it. He said he has to take good care of his body for the rest of his career. Mattingly and Wright said the same thing, and it did not end up well.
It’s understandable why Trout downplays it, but it’s out there. Once a player’s back gives up on him, it’s over. The mind may be willing, but the back may not be. I speak from experience. I work at FedEx, and my body and back ache often to the point I have to call in sick once or twice a month for recovery. Baseball is a strenuous job. It means a player has to exert his body when he swings the bat, runs the bases and roams around the field to make a catch. A ballplayer needs a good back to do those things.
Wright spent many times on the injured list with a bad back for the rest of his career. He never put up the numbers he did in his first years of what was supposed to be a future Hall of Fame resume. His back gave up on him.
Mattingly was a serviceable hitter in the twilight of his career, but he was never the same in the sense he never played like a Hall of Famer again once he had back problems.
Sure they played through it in their 30s, but they never were the same. This could be happening with Trout. His back injuries will be chronic no matter how many painkillers he will take.
Trout missing time again for the second straight year raises red flags whether he and the Angels deny it or not. It was not an accident when the Angels trainer said something about the Angels outfielder.
There’s a good chance he may have to be a designated hitter in the twilight of his career just so he does not have to exert his back much as he would playing in the outfield. The problem with that is twofold: 1) There’s no guarantee it will alleviate his back problem. 2) Being a designated hitter is not exactly easy when a player has to watch on the bench while being mentally prepared to play. By not being on the field as much, it can affect a proud player like Trout, who feeds off from being on the field to play defense.
This is his 11th season in Major League Baseball. He started his Major League career in 2011 when he hit five home runs and 16 RBIs in 40 games with a paltry .220 batting average. At the time, no one thought anything of it. But in his first full season the following season, he broke out in a big way by hitting .326 with a .564 slugging percentage and .963 OPS while hitting 30 home runs and driving in 83 runs. Here’s what stood out for me in that season: he led the majors with 49 stolen bases. It was good enough for him to be the MVP runner-up to Miguel Cabrera and be the Rookie of the Year. He should have won the MVP just for being a star in his first full season.
Trout consistently put out these same numbers for the last seven seasons after his rookie season. As great as he was at the plate, he was even better with his glove on the field.
He was a pleasure to watch. He was a highlight reel every night.
It’s a shame he played one playoff series. It could be his last. The Angels are not going to be better for a long time, and by the time they figure it out, he may be in his last days as a baseball player or he is going to retire.
It would be sad to see the Angels waste his baseball career. It would be a tragedy if his career ends up like Wright and Mattingly.
Trout will play again. But how long it lasts remains to be seen. There will also be questions if he is comfortable in the outfield and driving the ball with authority. It’s going to be a story no matter how the Angels and Trout spin it.
Here’s hoping there will be a happy ending for a class act that represented the game well.
This writer can be reached on Twitter at: @LeslieMonteiro6
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