Hockey gets a lot of things right, but I'm particularly fond of its awards. While the NHL has the usual offerings — MVP, rookie of the year, coach of the year — the league separates itself with some really creative honors. Plus, all the awards have cool names, like the Art Ross Trophy!
Baseball needs more of this. So before the post–MLB awards week haze sets in and we all try to forget that we've been arguing about Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for what feels like the last 65 years, let's create some hockey-style awards for America's favorite pastime.
The Bonnie Raitt Trophy
Description: The player who most gives 'em something to talk about.
2013 winner: Alex Rodriguez. Even though A-Rod only played in 44 games, nobody got the ol’ debate machine going this season quite like he did. Since at this point Yankees fans like criticizing Rodriguez more than they actually like baseball, we should probably just etch A-Rod’s name into the trophy (a guitar with a bat for the neck) for each of the past 10 seasons. Biogenesis, a drug scandal that feels like it was ripped from the pages of a bad John Grisham novel, certainly hasn't helped A-Rod. But while this year produced a particularly potent field of controversial ballplayers, if controversy were like hitting, A-Rod would be Ty Cobb.
In case you were rocking a CFL jersey in court, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts once again used their comeback magic to eke out a 30-27 win over the Tennessee Titans. "Wow, we were pretty fortunate to get that win," Luck said after the game. When asked by reporters to phrase his comments another way, Luck replied, "It was a hell of a fortuitous outcome, that's for sure. Chance favored us, as we were blessed with kismet." When asked again to phrase what he was saying in perhaps a simpler and more headline-friendly way, Luck said, "Oh, I see. Well, I would say we struck gold with this team. I would say the win was in the cards. Some may say we caught the breaks, that our run has been a fluke, that the gods were smiling upon us, that victory and my team were joined by serendipity. I mean, we got horseshoes on our helmets and clovers in our pockets, so what would you expect?" Luck then glared at the assembled media and added, "Suck it, for me."
Andre Iguodala's buzzer-beater was the difference as the Golden State Warriors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 116-115, in a riveting Western Conference battle. "Another tough loss, but we're so close," an optimistic Kevin Durant said at the postgame press conference. "I mean, we're just one player away from being really good. And it's no one's fault that we don't have that guy. This front office and ownership group has only made smart decisions." Durant then went to take a sip of water, when things went horribly awry. Durant started shooting sparks out of his mouth, and saying in a horrific robotic voice, "FAILURE, ROBOTIC FAILURE, MUST POWER DOWN, WHY WOULD YOU PROGRAM ME TO FEEL PAIN?" before collapsing to the ground and bursting into flames. Suddenly, a human Durant burst into the room yelling, "They drugged me! They didn't want me to talk," before looking at his robotic double dying on the ground at his feet. "You tried to play God, you monsters!" Durant yelled, as he held his robot double's head in his hands. "All to save a couple million bucks on the Harden deal. This robot must have cost that much. Curse you, Clay Bennett! Curse you!"
If baseball's MVP voters allowed objective criteria to guide them, we wouldn’t have much of a debate about which two players deserve to win the award. But without debate, why bother caring about sports? Often, the empirics are so overwhelmingly in favor of one conclusion that the rest of us have to make up retorts in order to argue, or reconcile an individual’s performance with his team's performance, or simply tell a better story.
After last year's voters convinced themselves that Miguel Cabrera and David Price had better MVP and Cy Young claims than Mike Trout and Justin Verlander, respectively, I became certain that it's possible to argue any case as long as you do one thing: Instead of starting with evidence and using it to draw a conclusion, you have to start with a desired conclusion and then cherry-pick the evidence that supports it. You can pick and choose your data, ignore context, and, if necessary, contradict facts altogether. You just have to hope no one calls you on it.
Cabrera and Price were bad awards picks, but we regularly elect people to high office who make crazier arguments than "David Price should win the Cy Young" and nobody bats an eye.
Later today, Cabrera will likely beat out Trout for AL MVP honors for the second year in a row. That's stupid — but so is once again trying to explain why that's stupid. Instead, it’s time to sharpen our debate pistons and test the limits of our logical and rhetorical creativity. Because there’s an argument to be made — “there’s an argument to be made,” by the way, is the lifeblood of people who make inane points to get attention — for a couple truly outrageous MVP candidates.
