Mike Trout Doesn’t Care About His Online Brand. He Just Made $430 Million.

Photo of Mike Trout from 2013 by Keith Allison.

Mike Trout, the center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels, is finalizing a $430 million contract extension with his team. This is the largest deal in the history of professional sports.

One of the surprising elements of Trout’s story is that he’s reached these unprecedented heights while remaining, to quote Tom Boswell from today’s Washington Post, “a quiet, understated player, who has never tried to brand himself.”

I got in some hot water a few years ago for writing a New York Times op-ed in which I argued that young people needed to spend less energy desperately trying to build their online presence, and more energy quietly developing unambiguously valuable skills. (I even wrote a book about this.)

Trout represents this philosophy pushed to an extreme. When you average 9.0 WAR over six seasons, you don’t have to worry about your Instagram followers.

Trout’s talent, of course, approaches mythological levels, which made his commitment to fundamentals a safe bet. But as with any good myth, it conveys a deeper truth. In almost any professional endeavor, developing unambiguously rare and valuable skills trumps an amorphous commitment to cultivating followers or strengthening an online brand (with a small number of well-publicized exceptions).

It also helps if you can turn on a major league fastball thrown down and in.

33 thoughts on “Mike Trout Doesn’t Care About His Online Brand. He Just Made $430 Million.”

  1. Right on, Cal. It’s interesting the “online presence over skills” argument persists. It’s not as if being online is something difficult to accomplish these days.

  2. Trout ain’t worth $430M !!
    Cal – question: your view on Gary Vaynerchuck? Do you think that his message is at the antipodes of yours?

    • I think it’s a really interesting comparison between their two underlying philosophies and I would argue many of the differences are aligned with the audiences and personalities they have. Cal is a CS professor that is at the forefront of his field because of how strongly he developed his skills, but I would argue Gary similarly cultivated his skills in a different area of branding and influence. It also reminds me of another thing Cal said a while back about CEO’s like Zuckerberg actually needing to be in a shallow space because what makes them valuable is their knowledge and make large decisions and give answers, which is similar to what Gary does. The thing I have a problem with Gary is that he’s really motivating these people into dedicating all their time to the social media grind when I just don’t find that as a smart investment.

      • Great point. While it’s true that both of them value hard work, in Gary’s world it’s all about the hustle. There’s no such a thing as deep work, and not much time for contemplation, or even sharpening the saw. He can get by with that approach because he’s a super intense guy, who can figure out most things basically by trial and error and by being surrounded with the right people. But I suspect that most of us wouldn’t be able to replicate his strategy.

        Still, there’s a lot we can learn from him too, and the greatest challenge (for me, at least) is the following: how to be great (and not merely good) at what one does while also enjoying the benefits of the digital world in regards to exposure? I haven’t (yet) read Cal’s new book, but from what he’s said in interviews, it seems that it was written partly as an answer to that question. Still, in the end, one can only go so for towards reach without compromising depth.

  3. Cal, I Respect you, you’re my INSPIRATION. I just want to know that what do you think of life as i.e., what is your definition of life

  4. I have been thinking about this recently, Cal, how if you or Seth Godin turned off your mailing list, what would happen? You are both deeply skilled and, with your notoriety, don’t need to spend the energy or money to build your online brand.

    For example, I recently unsubscribed from your mailing list to favor (and learn) the RSS reader. I find that I come back to your site to check on updated comments anyway. So, I might be wrong, but think e-mail service providers are getting too powerful and expensive, and starting to use tools similar to the walled gardens of social media. Email, of course, is said to be the original social media.

    So, reading the articles you linked to, I agree that a true brand is knowing who you are as a person focusing on your career capitol, and people will pick up on that and be attracted to your passion in life. Again, you are one of them.

  5. As a home inspector who depends on real estate agents for referrals, people insist I must start a FB account. I have never had a FB account yet I am told that’s “…how you get your name out there and connect.” As everyone knows, real estate agents seemingly thrive in social media. So far, I tell people that while there is there is some marketing value to FB, the negatives outweigh the benefits. However, part of me feels that pull to “give in” and “connect”. Anyone else out there in a similar position?

    • I recommend you don’t give in. I always find my home inspectors via my real estate brokers. And, if I were ever going to do a deal without a broker, I would use an online service like Angie’s List that has ratings from customers to find an inspector. IMHO, Facebook would not add any value to my search. Do a real website if you haven’t already and skip the Facebook option that has so many downsides as Cal’s new book addresses so well.

