Can a one-man race have two people in it? Because if that can be allowed, the 2012 American League was the perfect example it with its most valuable player push. Early on, not only was there no doubt that Josh Hamilton was the best player in baseball, it was beginning to get to the point that it was time to talk about his half-season in a historical context. However, he hit a low point mid-season that opened up the door for another sensational talent to grab his place in the spotlight.
Mike Trout’s season needs no introduction, and I won’t give it another one here. But his non-stop all-around performance was so immense; it may have taken the shine from Hamilton’s effort anyway. He turned in one of the great campaigns in Major League history and made the biggest immediate impact on baseball since Ichiro and Pujols both arrived together in 2001.
These two hogged the spotlight for 90% of the year, with Adam Jones, Derek Jeter and Adrian Beltre all making their bids to crash the party as well. However, while this was going on, there was another perennial threat that was putting together his dominant year….only at a new level. There were rumblings about what he was on the verge of, and then it became clear that while the attention was on the coasts, history was going to be made in the middle, and Miguel Cabrera rightfully pulled the great MVP heist in many years.
In my final ballot for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance award season, the Stan Musial Award for AL MVP goes to an effort that was much in the vein that both Stan’s career and place in history have stood. An excellent effort, that was largely missed looking every else, until the last second.
2012 AL Stan Musial Award—Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Much of the greatness of Cabrera has been slow to be realized. Somehow, he’s carved out a niche where he is among the most feared hitters in the game, but still not the most recognized. Perhaps because he hasn’t won an individual award, has bounced around a few positions and/or was so young when he won his World Series with the Florida Marlins, that it seems like a different career. But there will be no doubt that his place in the game will be not only properly noted now; it will be respected throughout history. Because in becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, and the first undisputed one in 46, he resoundingly took his place as the best hitter in the world.
But while winning the Triple Crown is the biggest feather in his cap, it’s not what definitively seals him as the MVP of the year. It’s that he was quietly the most clutch player in baseball over the season’s last two months. The Detroit Tigers were on the verge of being the most disappointing team in baseball, from an existing expectation standpoint. In July and August, he hit .344 and .357 respectively, then turned on his power stroke in September, clubbing 10 homers in the season’s final month. He put the team on his back, and kept moving faster and faster up both the standings and League Leader boards.
In the end, the Tigers won the Central and Cabrera won his second consecutive batting title, hitting .330. In the process he set a career high in RBI with 139, and jumped his final hurdle to baseball immortality when he hit his 43rd homer, ultimately finishing with 44. Outside of his key, star-aligned numbers, Cabrera also added 205 hits and 40 doubles, while his .999 on-base + slugging percentage lead the AL as well. All of this effort pulled him into immortality, the Tigers back to October has well.
And now, the name of Miguel Cabrera (who is only 29 as well), must be mentioned on equal tier with the bests of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Medwick, Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski. And whether it takes five or another 45 years to pull off the three crown trick again, that’s a mountain where he’ll never be looked over again.
The Best of the Rest
2. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: All that’s needed to understand how good his year was is that the precocious AL leader in steals, runs scored and Wins Above Replacement had such a strong debut it cast doubt over the validity of the Triple Crown as being the measuring stick of absolute excellence.
3. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers: If Hamilton’s first half (.308/27/75) would have carried over to the second half, the wall of immortals Cabrera joined would have had Hamilton’s name on it instead.
4. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers: When Hamilton wilted, Beltre stepped up. He hit .334 in the second half and still remains as the best corner glove in baseball.
5. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees: It’s tough to be the best Yankee, and get the notice that you deserve. But yet again he reached a new personal high, hitting 33 home runs and adding 48 doubles and 196 hits as well.
6. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles: The leader of the Orioles great surge through the year and played in every game of the year, setting new career highs in hits, doubles, home runs, average and runs scored.
7. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees: How do you follow up a year where you join the 3,000 hit club and top the career Yankee hits list? Come back and rack up a league leading 216 hits at 38 years old, the second highest total of his career.
8. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers: He didn’t have the complete transcendent year he had in 2011, but Verlander won a ton of crucial games down the stretch and topped the AL in strikeouts for a second consecutive year.
9. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels: Trout got many of the headlines around the Angels success, but the team still played at its best when he was at his, and he topped 30 home runs for a MLB-record 12th consecutive year.
10. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners: King Felix’s influence was so strong that he made the Mariners the best last place club in baseball all while only contributing every fifth day. He offered a Perfect Game in August and struck out 100 while walking only 14 from June to August.
MLB Awards Season in the CHEAP SEATS, recap & preview
October 9—Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter
October 10—Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper & Mike Trout
October 11—Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year Award
October 12—Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award: Buster Posey & Miguel Cabrera
For more on the run through a crazy October, and tomorrow’s big MVP announcement in the CHEAP SEATS, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.