MLB star’s GOAT path halted by injuries; Griffey Jr. feels his pain

Ken Griffey Jr. saw the news, winced, and those excruciating memories immediately came rushing back.

The injuries. The surgeries.

The lost seasons.

The criticism, the blame.

Three-time MVP Mike Trout is sidelined again, this time undergoing surgery Friday on a torn meniscus in his left knee.

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He likely will be out at least until early August, maybe longer, but for the fourth consecutive season, will miss more games than he plays for the Los Angeles Angels.

He has missed 249 games the past three seasons, and now could miss at least 100 games this season.

If there’s anyone who knows the pain Trout is going through, derailing his path to immortality, it’s Griffey.

‘I’ve been there, believe me,’ Griffey tells USA TODAY Sports. ‘It’s a terrible feeling. You dream of being a Major League Baseball player, not spending your days going through rehab.’

Trout one day will join Griffey in Cooperstown, but these injuries will keep him off the Mount Rushmore of baseball legends.

There was a time he was compared to Mickey Mantle but now that magnificent combination of power, speed and athleticism may never return.

‘I absolutely hate comparisons,’ Griffey says. ‘I was being compared to Willie Mays when I was 21 years old. I hated that. Mike was being compared to Mantle and other greats. Being compared is a burden. …

‘Let people play, have their careers, and then let them compare.

‘But to do it at such a young age is so unfair.’

The fact that Trout is injury-prone with diminishing skills after turning 30 should hardly be a surprise. He’s a center fielder. You’re constantly in motion. You’re covering more ground than any player. It’s the most athletic position on the field.

Father Time isn’t going to permit your legs to stay 21 years old while the rest of your body ages.

‘Just look at some of greatest center fielders who played this game,’ Griffey says. ‘They have only a 12- or 13-year shelf life. It’s just such a demanding position.’

Go ahead, take a peek.

In Trout’s first nine years through the age of 27, he won three MVP awards, finished runner-up four times, and had had nine top-five finishes.

His stats were eerily similar to Mantle’s from the age of 19 to 27:

Mantle, from 1951 to 1959, hit .311 with a .994 OPS, hitting 280 homers with 841 RBI.

Trout, from 2011 to 2019, hit .305 with a 1.000 OPS, hitting 285 homers and 752 RBI.

The comparisons have abruptly stopped.

In Trout’s last four seasons, he’s hitting .276 with a .951 OPS, hitting 76 homers with 156 RBI.

Mantle, too, was never the same after the age of 30, hitting .277 and averaging 23 homers and 64 RBI a season.

Center fielder Andruw Jones was being compared to Willie Mays when he won 10 Gold Gloves his first 11 full seasons as Atlanta’s center fielder, averaging 33 homers and 100 RBI a season.

Yet, once he turned 31, he was never the same, hitting .210 and averaging 13 homers and 34 RBI in his last five years while his defense eroded.

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen was one of the premier players in the game when he broke onto the scene in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning the 2013 MVP and finishing in the top five of the MVP race four consecutive years. He hit .291 and averaged 23 homers, 81 RBI and 19 stolen bases his first nine seasons.

But since turning 31 after the 2018 season, McCutchen is hitting .239 with a .753 OPS, averaging 13 homers and five stolen bases a year, playing just 18 games in center field.

‘Your body just takes a beating playing center field,’ Griffey says. ‘Everything hit to us is fair. There’s no foul territory. You’re constantly on the move, running, backing up plays. That’s why you can’t compare center fielders to any other position, or even outfield positions.

‘It’s not like second base where you take two steps and dive or third base where you take one step and dive. Nothing against those guys, but its just different being in center field.

‘It’s one thing to start in center field for two weeks, and it’s another for 10 years. It’s a very, very special position, and I took a lot of pride in it.’

It’s unknown how much longer Trout, 32, will continue playing center field. He still is owed $248.15 million through 2030, but has played in just 266 games since 2021 with major injuries each of the past four seasons. He has not played in 120 games since 2019.

‘It’s tough,’ Trout emotionally told reporters this week. ‘It’s just frustrating, going through it. I play the game hard, and (stuff) happens.’

