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.
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.
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 hiding out in your ill-conceived meteor shower bunker, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Texas starter Yu Darvish came close to throwing a no-hitter in Houston, but had to settle for a 2-1 win over the Astros after it was broken up with a solo home run by catcher Carlos Corporan. "Carlos seems like a great guy," Darvish said after the game, his lip quivering. "I totally get why my no-hitter would go and fly off with him. It makes total sense to me. I just — I just wish I knew what I'm doing wrong. If I could change who I am, I would. Really. Every time I get close to a no-hitter, it pulls away, and I never see it again. Then another no-hitter comes around, everything seems like it's going great, and bam. Gone again. It shouldn't be this hard." Darvish then shook his head and smiled. "I guess that's what makes it worth it, right? If it were easy, it wouldn't be as meaningful. I get it. I really do. I really, really, really do."
Despite another late scare, David Robertson and the New York Yankees made Hiroki Kuroda's gem hold up for a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels. Robertson, who was visibly relieved after the game, said of his performance, "This team needed a pickup, and I am glad I could bring it. Got some great love from my teammates plus a weird call from a dude calling himself Brosh-Dog saying I'm 'in on clutchtrueyanks.biz,' whatever that means. Then I got a follow-up text saying not to tell Alex about clutchtrueyanks.biz because that would ruin it. Then I got some texts from my family. Then more texts about not telling Alex about some dumb website. Really though, I'm happy for the team and for Mo, that I'm able to give him a day off so he can come back strong. And also I think that website gave me a virus."
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.
For those of you who weren’t already aware, Mark Teixeira was traded twice a few years back, and as it turns out, those trades completely upset the course of baseball events, on a scale that alternate-history novels are written. It’s not an exaggeration to say that had either of those trades shaken out differently, we’d be looking at a radically unfamiliar baseball landscape.
In 2007, the Atlanta Braves were coming off their first playoff absence since 1990, a remarkable run that we underrate historically because they lost four of their five World Series appearances in that time. On July 31, 2007, sitting third in a close three-way battle for the NL East, they traded five minor leaguers to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay. Mahay was a pretty good middle reliever at the time, but a middle reliever nonetheless. The big get was Teixeira. In the years since, Teixeira signed a massive free-agent contract that covered his decline years, lost his foot speed and defensive ability, battled injuries, and watched his offensive output drop off precipitously. Which is to say that he’s become the archetypal modern New York Yankee.
But in 2007, he was a terrific baseball player. Over his first four and a half seasons with Texas, he was worth nearly 24 wins above replacement. He hit for average and power from both sides of the plate, played more or less every day, and had developed a good reputation with the glove. Teixeira was unflappable, just the kind of hitter who would show up at the ballpark and mechanically, monotonously, dispassionately grind his opponents into dust. He was, to paraphrase David Mamet, so cool that when he went to bed, sheep counted him.
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.
Last night, some MLB dudes did some yard work (total insider baseball term there) at the 2013 Home Run Derby. Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A's bested Bryce Harper in the final round, which means Harper has to serve as the Cuban slugger's personal bat boy for the rest of the season. Tough break, Nats fans. On the bright side, he probably is safe from doing this for a while.
Just kidding (Harper is never safe from running into a wall). Anyway, you probably saw some of the action last night, since there was possibly literally nothing else on except The Bachelorette. But in case you missed it, here are some of the best moments from the Derby in GIF form, courtesy of Grantland's GIF Derby winner, @HeyBelinda.
Baseball might be the only one of the four major sports in which the All-Star Game is more entertaining than its baggage. The Pro Bowl is awful, a chore so eye-roll worthy that players routinely look for reasons to beg out of a free postseason trip to Hawaii. But because it’s the NFL, everyone watches anyway. If Roger Goodell announced that a group of NFL players would spend four hours one afternoon slaughtering chickens, millions would watch on television, and hundreds of columnists and broadcasters would speak at great length in stern, sober voices about how slaughtering chickens is part of the fabric of the American spirit, and that it instills character in young men. The NFL doesn’t need a skills competition.
But the other three sports do, and in a couple cases, they’re great. How often does the slam dunk contest wind up being more memorable than the All-Star Game itself? (Answer: Almost every year.) The NHL has a wildly entertaining trick-shot competition, a fastest skater contest, the breakaway challenge, and the hardest-shot competition (also known as the most frustrating 20 minutes of Shea Weber’s year). And best of all, the NHL chooses sides playground-style, in a televised draft that showcases the personalities of the game’s biggest stars.
What does MLB have? The celebrity softball game, which, due respect to Chord Overstreet’s spectacular diving catch in the 2011 edition, ain’t exactly the dunk contest; and the Home Run Derby, which consists of several hours of David Ortiz trying much harder to get on television than he ever did to get on base. We can do better, and here’s how.
