Why Mike Trout Finally Joined Team USA for the WBC

The best baseball player of his generation might be the key to more visibility for the quirky international event

Mike Trout dons Team USA gear while preparing for the World Baseball Classic on a field
Team USA can do worse in a captain than the best player of his generation
Norm Hall / Stringer, Getty Images

“Ain’t nobody make it to the Hall of Fame and win the World Series playing in the WBC,” MLB pitcher Noah Syndergaard said in 2017. That was the attitude toward the World Baseball Classic that a number of American professional ballplayers maintained for years, up to and including 2017, the last time the tournament was held.

Then, Team USA won the thing in thrilling fashion, with its center fielder, Adam Jones, making a home run-robbing catch for the ages along the way. Any baseball fan knew Jones was a terrific player. But he was no Mike Trout, the best of his generation, who was sitting at home watching that game instead of scaling the center field fence to help his country — the one where baseball was invented — win its first WBC championship in four tries.

The other winners of that tournament were its TV broadcasters, particularly MLB Network. Overall viewership for the 2017 WBC at the league-owned channel was up 32% over the previous one, held in 2013. Per Forbes, the final game — between Team USA and the Puerto Rico National Team — drew 2.3 million viewers on MLB Network, making it the second-most watched game that year on the station, behind only an MLB playoff game. The tournament was also a “huge hit internationally,” wrote Forbes.

Still, there’s always room for growth. A couple million U.S. viewers is nothing compared to what other big sporting events, like the Super Bowl, World Cup or even the Olympics (which has seen its ratings decline), get. But common sense says that probably the best way to attract eyes to something is to make it good.

If you want a lot of eyes on it, make it really good.

Adam Jones was a good ballplayer. Mike Trout is really good, and beginning Saturday, after a six-year hiatus because of the pandemic, Team USA is back in the WBC with a roster that finally boasts the best center fielder in the game.

“Watching it on TV, six years ago now, I felt like I wanted to be out there just to experience how much fun they were having,” Trout told The New York Times yesterday. “I told myself before they even asked me, if I got the opportunity, I was going to try to do it. It’s special to me and my family.”

The 10 Best MLB Series Worth Traveling for This Season
Yanks in L.A. Cubbies in London. Fenway per usual. Let’s go!

That’s why when Team USA general manager Tony Reagins, who drafted Trout into the Los Angeles Angels organization 12 years ago, recruited the all-world star last July, it apparently didn’t take much convincing. That changed the conversation among ballplayers who could qualify to play for Team USA.

“Once that happened, the interest in the whole tournament changed,” Reagins told the Times. “Once he was on board, then you had players reaching out to him, agents and players reaching out to me. Nolan Arenado got my cell and called me: ‘I want in.’ Paul Goldschmidt was not far behind, and Pete Alonso was like, ‘I don’t care what I have to do, I’ll do whatever you need me to, I want to be a part of it.’”

Also donning the red, white and blue for Team USA in this year’s WBC: Mookie Betts (a former league MVP), Trea Turner (a Silver Slugger winner just last year), J.T. Realmuto (MLB’s best catcher) and veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright (who’s finished in the top-three of Cy Young Award voting four times). I could go on.

Star power might not guarantee a Team USA tournament victory. Its rosters have always been relatively stacked, but the first three squads only managed one fourth-place finish before breaking through to the championship last time out. However, baseball stakeholders are probably betting this much of it — thanks in large part to Trout’s participation — will attract even more American fan attention, which has been slowly growing throughout its history, prior to reaching new heights in 2017, just as Team USA did.

There’s still discussion around when the tournament should be held. Changing it to midseason, as opposed to during spring training, is an option. It could mean even better ratings because there is no other North American professional sports league in action at that time. But if the concern now is player injuries taking place in games that don’t count toward the MLB standings, that won’t change if the league lengthens the All-Star break in July by a couple weeks to fit in the WBC.

For now, though, a ridiculously talented group of guys have ramped up their training to play in the WBC for Team USA starting tomorrow. For American baseball stakeholders, that’s really good.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!