NORMAN — Miguel Cabrera has his Triple Crown. MVP award, maybe not.
Hold on, now. How could that be?
Mike Trout, that’s how.
It’s the hottest debate in baseball, seemingly pitting old-school traditionalists against new-age number crunchers in a bench-clearing shouting match over what constitutes “valuable.”
At stake is the American League’s Most Valuable Player award, perhaps the game’s top individual prize.
Cabrera capped an extraordinary season Wednesday night by becoming the first Triple Crown winner in the majors since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. The Detroit Tigers’ slugger led the league with a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs — the standard statistical categories by which excellence was commonly judged for the better part of the past century.
“If he’s not the MVP then there’s no such thing,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Trout, however, made some history of his own. Called up from the minors three weeks into the season, the Los Angeles Angels’ rookie quickly became a never-before-seen force prior to his 21st birthday.
Trout batted .326, second to Cabrera, with 30 homers and 83 RBIs. He also led the majors with 49 stolen bases (in 54 attempts) and 129 runs — 20 more than Cabrera in 22 fewer games. The slumping Angels were 6-14 when they brought up Trout and went 83-59 the rest of the way.
The first big league rookie to reach 30 homers and 40 steals in one season and the youngest player with a 30-30 campaign, Trout struck out 41 more times than Cabrera but committed only four errors in the outfield.
Cabrera had 13 errors after unselfishly switching back to third base when the Tigers signed first baseman Prince Fielder last winter.
For anyone who thought winning the Triple Crown would automatically anoint Cabrera the MVP, take note of this: There have been nine Triple Crown seasons since the MVP award was introduced for each league in 1931.
Four times, the Triple Crown winner was beaten out for MVP by a player on a pennant winner.
Chuck Klein of the Philadelphia Phillies lost to New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell in 1933. Yankees slugger Lou Gehrig was topped by Detroit catcher Mickey Cochrane the following year. And then Boston’s Ted Williams, unpopular with certain writers, fell short to Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon (1942) and center fielder Joe DiMaggio (1947).