Justin Verlander won the Cy Young in 2011, and he should have won it again last year. This past season was less kind to Detroit's marquee starter: He turned 30, broke up with Kate Upton, and was surpassed in the public consciousness by Clayton Kershaw. Verlander will likely finish behind two of his rotation mates (Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez) in Cy Young voting this year, and deservedly so. He was still better than most, but he looked mortal.
In case you were busy investing heavily in Kyle Field grass futures, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Justin Verlander threw a gem and Miguel Cabrera broke out of his slump with a two-run home run as the Detroit Tigers advanced to the ALCS with a 3-0 win over the Oakland Athletics. Earlier in the day things were not looking good. On a cartoon baseball field on a faraway planet, Mike Trout and a team of misfits made up of one male bunny, one attractive female bunny, a duck, a devil, a skunk, a hunter, a chicken, a pig, a cat, and Dan Aykroyd were down to their last at-bat in a baseball game with the fate of the world at stake. Their alien opponents, led by Pog, who had stolen Miguel Cabrera's essence, had surged to an early 66-run lead in the game. However, the plucky toons had battled back behind Trout's 16-for-16 game with 16 grand slams, along with an Aykroyd solo home run. The score was 66-65 with Trout at the plate, the bases loaded, Pog on the mound, a full count, and two outs. Trout called his shot to Pog, yelling, "I'm swinging for the fences," which caused the fences to briefly have cartoonishly bulging eyes. Pog smiled at Trout and reared back to throw; it was a looping breaking ball, exactly the pitch Trout had been sitting on. Trout winked and swung, but Pog had deviously thrown a spitball and it drooled all over his bat making him miss. "Strike three!" yelled the ump. Trout was crushed, the game was over, and Earth and Cabrera were doomed … Or were they?
Eli Manning's poor season continued as the quarterback threw three more interceptions and his New York Giants fell to 0-6 with a 27-21 loss to the Chicago Bears. "I don't ever lose confidence," Manning said after the game as his cell phone blared out "Rocky Top." "Sorry," he said as he muted it. "Someone's trying to get a hold of me. Asshole. Anyway, as I was saying, I don't ever lose confidence as—" but Manning was interrupted as his cell phone began to ring out "Rocky Top" again. "I'm so sorry guys," Manning said. "Some jerk set a personal ring on this phone, and I don't know how to change it." Manning then turned from the podium and saw a new incoming text message: "should I let the jags win? then you guys can be the best at being bad. pick up ur phone and let me kno brah. ciao, pey2kpounds."
The playoffs are a time for triumph and joy, and in a month our lasting image for the season will be some team celebrating a World Series win with champagne and goggles. But it would be wrong to ignore the flip side of that coin. Wayyyy more teams will lose, and their fans will suffer heartbreak and pain. Plus hatred. Deep, ugly, satisfying hatred. The harsh fact is that if you're a fan of the nine remaining teams, there's an 88.888888 percent chance that you'll end up watching someone else's champagne bash with envy and bitterness. You don't want to admit it yet, but you probably are the 89 percent. To help you prepare, here's a quick primer on the most hateable player from each of the remaining teams.
It's the last weekend of the regular season, which means it's also the last MLB Weekend Top 10. That would be sad, in its way, if I weren't just drowning in Coca-Cola right now. I don't have any emotions except alert, and so I can't write a proper eulogy for the Top 10 until this tremendous wave of energy has crested and fizzled, at which point it will be too late. However, I can damn well make a list that correctly counts down from 10 to one. It's my main ability, and I'd like to exercise it now as we search for whatever bits of drama remain in an underwhelming playoff race.
10. The Last Champagne Party (CHC-STL)
Do you think the Cardinals waited to clinch the division until the last series on purpose, just so they could celebrate in front of the Cubs and really rub it in? I, for one, hope so. I also hope they invite Steve Bartman to the game and let him throw out the first pitch.
In case you were busy being quietly content with Greg Schiano, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Texas Rangers broke a seven-game skid and reasserted themselves in the AL wild-card race with a 7-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. When asked how snapping the losing streak felt, Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler shrugged and said, "Eh, not so great. Really, I thought it would be better, but at this point in the year, all these games are pretty much the same." When asked if he hoped the momentum from this game would carry the team into the playoffs, Kinsler replied, "Nope," before catching himself and adding, "Which isn't to say I don't want to make the playoffs; I just don't care either way. If we make them, great. If not, meh."