    • That “part of you” that wants to give in is listening to peer pressure. Im a former (and fully recovered) RE Agent.
      I refused to sell my soul (and privacy) to Wastecrook and participate in constant SELF promotion and “begging” for business….
      Those agents around me who did just that would spend hours a day doing so. The “clients” ” they “caught” on SM, were generally poor candidates who had the attention spans of goldfish, and the loyalty of hungry dogs.
      So, yea, listen to yourself!
      Do amazing , honest work and run circles around your competition who are too busy distracted to even notice your kicking ass.

  6. Cal, i really love your books and agree with you when you say: “in almost any professional endeavor, developing unambiguously rare and valuable skills trumps an amorphous commitment to cultivating followers or strengthening an online brand”. However, i think this guy uses Facebook, Twitter and Instagram regularly.

  7. Many of these guys making tall stacks like Trout don’t do social media themselves. They have a posse (trainers, business managers, and yes, social media specialists) to do the non-sports work. Trout swings the bat, they take pics, make videos, and post. This trivial expense works in the stars’ favor when it comes to the OTHER streams of income (Nike, Adidas, Mizuno, Under Armor, Gatorade…).

  8. Mike Trout has verified accounts on Facebook (461K followers), Instagram (1.5M followers), and Twitter (2.54M followers). There are posts from this week on all of those accounts. Even if he is employing staff to post, which would be typical, the accounts and their followers still form precisely part of his “brand” and part of what allows other of his employees to negotiate that $430 million contract. Mike Trout is a celebrity, and the celebrity brand is the model for the personal brand the rest of us are supposed to adopt.

    • He doesn’t try to build a brand with his accounts. If you look at his Twitter, for example, it’s primarily him sporadically cheering on the Eagles. A lot of big athletes have large and splashy social media presences, with constant commentary, slick videos, etc.

        • Seth is definitely right about that idea. The way social media works best is when it helps other people spread the awesome thing you did. Where it corrupts is when you let it take the place of trying to do something awesome.

    • Mike Trout is a celebrity because he hits like no one else in baseball. He is a celebrity because he’s good. He is a celebrity because he wins and makes the difference. THAT is why he has 1M followers. That is, he has hundreds of thousands of followers because of what he does outside of socials, and he would’ve had them even if he just had an account with a picture and nothing else. The problem is that most individuals think that the opposite is what happens, that is that socials is what builds the brand.

  9. A perfectly straightforward case study example of your entire lived philosophy Cal.

    I do wonder though, how this maps out to the majority of other sporting professionals who do presumably work on having active social profiles.

    Are you making the case that Mike Trout is an exception due to his disproportionate levels of talent?

    How confident are you of the causal link between his lack of branding, and his raw talent?

    • Trout was going to get paid no matter what he did on social media — his talent and consistency is generational. But…still nice reminder that being so good they can’t ignore you is a nice strategy.

      My equivalent of Mike Trout in the world of books, for example, is Yuval Hariri. He had no particular online brand or platform when Sapiens took off and sold 10 million copies. It was just really, really good.

  10. The fact that Trout has so many social media followers only bolsters your point. He has among the most followers on Instagram (the social network of the youngsters), but he barely ever posts, and what little he does post is benign–and likely done by a personal manager. Not only is being “so good they cant ignore you” a better way to make money, it’s also a better way of getting more of an internet following.

    I suspect that more public figures would be interested in removing themselves from social media, but have an exaggerated sense of what it would do to their brand. Or perhaps it comes from the paranoia/biases of their publicists.

  11. Hi Cal
    This is way off topic, but I’m learning Deep Work. Could you maybe pingback all the links on your blog that are related to the topic? I’m kind of stuck on how to apply it, and I’ve found that when you went into more details on the techniques you used in your articles than you did in the book, which was REALLY helpful.


  12. As Gran Torino pointed out the Arizona Cardinals are relenting to digital distractions and allowing players phone breaks during meetings:


    Surely studying game film, creating plays, reviewing tactics etc must be more important than checking social media (which I would have thought can be done once the meetings are over?)?

    Would love to hear your thoughts?

  13. A developed personal brand is extra money and good marketing, not only for yourself, but also for the team in which the player. I think this is a normal path, many professional athletes after a career end are in a difficult situation. And such an asset can allow them to continue to receive good money.
    I am more a fan of football, and the stories of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo seem to me to be revealing.

  14. Claiming a baseball player doesn’t use social media…turns out he has over a million followers and mainly baseball related photos.

    Obviously this blog post is way off. I like the digital detox mindset but with 1m followers you can’t argue he is ‘understated’ online. Way off.

    Even adopting a ‘non-brand’ mentality is a brand mentality. Some brands bank on being understated, rebellious, misunderstood etc.


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