No one feels worse about the rash of injuries than Trout, who could go down as perhaps the greatest player of the modern era never to play on a team that won a postseason game.

It’s not as if he could have done anything differently. He trains hard, spends two hours before each game getting exercise and treatment for his lower back, but when you play full throttle in center field, injuries happen.

‘It’s not like he’s trying to get hurt,’ Griffey says. ‘It just happens. People get upset because they’re not seeing one of their favorite guys play. But there’s no reason to get angry about it.

‘You think he wants to go through rehab again? Rehab is tougher than playing. It’s a nightmare. You show up at 8 in the morning, do rehab until your teammates show up. The game starts, and while they’re on the field, you’re doing rehab all over again. And this is every single day.

‘Believe me, I know how hard it is. I never had Tommy John surgery, but I had everything else. I know what it’s like rehabbing your wrist, your arm, your shoulder, your legs. You’re not sitting out because you have a contusion. You’re sitting out because you had surgery. It’s miserable.’

Griffey reached the big leagues when he was just 19, and hit 40 or more home runs in seven seasons, including five consecutive years from 1996 to 2000. He averaged 44 homers a year from 1994-2000 despite two strike-shortened seasons.

Griffey, a 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner who had five top-five MVP finishes, was on pace to become baseball’s all-time home run king with 438 homers after the 2000 season.

But then, he turned 31.

He never hit 40 homers again, just twice playing more than 128 games in a season, with knee, ankle, hamstring and shoulder injuries. He wound up with 630 home runs, which now ranks seventh on the all-time list.

‘When you’re playing center field, you’re sacrificing your body every game,’ says Griffey, who had 12 stints on the injured list. ‘I remember once the training staff asked me to start taking it easy. ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that.’ I said, ‘Hey, that’s not me. This is the way I’ve played my whole life. I don’t play the game half-assed.’

‘It’s no different than with Mike. He gets hurt because he plays the game hard, he plays the game right.’

So, please, don’t get Griffey started, remembering the days he was criticized for his injuries and the ridiculous notion that he didn’t train hard enough to avoid them.

It was ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith who launched into a tirade on Trout this past week, incredulous that Trout was injured again.

‘How the hell is he always hurt?’ Smith said. ‘I don’t understand this. It drives me nuts when I see baseball players get hurt. What is it that you’re doing with yourself physically that you can’t stay healthy playing baseball? …

‘I’ve grown disgusted with his lack of availability. It makes me question – I know he looks the part – what the hell are you doing to take care of yourself? Always injured. I mean, damn, it’s baseball.

‘I mean, what we talking about here? It’s not football. It’s not boxing. It’s not the UFC. You’re not running up and down the court 94 feet, basketball, for 82 nights a year. It’s baseball. Half the time, y’all are standing out in the outfield, chewing on pumpkin seeds or something, and waiting for a fly ball to come your way.’

Trout hears the criticism, but ignores it. It’s no different than the criticism he hears for being loyal to the Angels organization. There are folks incensed that he has never asked for a trade, never publicly demanding that the Angels build a contender around him.

Trout signed his extension in 2019, complete with a no-trade clause, because he loves the organization. Sure, he wishes they won more games. He’d love to play in a World Series. Shoot, he’d love just to be on a contender again.

But to demand a trade simply because the Angels have failed to make the playoffs since 2014, and aren’t a contender this year, either?

‘People have this perception without even knowing the guy, and it’s wrong,’ says Griffey, who became friends with Trout through their Nike representation, doing a three-hour commercial shoot together this spring. ‘Everybody wants to talk and have their opinion about somebody else’s career. Let him do his own talking.

‘You know what, I’m proud of what he’s done. He’s a good ballplayer. A good friend. Just a really good person.

‘Injuries don’t change who he is.’

Around the basepaths

– The fire sale has begun in Miami with the Marlins sending two-time batting champion Luis Arráez to the San Diego Padres, even paying all but $592,796 of his remaining salary.

Next up? Center fielder Jazz Chisholm, their best all-around player who has the most trade value.

Several baseball executives insist that Chisholm, who is under team control until 2027, will be dealt in the months to come.

While Marlins president Peter Bendix publicly said that they won’t be contending, manager Skip Schumaker certainly will be departing of his own volition once the season mercifully concludes – perhaps opening the door for Miami assistant GM Gabe Kapler to become manager in 2025.

