Tonight, the results of the voting for the AL and NL MVPs will be announced. In the NL, Kris Bryant will likely win in a landslide, as he was the league’s best player, played on the league’s best team, and put up big numbers in the categories that get the most attention. Daniel Murphy and Corey Seager also had terrific years, but I’d be surprised if either got more than a handful of first place votes. And when Bryant wins, everyone will mostly nod along in agreement, as the process will have worked to select the right candidate.
In the AL, though, it’s going to be a different story. Mookie Betts is probably going to win, and instead of celebrating the accomplishments of one of the best young players in the game, there is going to be outrage. There is going to be yelling. There is going to be anger and frustration. Twitter is going to be a dumpster fire, even more than usual. Because once again, Mike Trout is going to finish second, and the best (human-sized) player we’ve ever seen is going to say something nice about an inferior player who got rewarded for having better teammates again.
And then there’s going to be the same arguments that got trotted out every year. “It’s the Most Valuable Player Award, not the Best Player Award”, they’ll say. And then people will point out that it’s a distinction without a difference, and back-and-forth things will go until everyone gets distracted by a trade or something. And then we’ll do all this again in another 12 months, since the Angels don’t look like they’re really in any kind of position to put Trout in the playoffs. And round and round we’ll go.
Tonight, we could be celebrating the fact that we’ve had the privilege to watch a guy who has outgrown the Mickey Mantle comparison. We could be talking about the obvious greatness of one of the very best baseball players who has ever lived. We could be collectively thankful that we happen to be alive at a time where everyone gets to watch Mike Trout play, to see what an all-time great in his prime looks like.
But unless things have changed more rapidly than we currently think, we’re going to end up debating the meaning of the word valuable, and congratulating Mookie Betts for having the good fortune to be drafted by a team that has other good players too.
Because, let’s be honest, no one thinks the Red Sox would have won fewer games had they engineered a preseason trade of Betts for Trout. No one thinks Betts would have magically carried the Angels to the playoffs if he was in Anaheim this year. No one thinks Betts had a better year than Trout, because it’s a demonstrably false claim.
But Betts is likely going to be named the AL MVP because, we’ll be told, the MVP isn’t about recognizing the best player in the game. This award is apparently about recognizing the best player on a winning team, or at least a team that won enough games for voters to feel good about their predetermined decision to vote for him, even though the instructions on the ballot specifically say that’s not the criteria voters should use.
But I continue to not know why anyone would care about an award with that kind of criteria. Who was the best player in the league this year? That’s an interesting question. That’s a question worth answering. Who was the best player in the league among the teams who made the playoffs, excluding all those guys who were individually great in an environment where greatness wasn’t the norm? Who gives a crap. That’s a question that is only ever asked by baseball writers looking for a reason to continue illogical voting traditions, and no one else.
No fan in the world cares about the answer to that question, and yet, we have an award that has been molded to fit that criteria. And so we don’t have an award that answers the question that people actually care about. Who is the best player in the world? Mike Trout. Everyone who follows baseball in any real way knows that’s the truth. Why don’t we have an award that let’s us recognize that fact?
Every year we choose to give the award to someone other than the guy who is clearly the best (non-big-head-division) player we’ve seen in 75 years, the award itself loses credibility. We’re past the point of Mike Trout needing some hardware to cement his legacy; we’re now at the point where the award needs Mike Trout to win in order for a large portion of baseball fans to stop thinking of the voting process as a joke. The BBWAA needs to honor Mike Trout more than Mike Trout needs to be honored by the BBWAA.
This change is coming. Trout’s going to get some first place votes tonight, and maybe even get enough to make it a close race. The electorate is evolving, and the voters are less uniform on this issue than they were even a few years ago. At some point in the not too distant future, there will be enough voters who reject the must-play-on-a-winning-team canard that the award will become a credible piece of hardware again. And hopefully, that will happen soon enough to give Mike Trout another trophy or two, since he should be picking up his fourth tonight.
But I don’t think we’re there yet. I think Mookie Betts is going to win tonight. Mookie Betts had a great season. I wish we could spend the night talking about how great a season Mookie Betts had. But that he’s going to win is incredible, in the sense that it’s not credible. On a planet where Mike Trout exists, spending time honoring everyone but Mike Trout makes the whole thing feel like a farce.