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National Columnist

Rancor of Trout-Cabrera MVP debate has feel of presidential campaign

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Meatheads are on both sides of the aisle, and I'm not talking politics or the presidential election -- I'm discussing something of more importance:

The American League MVP debate of 2012.

OK, you're right -- it's not more important than the presidential election. Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera? That's not as big as Romney vs. Obama, though you wouldn't know it from the intensity, the rancor emanating from the depths of Trout and Cabrera's corners, from people dug so deeply into their own worldview that they can probably see the earth's molten core.

If only they'd fall in and disappear ...

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OK, that wasn't nice. And I don't want to act like the rudest people on either side of the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera debate, although I guess it's too late for that. Look at the first word of this story (wait till you get to the end!): I came out of the chute calling people names, but you know what? These people deserve it. People like Rob Parker and Keith Law of ESPN. But also people like Jerry Green of the Detroit News and Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. And more. Lots more.

Trout vs. Cabrera echoes Romney vs. Obama in that people on both sides have lost their damn minds.

If you're a Trout guy, you're not really a Trout guy but a sabermetric guy. Which means you're a dork, a geek, someone looking at a "pocket protector, glasses, laptop and another date-less night," in the embarrassing words of Rob Parker.

If you're a Cabrera guy, you're not really a Cabrera guy but a hick stuck in 1979, when stats were stats and RBI ruled the earth. Which means you're a moron, because the RBI should go the way of the T-Rex and just give it up. There's a new species of baseball fan in town, a smarter, more evolved species than you "Luddites" who are actually impressed by Cabrera's Triple Crown, which is "cute, arbitrary, anachronistic and dated" in the embarrassing words of Keith Law.

Those are our options in this MVP race, you see. It's not a choice between Cabrera and Trout -- it's a choice between Parker and Law, and the people who think like them. And they're everywhere. Make a statement on Twitter on behalf of either MVP candidate, and the crazies come out of the woodwork. And again, I'm calling both sides crazy. I'm not taking a side, not really, other than to say Mike Trout deserves the MVP and Miguel Cabrera deserves the MVP and since only one player can be the MVP, I'd give the trophy to Cabrera.

Why? Not because Trout did anything wrong. But because Cabrera did win the Triple Crown, which is the Holy Grail of baseball stats for a reason, and because Cabrera did join Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig as the only players in baseball history with 137 RBI, 203 hits, 40 doubles and 44 homers in the same season, and because Cabrera did significantly outperform Trout in August and September, and while the MVP covers the full season, the months of August and September are rather important. And anyway, if the MVP should weigh every month equally, as Trout's backers say to dismiss the August-September effect, how can Trout win it? He missed almost all of April because he was in the minor leagues. Can't have it both ways, people.

Anyway, I've got nothing against Trout. Hell, just a few weeks ago I wrote about the magical season Trout was having, and concluded he should be the MVP. That's how I felt on Aug. 13. But the rest of August happened, and so did September, and Trout went cool while Cabrera went nuts. So today, if I had a vote, I'd vote for Cabrera. When the facts change, opinions can change too.

Either way, someone's getting screwed. This is 1941 all over again, when Ted Williams hit .406 and Joe DiMaggio had a 56-game hitting streak. They couldn't both win the MVP, so DiMaggio won it. Williams got screwed. Life went on.

Life was simpler back then. No Internet, obviously. No sabermetrics, either, so there was nobody to point out that Williams' OPS was 200 points higher than DiMaggio's (1.287 to 1.083), and that Williams' WAR was also significantly higher (10.1 to 8.6).

Old-school baseball fans tend to hate WAR, of course. They hate it because they don't understand it, which means they hate it out of ignorance. Rather than trying to learn something new, they disparage it as unnecessary. If you've gotten this far into the story and think I'm railing only against fans of sabermetrics, you're not as smart as you think you are. Because the nonsense is on both sides. Green and Madden, two veteran and respected writers who have been around baseball for decades -- and who prefer Cabrera over Trout in the MVP race -- embarrassed themselves recently by attacking WAR.

Wrote Green: WAR is the "relatively new Moneyball style of crackpot sabermetrics stat described as wins above replacement. Whatever that means." And wrote Madden: "Cabrera has fallen victim to that nebulous (I would say ludicrous) new-age sabermetric stat called WAR. ... This growing infatuation with WAR is, in my opinion, turning baseball into an inhuman board game."

It's both sides, people, and each side points a finger at the other. ESPN's Law decried opinions such as those put forth by Green and Madden as "ad hominem arguments: rather than dispute the facts, some Cabrera partisans ... are focusing on the person arguing for Trout, rather than on Trout's credentials."

Lovely, isn't it? Keith Law called Cabrera's backers "Luddites" and mocked their reliance on old methods by noting, "I assume that the next time you're sick, you'll ask your doctor to bleed you with leeches." And he's the one whining about the ad hominem attacks? Now then, Keith, that's cute.

Both sides. Ugh. They take the fun out of the debate, because it's no longer a debate. It's a game of putdowns, so predictable that USA Today's highly regarded Bob Nightengale couldn't write in support of Cabrera as MVP without urging both sides, "There's no need for name-calling."

Apparently there is, Bob. It's happening this year, it'll happen next year, and it will happen every year, ad infinitum -- and ad hominem. Name-calling. Finger-pointing. It's Rush Limbaugh vs. Keith Olbermann, only worse. Those antagonists are debating something as important as democracy.

Rob Parker and Keith Law? All you're debating is baseball. Which side of your vicious aisle wins -- Trout's side or Cabrera's side? Neither. Nobody wins. From here, you all look like losers.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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