– It’s time to stop the speculation that the Houston Astros would trade Cy Young winner Justin Verlander at the trade deadline if they are out of the race.

Verlander has a complete no-trade clause, and loves playing in Houston.

He already utilized his no-trade clause to steer the Mets into trading him last summer to Houston instead of elsewhere.

The Mets were in deep trade discussions last summer involving Verlander with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays, but Verlander informed the Mets that he wouldn’t approve a trade unless it was Houston.

– Dodgers pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto would have signed with the New York Yankees or Mets, persons familiar with his thinking say, if Shohei Ohtani had not signed with the Dodgers and helped recruit him.

– While the Marlins have already waved the white flag and are starting another rebuild, there may be no one in the business better than handling a rebuild than Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo.

Rizzo built the Nats from the ground up to make them a World Series champion, tore it down, and now they’re hovering around .500 these days with an awfully promising future. Their haul for outfielder Juan Soto was a stroke of genius, several executives said this week, with shortstop C.J. Abrams turning into one of the best young players in the game.

‘Rizzo doesn’t get nearly the credit he should,’ one executive said. ‘He’s done an unbelievable job over there. That’s how you do a rebuild.’

– Kenny Williams, the former Chicago White Sox vice president of baseball operations who was baseball’s highest-ranking Black executive among clubs, is now using his expertise to help open doors for minorities in the business world.

He helped develop a tool called CLARA, hoping to pave more inclusive hiring practices among corporations.

‘This was really born out of frustration, fatigue and angst,’ Williams said. ‘I’ve been in board rooms for 30-plus years, and the board rooms lacked diversity. I’ve been championing the reasons for the diversity and the need for it, but I did not see it coming of age, and reflecting of society.

‘So, I got tired of hearing myself complain and fight for it.

‘Instead of talking about it, I decided to start doing something about it.’

– Padres manager Mike Shildt is incensed that pitchers continue throwing high and inside to outfielder Fernando Tatis Jr., saying he no longer will stand for it.

‘We’re seeing way too many pitches up and in on Tati,’ Shildt said. ‘It’s enough. It really is enough. If you want to throw in, that’s fine. But I don’t know what people are trying to accomplish by throwing up and in. All you’re doing is pissing the guy off, and it’s uncalled for. … It’s happening way too frequently, and it’s not something that we’re going to tolerate much longer.’

Certainly, the Houston Astros and leadoff hitter Jose Altuve can relate.

Altuve has had a major-league leading 125 pitches thrown up-and-in towards him since 2020, according to Codify Baseball.

– While baseball executives and scouts are blaming weighted balls used at training facilities like Driveline for the increase in pitching injuries, they now fear that hitters could suffer the same fate with wrist injuries using weighted bats.

We’ll see.

– While executives still believe that Japanese pitching sensation Roki Sasaki is planning to sign with the Dodgers after the season, one executive who knows him says that Sasaki’s soft-spoken, unassuming personality could lead him to a smaller market like Seattle, San Francisco or San Diego.

– One veteran scout on Baltimore Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson: ‘He’s the best young prospect I’ve ever seen in my life.’

– There has been no bigger surprise among scouts this year than Cubs pitcher Shota Imanaga. Scouts who watched Imanaga pitch in Japan says he never looked this dominant.

His 0.78 ERA in his first six career starts is the lowest since Los Angeles Dodgers sensation Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.

– The defending NL champion Arizona Diamondbacks are off to a rough start with a 14-20 record, but will soon have some cavalry with center fielder Alek Thomas and closer Paul Sewald expected to join the team Tuesday.

Diamondbacks outfielders have badly struggled with a .628 OPS this year, 23rd in baseball, with defending Rookie of the Year winner Corbin Carroll enduring the first nasty slump of his career,

Carroll is hitting just .194 with a .533 OPS, one homer and five RBI. Opposing pitchers have pounded the inside part of the strike zone on him, with Carroll just now starting to make the adjustment.

Of course, with the D-backs demoting Carroll to the seventh and eighth spots in the lineup, it’s hardly as if he has any protection.

