The best and the luckiest, at the same time

Alessandro Zilio
6 min readFeb 22, 2024

I’ve always had a soft spot for poker.

Part of it is that the poker table is the perfect middle ground between statistical analysis and psychological warfare, but there’s also the nostalgia factor kicking in.

For some reason, ten years ago or so, there used to be a free channel on TV that had poker going on 24h: God knows how many afternoons and nights I’ve spent watching old WSOP tournaments and Poker After Dark events, enjoying the likes of Phil Ivey, Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson and Antonio Esfandiari battling for bracelets and high stakes.

I took up the lingo in no time, whether that was about odds, equity, tells and Amarillo Slim adagios, and still to this day I find myself reminiscing those bits and pieces.

One of my favorites is a well known mantra for gamblers that works pretty much in every field of work, and life for that matters:

You have to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them”.

Which brings me to Mike Trout.

Trout is this baseball generation’s Daniel Negreanu, arguably the best player to ever grace the field in the last couple of decades, our Hank Aaron, our Willie Mays, a preternatural talent like no others.

There was a time the average Mike Trout season was better than every Betts, Freeman, Acuña, Judge season they would ever muster up. He was a 5 tool talent times two, his throwing arm the only average spec: a .300 hitter with 40+ HR power, plate discipline for days, superb defense in center and even the ability to steal upwards of 50 bases, he could do it all.

He still can, when available.

In poker, and in life, you must be the best and the luckiest, at the same time”.

That is my favorite poker quote, a gem right out of The Mouth, Mike Matusow himself, none other than Hellmuth’s biggest rival and poker’s greatest yapper, well before yapping was a thing.

That is so true even in baseball, and Trout is the perfect example of that: when he was the best and the luckiest, in the first half of his career, he won every personal accolade a hitter could win, MVPs to sell, Silver Sluggers galore, a Gold Glove or two, a top 3 player at least, 7 WAR seasons like clockwork, a whole sabermetrical debate on his greatness.

Then luck started to fade away: his body no longer able to sustain a 162 game pace, his IL stints too many and all too close to each other, I almost had an heart attack when reports of a career threatening back injury came out last year.

Fortunately he’s still reporting for duty, and even if 80 games are the fair expectation, he’s Mike Trout indeed, maybe not an MVP contender but a solid contributor that can carry his team when glimpses of his past domination come to life again.

That is unavoidable misfortune, there’s no doubt he always prepared and maintained his body with the best of them yet Father Time is undefeated and now that he’s over 30, things ain’t going to get better anytime soon.

There’s a big chunk of misfortune he brought to himself though: he decided to tie his baseball career and fate to a single team, the Los Angeles Angels.

Mind you, loyalty alone does not pay the bills, $40M+ per year on his current contract surely do, but Trout, in the league since the early 2010s, has played a single playoff series in more than 10 seasons.

Playoff, not World Series.

Conjure up an obscure middle reliever on your mind and he probably has more playoff games than Trout.

That’s a shame, one that befalls on the other 39 players on various Angels rosters, and to those who built those rosters, namely Angels GMs, Perry Minasian foremost, and owner Arte Moreno.

Baseball is the epitome of a team sport: you can have the best player on your roster, even the two best as in the past Angels teams with Trout and certified unicorn Shohei Ohtani, and you won’t go far if the other pitchers and hitters don’t post.

That’s why building up a deep, quality roster is the way to go, easier said than done but doable in many ways, from focusing on drafting well and clicking on international signings, the Astros way, to trading for and signing prized FA in bunches, the Rangers way, to building a player development masterclass, the Rays way, winning is no straight, single road.

Moreno, Minasian and co didn’t follow any of these scripts: drafts have been pitiful for a while and lately they focused on college hitters and pitchers who ended up debuting the same year they were drafted, a desperate call for help with tons of risks and doubtful returns.

Developing a prospect is not their forte to say the least: we are still waiting for Jo Adell to be an actual big leaguer and the last time they had a really good starter out of their pipeline was when they were called the LA Angels of Anaheim.

Was, and is, Arte Moreno actually a cheap owner like many others? Not at all: from Ohtani to all Trout contracts, he’s never been one to shy away from big time multi year commitments, much to his dismay though he bricked on them almost at a record rate.

Post Cardinals Albert Pujols had two good seasons and then a tragic downfall, his renaissance in Dodgers blue and back to SL for his last hurrah quite the knife twister; Justin Upton was a whiff and a half, Josh Hamilton had all other issues and known baseball hater Anthony Rendon is currently the worst contract in all of MLB.

That’s to say, ownership tried, they never got there in the slightest. Depth was absent, often sacrificed in the name of a single, expensive signing and when they decided for quantity, they lacked quality and ended up collecting band-aid role players.

Trout decided time and time again to stay the course, but things might have come to a breaking point.

In his latest Spring Training interview he acknowledged that, while he sure tried to lure more FA to the Angels, he doesn’t really think anyone will actually come to help him, alluding at Moreno’s unwillingness to spend at the time. Not only that, he was not as decisive as usual on the chances of a future trade request, and that was a long time coming.

He’s not the best anymore, and not the luckiest by any stretch of the imagination, but Mike Trout is still a damn good ballplayer, so while he’s burdened by an enormous contract, I’m sure a contending team would gladly eat some millions and bring him to the fold.

Once upon a time, Sam Farah, an iconic figure in and around Vegas, won a tournament from the absolute worst position a player could be, an achievement that led to a classic poker saying:

A chip and a chair

Mike Trout is still not that short, there are many big blinds on his stack to bet, but levels are going up, new sharks at the table and it might just be time to make a final push and send all of the chips in the middle.

In poker, as in life and baseball alike, you can decide when to go all-in and when to fold, pick the best hand that comes to you and go for it.

That hasn’t, and won’t be, the Angels one anytime soon.

You can still win though Mike.

A chip and a chair, a bat and a title.

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Alessandro Zilio

Italian baseball stathead. I’ll write about MLB, NPB and Korean dramas. A lot of Astros related content and obscure references.