In case you were busy spending your holiday weekend reeling after rewatching Independence Day only to discover that, Pullman and Goldblum aside, it's a pretty bad film, here's what you missed in sports over the July 4 weekend:
Houston secured the coup of the NBA free-agent season, procuring All-Star center Dwight Howard's services for the next four years, on an $88 million deal. "It was tough to make my decision, but finally, at the end of the day, I had to say to myself, 'Houston, we don't have a problem,'" Howard said with a smirk as he discussed the deal publicly for the first time. "Get it? Apollo 13? They were all like, 'Houston, we have a problem.' Man, remember how funny that movie was?" When met with dumb stares, Howard added, "I mean, they were all good options. Being a free agent, though, is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you're gonna get." Howard then paused for laughs that weren't coming. "Forrest Gump! Come on! God, getting laughs from you guys is harder than the president with Monica Lewinsky. I mean, you guys are tougher than Judge Ito on Marcia Clark. Is this thing even on? Someone tell me how raunchy I'm being. Someone tell me that now, so I can be all like,'Oh, behave!' Now! I am Dwight Howard, funniest man in basketball, and I will not let my big free agency move fail to get me laughs! Someone set me up for a classic Mike Myers one-liner, now!" Howard then sighed and added, "Screw it, I'm going back to L.A."
In case you were busy redecorating your second solarium, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Behind an overtime goal from Brent Seabrook, the Chicago Blackhawks escaped Boston with a riveting 6-5 overtime victory over the Bruins, evening the Stanley Cup Final at 2-2. Wait, 6-5? What kind of hockey score is that? That's more like a baseball score if say the home team scored five runs and the visitors scored six, or the score of a really annoying football game involving John Skelton at quarterback, or the score of an NBA game before the first official timeout, or the score of a WNBA game at the half, or the score of a soccer game that is relatively high scoring, but the score of a hockey game? 6-5? Come on.
In the Los Angeles Dodgers' first-ever regular-season appearance at Yankee Stadium, rookie sensation Yasiel Puig hit his fifth home run as the Dodgers beat the Yankees, 6-0,to salvage a split of their doubleheader. "New York City, city of dreams," Puig said after the game, as he had his taxi driver just take him around for a while so he could clear his head. "Sometimes I dream I'm still me, still back in Cuba; I wake up and I'm a boy again. And I have to live my life right to get back here. How do you know if you're living right?," Puig asked his driver as they hurtled over the Manhattan Bridge, but the driver didn't say anything. Puig took in the enormousness of the city in silence. Then he asked, "Do you know who I am?," but his driver shook his head and apologized. "That's OK. Don't say you're sorry. I'm just a kid. Scared. Scared this isn't even real. What if all of these buildings are just hollow? Architectural artifice? No one lives here. It's just a movie set. Or, what if we're collectively imagining them? What if you wake up and I die? You don't know me, but you made me. If that's true then what good is a 1.289 OPS?" A flash of recognition, a glint in the driver's eye. "Wait, are you Yasiel Puig?" Puig sighed. "Is anyone?"
Here is a link to a Los Angeles Times column by Bill Shaikin, who argues that Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers’ 22-year-old Cuban wunderkind, will not duplicate in 2013 the success that Mike Trout had across town in 2012 because Trout had more experience than Puig does now. Shaikin’s right, of course, but the real argument is much simpler: Nobody will do what Mike Trout did.
Trout was the no. 1 prospect in the game. Trout, at age 20, posted a 10.9-WAR season. Blah blah blah WAR imperfect caveat whatever, but that demolished the record for a player that age, set by Alex Rodriguez with a 9.3 in 1996. In fact, the only other players to beat seven wins at age 20 were Mel Ott and Al Kaline, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame.
Bryce Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high-schooler. He got his GED so he could go to college (where he became the first juco player to win the Golden Spikes Award, baseball’s version of the Heisman), and got drafted no. 1 overall. Anyone who didn’t think Trout was the top prospect in baseball would have chosen Harper. He won Rookie of the Year in the National League, at age 19, with a 5.2-WAR season. The only other teenage position players to beat three wins? Ott, Edgar Renteria, and Ken Griffey Jr.
So is there precedent for the types of seasons Harper and Trout had? Sure. But you have to go back to A-Rod to get it for Trout, and you have to go back to Griffey to get it for Harper.
Which brings us back to Yasiel Puig, that armored cavalry division of a man who led off for the Dodgers last night in his first major league appearance, went 2-for-4, and made a superb throw to double off Chris Denorfia to end the game.
In case you were even busier not making up with Sergio Garcia, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Despite an epic comeback to force overtime, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker proved to be too much for the Memphis Grizzlies, who fell into a 2-0 hole in the Western Conference finals after falling, 93-89, to the San Antonio Spurs. "All praise to Tim for this win," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. "He spends his offseasons as a scoutmaster, so bear traps are kind of his thing. And in this case he set a really good one made out of leafy foliage and letting Jerryd Bayless try to beat us. I was nervous it wasn't going to hold, but Tim's such a calm presence that we stuck with it and came out of there with another trophy for our mantle." Popovich then laughed nervously and added, "figuratively."
Joe Thornton led the San Jose Sharks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings to even up their series at two games apiece. When asked if Thornton was a thorn in his team's side, Kings coach Darryl Sutter said, "No. He's a Thornton on their side." When asked again, Sutter angrily replied, "You want your headline? Here's your headline: Sharks Swim Over Deposed Kings as Thornton Proves a Thorn in the Too Slow Quick's Side." Sutter then yelled angrily, "You monsters! Look what's become of you. Making me, Daryl Sutter, utter those words in that order! Look what's become of me!"