I am guessing you can count on your fingers and toes the amount of times a 25-year-old major league baseball player fresh off winning his team MVP award in his rookie campaign has been displaced from his position in the ensuing offseason by his organization. It is not often that a team makes a young player, voted by his peers just three months prior as the best their ballclub has to offer, an afterthought at the position he manned while earning such lofty praise. How often do we see players like this given new positions and handle it with class, choosing not to complain, but rather to conquer. It just doesn’t happen, or at least it is not supposed to happen this way. But it is happening, and it’s happening right before our eyes…
As each and every one of us faithful Halo fans know, Mark Trumbo lead the 2011 Angels in nearly every power statistic, including homeruns (29) and slugging percentage (.477). The man who had replaced Kendrys Morales so admirably in his first full season never even had time to celebrate his Rookie of the Year runner-up finish or his aforementioned team MVP award before being replaced by a quarter of a billion dollar surefire Hall of Famer in Albert Pujols. What looked to be a promising young star in the making to both the media and the Angel fan base, now looked like someone the Angels needed to move. Instead of Angels’ management tossing confetti into the air to celebrate their newfound power-hitting 25-year-old first baseman, they hung Trumbo like a piñata and hacked away.
Maybe even more remarkable than the actual Pujols signing was how the young man he replaced chose to accept his fate. There would be no “woe is me” in Mark Trumbo’s attitude. Unlike other seasoned veterans (cough cough Bobby Abreu) who complained openly about their obviously diminishing roles within the Angel ranks after the Pujols signing, Trumbo accepted the move with dignity. This kid chose to pick up a third basemen’s glove and move to a position he had literally never played before because that was where the team needed him most. And if that wasn’t enough, he also kept himself sharp at the corner outfield positions and said aloud that he would gladly DH at any point he was called on to do so. Look, for those of reading this that have no idea what being a major league position player is like and can’t understand how difficult it is to do what Trumbo has embraced, let’s just picture doing the job the guy in the office next to you is doing. Then also volunteering to do the job the girl in the office next to him is doing, and then next week doing the job the guy in the building across the street is doing all the while outperforming every single one of them. That’s essentially what Mark Trumbo is doing today, except instead of doing it with spreadsheets and staplers on his desk, he’s doing it in major league ballparks against major league pitchers capable of throwing 95 mph fastballs backed up by spine bending sliders mixed in between knee buckling change-ups. You’d be correct in thinking “that doesn’t sound easy.”
The now 26-year-old is currently hitting baseballs with such ferociousness and voracity that his homeruns have nicknames such as “Trum-bombs” and “Trumbo-jacks”. He’s doing it basically every night without having a clue where he’ll bat in the lineup, or where he’ll play in the field. However, each time he steps to the plate, opposing outfielders instinctively take a step back closer to the fence and opposing third basemen are praying they just get the opportunity to take another step at all once the at-bat is over. The kid just hits absolute missiles to all areas of the field and his power is becoming that of legend. Take the story fellow teammate Peter Bourjos likes to tell of a homerun Trumbo hit in the minor leagues where the defending shortstop actually jumped to catch a line-drive over his head that eventually cleared the left field fence without ever having incurred a downward arc. “It was still going up when it got out” Bourjos says. If Peter Bourjos has not seen enough homeruns in his career for your liking, then take lifelong baseball man and Angels manager Mike Scioscia’s word for it when he says “Mark hits balls as hard and as far as anyone I have ever seen play this game.”
Taking a closer look at what Trumbo is doing points us in the direction of where this story is headed. Put aside the uniqueness of the situation for a moment and take a look what he’s doing off the field in simultaneous fashion. When you take into account all the aspects and difficulties of the challenges placed at the feet of Mark Trumbo and consider the success he’s having overcoming these obstacles you can see and feel the egg cracking and seemingly giving life to a new Angel leader. After hitting a majestic two-run “Trum-bomb” to left field in a 4-2 win this past weekend against division rival Texas, Trumbo chose not to speak of his homerun, but instead wanted to talk about his team needing to play “with a chip on [its] shoulder.” Not settling on one win, but instead speaking to an attitude of aggressiveness that this team has not yet established, shows immense character for a player with such a short tenure in the big leagues. Stepping up and moving to the forefront of a clubhouse loaded with pricey veteran talent says a ton about a guy making less than 600k in just his second big league season.
Albert Pujols can afford to employ his own pilot to fly him to his own island somewhere in the middle of his own ocean. But owning a .197 batting average and a spray chart that looks like a paintball park is operating between shortstop and third base won’t buy you credibility anywhere outside of your own locker. Torii Hunter has long been, deservedly so, the leader and heartbeat of the Angel clubhouse. He is the face of the team with a smile and personality worthy of Hall of Fame considerations if indeed being a great guy could get you into Cooperstown. However, Torii is not signed past this year and unless Albert starts hitting like the Pujols everyone thought the Angels were getting and gaining the respect that comes along with that type of performance, it could certainly be perceived that this team might be sans “leadership” in the not so distant future. Well, I am here to tell you, if you have not already figured out for yourself, that the person who has taken charge wears jersey #44.
Often times we hear of leaders in sports being separated into two categories: “vocal leaders” and players that “lead by example”. Well guess what, Mark Trumbo is proving to be both. Nobody on the Angels’ roster has been asked to do anything close to what Trumbo has been asked to do, and nobody is playing anywhere near his level doing it. Maicer Izturis is the closest example of an Angel player who is expected by management to fill a varying level of roles, and he is excellent at doing so. We can all agree though that filling multiple roles on the baseball field is Maicer’s job as a utility type player. Not to mention, nobody to my knowledge has ever asked Maicer to play a position in the major leagues that he’s never played before in his life and I can’t guess as to how he or anyone else for that matter would accept or appreciate that being asked of them. That is what makes Trumbo so special. He has embraced it, owned it, and now he’s killing it.
I can’t speak to the precise timing of when Trumbo decided he could become a team leader in the big leagues, but the combination of him overcoming everything that has been asked of him by management has gained the immense respect he deserves within the clubhouse. Anyone who meets and exceeds a challenge as difficult as Mark has will get noticed by those around him. On top of that, Trumbo has taken it upon himself to speak up and speak out on team-related shortcomings. Nobody had to ask him what he was thinking. He just knew he needed to say it. Is there anything more indicative of a leader than that?
Rumors swirled all throughout spring training that Mark Trumbo could be traded to any number of clubs. Those same rumors persisted early on in the 2012 season when Trumbo seemed to be without an everyday position. Just like a 3-1 fastball out over the heart of the plate Trumbo has turned his monster size frame on those trade winds and has blown them out somewhere over the left field fence and deep into the cheap seats. Since nobody was able to find a position for him amongst the pack, he seems to have decided to forego the decision-making process and has designed his own role on this club. You can find him all over the field and in the clubhouse playing his position; it may not be first base or third base, so we’ll just call it what it is…….Team Leader.
Follow Drew Mumford Jr. on Twitter: @jrjantreshunt