Over the final 22 days of the regular season, Mike Trout couldn't do anything but sit and watch. His right foot, plagued by pain practically every time it hit the ground, could no longer give. He needed season-ending surgery to treat Morton's neuroma, and he couldn't help himself from keeping tabs on Alex Bregman, the star third baseman who was making a fierce run at the American League's Most Valuable Player Award.
"It was killing me," Trout said.
The Los Angeles Angels' star center fielder was on a hunting excursion when the MVP was announced on Thursday afternoon, as is typically the case this time of year. He was admittedly nervous, worried he might finish second for the fifth time. In the end, he accumulated 17 of 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, with Houston's Bregman receiving the other 13. Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien finished third in the voting.
At age 28, Trout is a three-time MVP. Barry Bonds, who won seven total and accumulated four of the awards after the age of 35, is the only man with more.
"It's definitely pretty surreal, being in the same conversation as Bonds," Trout said from a cabin in a remote Iowa location. "Having the same amount of MVPs as Albert [Pujols] is obviously special. You've seen what he did over the course of his career. Just being in the same conversation with the all-time greats -- it means a lot."
Trout set a career high with 45 home runs, capitalizing on a season in which a record number of homers were hit. He led the majors in on-base percentage (.438), trailed only Christian Yelich in slugging percentage (.645) and paced the sport in weighted runs created plus (180).
Trout's 8.6 FanGraphs wins above replacement was just slightly ahead of Bregman's 8.5, marking the sixth time in eight full seasons that Trout has either led or tied for the lead in FanGraphs WAR. It was enough to make up for the fact that Trout's Angels lost 90 games, missed the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons and, at the end of a season marked by the death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs, replaced Brad Ausmus with Joe Maddon as manager.
Trout now has as many MVP trophies as he does career postseason games, a damning reality for an Angels organization that has largely failed to put a winning product around the game's best player.
"I come in every year, I try to be the best," said Trout, who joined Ernie Banks as the only players to win multiple MVPs for sub-.500 teams. "If at the end of the year I'm in the conversation, that means I worked hard, I had a good year. Obviously people say you need to make the playoffs. I'm doing everything I can to try to help the team win. I was banged up, with some injuries, we had a death in the middle of the season. I let other people decide this. I go out there and put up the best numbers I can put up and just go out there and play my game."
Trout has already compiled 73.4 career FanGraphs WAR, placing him 47th on the all-time leaderboard. By the end of next season, he can reasonably move into the top 35 -- with 10 years still remaining on the 12-year, $426.5 million contract extension he signed in March.
Regardless, Trout is a Hall of Famer already. Only 10 other players have won three or more MVPs, and only Stan Musial compiled three of them at a younger age. The only players to finish within the top three in MVP voting in seven of their first nine seasons reside on the same team -- Trout and Pujols.
In a statement provided by the Angels, Maddon called Trout "a one-of-a-kind player."
"There is no comparison that I've seen since 1981, when I began as a coach, manager and scout."
Bregman, 25, finished the 2019 season with a .296/.423/.592 slash line that compared favorably to Trout's. Bregman added 41 home runs, led the majors with 119 walks, filled in at shortstop when Carlos Correa missed time and played his best down the stretch for the eventual AL champions, batting .372 with a 1.236 OPS and 37 extra-base hits after Aug. 1.
In the end, Trout became the first player to win the MVP despite missing the final three weeks of the season.
Of course he did.
"When I got hurt, it was definitely in the back of my mind," Trout said of potentially losing the award to Bregman. "You have so much time on your hands when you're done for the season, and you can only really sit back and watch. What he did in the second half of the season was pretty incredible. I was rooting for him."