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara's streak of retiring 37 consecutive hitters was snapped as he took the loss in the Baltimore Orioles' 3-2 victory over Boston. Uehara was in good spirits despite the rare loss, saying after the game, "Tomorrow is another day for me to start a streak." Then, after a brief pause, the 38-year-old Uehara frowned and added, "Actually, man, that streak was really hard. Really, really hard. I doubt that I can start another one like that at my age. Is the best of me in the past?" Uehara let his mind cast back to his youth, when he was a top student, when he first picked up a baseball as a child. Then forward to the pride he felt getting into the Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences. "Was that almost 20 years ago?" he mumbled to himself as he let his mind cast forward to his streak of 15 consecutive wins in 1999 as a Yomiuri Giant, when he won the Rookie of the Year and Eiji Sawamura Awards. Then his two Japan Series titles in 2000 and 2002. "Over a decade ago," he said out loud to no one in particular. Then his unbeaten run in international play came back to him, including his World Baseball Classic title in 2006. "I was old then now?" And now this run. What was left in that right arm of his, he thought to himself, what was left to prove? "Well, we better win the whole damn thing," Uehara exclaimed, snapping back to the present: an empty Fenway Park locker room, as he had been left alone in his reverie, a tired body worn down by decades of pitches. "Yes," he said, this time in a more reserved tone, "the whole damn thing."
The main message I want to convey up top is that if you're a real baseball fan, you won't watch any college football this weekend. Anyone who watches even a minute of college football on Saturday is a traitor to baseball and shouldn't be allowed to watch the World Series ever again. And now that we understand each other, let's go to the top 10!
10. Laboring on Labor Day (Kershaw!)
Hey, everyone, it's a four-day weekend! If you're a traitor who will be indulging in college football on Saturday, the good news is that you can still get your second baseball fix on Monday. All 30 teams are in action on Labor Day, and most of the games are afternoon tilts.
The arrival of Labor Day means that awful, horrible summer is OVER. It's been rainy for the past three months in North Carolina, and when you combine that with the heat, it creates this terrible, steamy cauldron that reduces me to a giant walking sweat-man the minute I step outdoors. So hurray for Labor Day. Also hurray for baseball, because on Monday we get to see Clayton Kershaw. With an ERA of 1.72, he's looking to beat 2000 Pedro Martinez (1.74) for the best season-ending ERA of the millennium. (Doesn't including the word "millennium" introduce a nice gravity to the whole thing? Totally undeserved, but still.)
In case you were busy arguing about the correct definition of "blue moon," here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Red Sox superprospect Xander Bogaerts went 0-for-3 in his major league debut, and Marco Scutaro drew a walk-off RBI walk to give San Francisco a strange 3-2 win over Boston. "We're disappointed with the loss, but we think we have something good here with Bogaerts," said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington over a cacophony of ringing phones. "Hold on, let me just get this. Yeah, hello, this is Cherington. No Billy. No. No. It's just one game Billy. No. No deal. How stupid do you think I am Billy? That stupid? Really? Wow. I've literally never said anything like that to another man's face in my life. No. No. Still no. Yes, I understand that phones aren't faces. No. I'm hanging up now, Billy. Bye. Bye. No. Bye."
Los Angeles phenom Yasiel Puig was benched and fined for being late to the ballpark in Miami, but still found a way to be his team's hero, blasting the decisive home run in the eighth inning of the Dodgers' 6-4 win over the Marlins. "Rules are rules," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, "and I'm going to enforce them until its strategically untenable to continue to do so. Literally nothing but a moment in which I will gain a strategic advantage as a baseball tactician will stop me from enforcing them. Or if I forget about the rule I'm in the middle of enforcing. Or if I think the person who broke the rule is really sorry. Those are the only three ways I'll let anyone on my team get away with anything."
More good news for Detroit — it's in three separate entries this week! Let the good times roll!
