Baseball rivalries between players is older than radio. Sosa vs McGuire, Williams vs DiMaggio, Mays vs Mantle, heck, even Babe Ruth had Rogers Hornsby give him a run for his money in the 1920’s.
Mike Trout though, doesn’t appear to have a real rival. His MVP battles have been with different players. No one else besides him has put up back-to-back Trout like seasons. Every year it seems to be someone different. Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger: none have been consistent enough this past decade to really give Trout a true rival.
Perhaps that fits him. After all, Trout is a quiet, private guy who is only well known and appreciated because of his stats, not his presence. He doesn’t have an attitude, nor does he come off as a sore loser. Trout still keeps true to his humble roots and in signing his mega-deal, renounced the rewarding headache of free agency.
But that is not a real answer. Truly Trout must have a rival, someone that pushes him to be his best. Even if that has to be his own teammate. Right?
What is a rival anyway?
A comparable player striving for the same goal while competing against each other. That dictionary definition is vague, but it will have to do.
Out of all the players to play in the MLB the last decade, the only non-Trout player to have two great seasons is Mookie Betts. In fact, over the past 5 seasons, Betts is the clear silver medal to Trout in FWAR.
Sure, gaining a whole season on your rival is a bit comical over just 5 seasons but it is what it is. In a traditional sense, this is what the answer would be. That the closest thing to a rival Mike Trout has is Mookie Betts. Betts even wants the same amount of money.
But there is a slight problem. Betts’ best season was 2018. A season that is under extreme investigation for cheating that is still on going. What Betts truly is, is thus a mystery for now.
Maybe just focus on CF. What CF would be the best rival for Trout? Cody Bellinger is the next best, according to MLB Network.
This would make it a Southern California market rivalry with more of a goal to gain fan support than raw performance, akin to those Trout/Kershaw billboards when they both won MVP. Bellinger is young and perhaps he will be a great rival for Trout that he has lacked in the past.
A problem with Bellinger as a rival is that besides the Freeway series, they do not actually compete head-to-head much at all. Sure, rivalries do not have to stay in one league. However, some may not see this as a true rivalry.
Therefore, a good rival in the AL for Trout may end up being Alex Bregman. As best player on the Astros they face each other a ton and were neck and neck in MVP voting.
(Un)fortunately the Astros will be heavily scrutinized in the future for cheating in the past so there is no telling if Bregman is actually any good. Without much of a track record, it is even more uncertain.
As I stated earlier, using stats for a rival for Trout will not work, at least for now. He is so far ahead of everyone it is laughable to call anyone a rival. And the most deserving players there are lack Trout’s longevity to date. This is beyond stats.
Rivalries in sports are not just statistics, it is personality. How much the players clash for TV drama. Now Mike Trout isn’t one for TV drama. As he doesn’t put himself out there or show much negative emotion at all. He is just a humble kid who just so happens to be the best player in baseball. He is a real hero.
And what does a hero need more than a villain? With the Astros constantly being criticized and scrutinized after their cheating and insincere apologies for cheating, they have overtaken all the other teams as the most hated franchise in baseball for many fans. No individual team has gathered evoked this much hatred in a long time.
Who happens to be the face of the Astros? Jose Altuve. He is, in a way Mike Trout’s foil. A rather short player by MLB’s standards who has overcome adversity about his physical limitations to become a compelling player of size matters not. Even more when he had a power surge despite being at a disadvantage. A playoff hero with fame and glory.
That all disappeared in an instant. His legacy quickly turning to ash as the evidence came out, his accomplishments tainted as he became the head of the snake on the most hated team in baseball. Altuve’s true colors showed, and baseball’s villainous player was revealed.
Altuve has shown no integrity, making up excuse after excuse for what has happened. New suspicions about even more cheating (buzzers) make his words untrustworthy. The best player on the Astros that was there when wins were scarce, is now the heel.
Mike Trout’s rival in Altuve would be one for Baseball’s soul. The clean hero best player in Baseball who is as amazing as he is boring; up against the most despised player in baseball who people could not and will not stop talking about.
I think that is my answer. For the moment, for 2020, Mike Trout’s rival is Jose Altuve. They will face each other a lot and comparisons of the right way vs the wrong way will flood the internet all season. It is fitting, as they say, Superman needs his Lex Luthor.