1987 was a long time ago. 25 years, to be somewhat exact. Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers have wildly differing views of this fateful season. The Tigers, of course, reeled in the Blue Jays to win the AL East title in the final week of the year, a then-historic collapse for a team affectionately known in the local media as the “Blow Jays.”
The Jays exacted a measure of revenge on Tigers fans when it came to awards season. The Tigers of 1987 were powered by terrific middle infield: Lou Whittaker and Alan Trammell were one of the finest double play combinations in the game. Alan Trammell posted ridiculous numbers across the board in 1987, putting up a mind-boggling .343/.402/.551 slash line from the shortstop position, hitting 28 home runs and stealing 21 bases in 23 tries and posting a wRC+ of 156. His season was worth 8 Wins Above Replacement, thanks in no small part to his steady defense at the most important spot on the diamond. Sounds like an MVP campaign to me!
Except it wasn’t. Why? Runs Batted In.
Alan Trammell was not the most valuable player in the American League in 1987, according to the votes of the Baseball Writers Association of America. That distinction went to George Bell of the Toronto Blue Jays. Bell had a monster season, hitting 47 home runs and driving in 134 runs. Great numbers, obviously. His home run total and .605 slugging percentage were second best in the AL behind rookie Mark McGwire. But that’s about it.
Bell had fewer hits, walks, and stolen bases than Trammell. Bell played uninspiring defense in left field, bad enough that the team attempted making him a designated hitter the following year (a move Bell resisted.) George Bell hit a bunch of home runs and drove in Lloyd Moseby and Tony Fernandez with great regularity.
Trammell was arguably (not really) the better player who plays a more important position (inarguably) and did it well. He didn’t win the MVP, Bell did. Trammell was great down the stretch, hitting seven home runs and posting a 1.167 OPS in September while Bell disappeared along with his team, going just 3 for 27 during that fateful final week. If that is an important differentiator to you, it certainly looms large.
It must not be overlooked that Wade Boggs was possibly better than both of them, posting 9 WAR in 1987, powered by a borderline improbable .363/.461/.588 line with 40 doubles and 24 home runs for a mediocre REd Sox team.
Is this situation identical to the one facing AL MVP voters in 2012? Not exactly. Miguel Cabrera is having a tremendous season. Finishing second to Mike Trout’s historic year should accompany exactly zero shame. Should Miggy win the Triple Crown, it is another slice of history for one of the best offensive performers in the game today. But it doesn’t guarantee anything.
If Triple Crowns didn’t win Ted Williams MVP titles, why do they make Cabrera a shoo-in? If Joe Mauer snatches the batting title, in what way does that improve Mike Trout’s all around diamond excellence?
It doesn’t. Just like Trammell and Bell in 1987, this award deserves to go to the best baseball player. Unfortunately for Miguel Cabrera’s trophy case, Trout is better in 2012. I guess Miggy will have to settle for the $19.5 million dollars more in salary he is set to earn above Mike Trout’s pay packet. Thank heavens for small mercies, I suppose.