10. Hey, Everyone, the Orioles Still Exist (COL-BAL)
Has any team gone from "national darling" to "completely ignored" in one year while still being a really good baseball team? Granted, the Orioles spent last season winning what felt like 87 straight extra-inning games, and their flair for the dramatic has ebbed slightly in 2013. But this club is still 10 games over .500 and just 2½ games back of the last wild-card spot. It's almost a shame that they've been lost in the Dodgers-Pirates-Royals-Rays feisty-underdog shuffle. The Orioles are essentially like your friend's 6-year-old kid who's amazing at piano. The first time you see it, you're genuinely impressed. The second time, you're more like, "OK, we get it, the kid's good at piano, let's do something else," and finally you stop going to their house at all because you can't take the piano anymore. Meanwhile, the kid is like, "What did I do? Sorry for being awesome at the piano, dicks."
It all played out like the most clichéd sports movie you've ever seen. The Tigers trailed the Yankees by two runs in the ninth inning. Two outs, two strikes, man on second. Mariano Rivera reared back to throw his unhittable cutter. This time, the batter did hit that unhittable pitch. Just not the way he wanted.
Taking a big rip, Miguel Cabrera fouled the cutter off his left knee. The Tigers slugger winced and hopped on impact, no surprise given that by the naked eye and advanced stats, he hits the ball harder than just about anyone else on Earth. Cleared by his manager Jim Leyland and Tigers trainer Kevin Rand, Cabrera limped back to the plate and fouled another 93 mph cutter right off the same knee.
In obvious pain, Cabrera shuffled back to the dish. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Rivera again tried to bust Cabrera inside and off the plate. This time, he missed his target, throwing his cutter over the plate, middle-in. The pitch hovered just above the knees, not a gimme by any means, certainly not for a batter now playing on one leg. Cabrera reached down, took a rip, and drove the ball to dead center. Brett Gardner raced back, looked up and watched it crash into the net over the center-field wall, the one protecting Monument Park. As Cabrera rounded the bases, the cameras caught Rivera's reaction. "Wow," mouthed the greatest closer in baseball history.
It's a shame the players posthumously honored with those big, red granite blocks in Monument Park weren't around to express their own reactions. Given what Cabrera has done this year, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Mantle might've tipped their caps, acknowledging that rarest of breeds: a true peer.
August may be the lowliest sports month of all, but we've got ourselves a fantastic little weekend of professional baseball. Feast your eyes, perk your ears, and open your hearts: It's list time.
10. The Battle for Tejas (TEX-HOU)
For so long, we've watched a pair of mighty franchises duel for the hearts and minds of the Lone Star state. One, the Rangers, has been an American League force for years, and even came within a hair's breadth of winning a World Series in 2011. The other is the Houston Astros. One is a perennial heavyweight, boasting big hitters, strong young arms, and the quirky managerial style of Ron Washington. The other is the Houston Astros. One is owned by a great icon of the game, Nolan Ryan, a crusty old maverick surrounded by young geniuses building a dynasty with good old-fashioned Texas grit. The other is the Houston Astros. When these rivals collide this weekend, loyalties across the state will be torn, and only one team will emerge with bragging rights in the mightiest state in the union. There's no way to know who will triumph, but I can tell you this: It won't be the Astros.
You won't find many gloomier weeks of headlines for any sport than what baseball's getting right now. Ryan Braun has been compared to a cockroach. Alex Rodriguez is "the Whitey Bulger of baseball." We're drowning in PED rumors, PED news, and especially PED outrage.
The latest sordid report has A-Rod and the Yankees sniping back and forth at each other over a quad injury that may or may not exist. The Yankees are blocking him from playing, says Rodriguez and his multiple emissaries. A-Rod is violating the collective bargaining agreement by asking a doctor for a second opinion without team consent, says Yankees management. Meanwhile, another report speculated that Rodriguez could be facing a lifetime ban for PED possession and various bad behavior related to said possession, despite having zero prior suspensions on his record.
With apologies to those who revel in seeing Steve Delabar face Marco Scutaro, there is no worse time of year for sports fans than this week's four-day dead zone. So what better time to hand out our midseason MLB awards? Here then are the players and teams that have made the biggest impact in the first half, with a sneak peek at a few potential second-half twists. We start with the American League today, followed by the National League tomorrow.