– The Cubs, one of baseball’s most surprising teams, also are expected to have some valuable reinforcements this week with outfielders Cody Bellinger and Seiya Suzuki set to return.

– The coolest story of the week was 84-year-old Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski visiting his grandson, San Francisco Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski on Thursday before the Giants played the Boston Red Sox, and then having him homer in the game.

‘There’s some cool days in baseball, and I’ve had a lot of them,’ Giants manager Bob Melvin told reporters. ‘This is one of them.’

– Milwaukee Brewers infielder Brice Turang has one of the best streaks in baseball: He has stolen 31 consecutive bases since July 4, 2023.

The major league record is 50 set by Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson in 1987.

– Outfielder Tommy Pham just joined the White Sox a week ago, but already is their best healthy player, and could be their leading candidate to represent the team at the All-Star Game.

The White Sox, off to their worst start in franchise history, are still hoping to trade Pham to the highest bidder before the trade deadline.

The White Sox are also expected to trade starters Erick Fedde, Chris Flexen, Mike Clevinger, reliever Michael Kopech and DH Eloy Jimenez.

– That was former MLB outfielder Jayson Werth’s horse, Dornoch, who ran in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

– Former Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias, who pleaded no contest to a charge of misdemeanor domestic battery against his wife, is expected to now be suspended by Major League Baseball for violating its domestic abuse policy.

Urias is a free agent, but with this being his second domestic violence incident, teams may not give him another chance. Urias was placed on three years of probation while undergoing a year-long domestic violence treatment program.

– Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno continues to be the gift that keeps on giving after being acquired with outfielder Lourdes Gurriel from the Toronto Blue Jays a year ago for outfielder Daulton Varsho.

‘He already is one of the top five catchers in baseball and Gurriel by himself is better than Varsho,’ one scout said. ‘It was an unbelievable trade for Arizona.’

– Houston Astros closer Josh Hader, who went longer than three outs in a regular season game for the first time since Aug. 14, 2020, says he can relax now and pitch more than one inning now that he has been taken care of financially with a five-year, $95 million contract. Hader pitched multiple innings 80 times in his first three seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers until setting one-inning limits to protect himself.

‘The team (Astros) invested in me, and we share the same risks,’ Hader told reporters. ‘If I get hurt, it’s not good for anybody.’

– Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes, considered the best collegiate pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg, is expected to be soon called up to the big leagues in May. He has a 0.37 ERA in six starts in the minors.

– MLB is getting younger than ever with players 23-and-under playing a total of 413 games, and players 22-and-younger playing 275 games, setting all-time records.

– How good has the Yankees pitching been this season?

They are 21-6 (.778) when scoring at least two runs in a game, the best record in baseball.

– Which is more surprising?

The Royals won their 20th game on May 3 after not winning their 20th until June 20 a year ago? They are one game out of first place.

Or, the Oakland A’s, who have already won 18 games by May 4, after not winning their 20th game last season until June 23, when they were 28 ½ games out of first place. They are 1 ½ games out of first place.

– Considering the way that catchers are now setting up on one knee, scouts are predicting that this year will set a record for passed balls and wild pitches.

– Scouts believe that Angels outfielder Jo Adell has improved tremendously at the plate.

– Teams are hitting .240 these days.

The last time the collective batting average was lower than .240 was in 1968 (.237).


– Jose Abreu, who was hitting .099 with one extra-base hit, agreed to go to the minors to work on his swing provided he could stay home in South Florida and work out at the Astros’ minor-league facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.

There is no timetable for his return.

– How cool is it in Oakland that one of the reasons for their resurgence is Tyler Nevin, the son of former Angels manager Phil Nevin, who is best of friends with A’s manager Mark Kotsay.

Nevin, 26, playing for his fifth organization since 2020, finally has found a home and is having the best season of his career.

Claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles on March 31, Nevin is hitting .302 with an .843 OPS, with four homers and 10 RBI.

– There was no bigger victory this week than the Colorado Rockies’ 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It was the first time this season, after 31 games, they had not trailed in a game.

They broke the record of the 1910 St. Louis Browns for the longest streak to begin a season.

‘Yeah, it was like since the 1916 ‘somebodies,’’ Rockies manager Bud Black joked.

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