By: Jamie Samuelsen
In a debate that sometimes got more heated than Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney, Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP tonight. And for at least one day or one season the old school baseball crowd won out over the new school.
This thing long ago stopped being about Cabrera or the Angels’ Mike Trout, who finished second. Both had unbelievable years. Both were deserving candidates. And in any other year, either one probably could have won the award unanimously. But this season became a culture war between the baseball we’d watched for the last 100 years and the baseball that we were now TOLD we were watching. Confused? Yep. I was too.
Cabrera destroyed major league pitching for the first Triple Crown since 1967. He handled the switch from first base to third much better than anyone could have expected. And he led the Tigers to their second straight division title. Trout led the AL in runs even though he was in the minors for the first month of the season (and whoever kept Trout in AAA ball in April should be fired. Quickly.) Trout was a stud in the outfield even though he didn’t win one of the three Gold Gloves given to the American League outfielders. And he of course posted a 10.4 WAR (Wins Against Replacement) according to some measurements which dwarfed Cabrera’s 6.8.
WAR was the crux of this debate. And I think it was a very good debate. Some people chose to cover up their ears and eyes (and noses) and ignore the stat and insult all those who believed in it. Others loved the stat and seemed to ignore every other stat in the game when setting this scuffle. I like WAR. I think WAR matters. But I don’t think it’s the only way to measure a ball player. WAR didn’t take into account the fact that Cabrera’s move to third allowed the Tigers to sign Prince Fielder and play him every day. WAR didn’t take into account the fact that Cabrera became a leader on the team and helped Latino players like Avisail Garcia and Anibal Sanchez blend into the clubhouse. And WAR didn’t take into account the fact that Cabrera delivered the big hit each and every time, but still did his best to prop up his teammates and give them credit for the team’s success. (I’ll never forget when Cabrera dragged Austin Jackson to the postgame interview after Cabrera’s home run capped a ridiculous comeback against the Indians in August. Cabrera felt that Jackson’s double was the key hit in a 5-run tenth inning.)
Ultimately, Cabrera’s numbers were too big for Trout’s WAR. And Cabrera’s historical achievement was one that couldn’t be ignored. Voters talked about how agonizing the vote was, and it would have been for anybody. But I think the majority of voters sat at their desks and looked at their ballot and decided that they couldn’t keep the MVP away from the Triple Crown winner. They just couldn’t do it. Maybe the crown is arbitrary. Perhaps it’s overrated. But it still means a lot. And Cabrera proved just how much it means.
The Triple Crown and the MVP Crown should go hand in hand. And in 2012, they do – right here in Detroit.