By Jason Keidel
We’ve all heard the pitching platitudes, comparisons, and king-making adjectives that put Clayton Kershaw in a very rare orbit, an air so rare that only the distinguished nostrils of Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson have inhaled it over the last 50 years.
Kershaw, the best pitcher in our solar system, won the NL MVP yesterday, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, but should bother everyone.
There’s a contemporary push to place starting pitchers in the same realm as everyday players, which is confusing as it is annoying. Some of us can’t get past the immutable math that a shortstop plays, well, everyday, and even the most robust starting pitcher in the sport impacts 35 games, at best.
Maybe there’s a reason no NL Pitcher has won the hardware exacta since 1968, when Gibson had perhaps the greatest season in the history of our pastime. (How he lost nine games with a 1.12 ERA is beyond my meager mind.)
One of the oldest baseball mantras asserts that momentum is only as strong as the next day’s starting pitcher. If that’s true, then even a pitcher as gifted as Kershaw has no momentum, his baffling quiver of pitches have no carryover to the next game.
And in case you can’t recall, we already have the pitching equivalent of the MVP – the Cy Young Award. By the current, nonlinear logic, Andrew McCutchen should be allowed to win the Cy Young. Why have both if they aren’t properly defined or awarded?
It takes us to the ancient debate: if starting a team would you take a starting pitcher? Or would you pick the guy who sweats out 160 games a year, who can help with his bat or glove, whose leadership is felt on almost every play, who doesn’t spend four days a week buried deep in the bullpen behind the outfield wall, spitting small mountains of sunflower seeds at his knees?
Sorry. Give me Mike Trout over Clayton Kershaw. Forget his playoff implosions, because autumn has befuddled the best pitchers in history, including my personal favorite, Greg Maddux. Randy Johnson has been shelled in October. As has Pedro Martinez. This is about April through September. And I can count on Trout contributing to exponentially more games.
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The masses and media have become spellbound by the starting pitcher. Since he, like the quarterback, holds the ball and hence the power, we imbue them with inordinate control over the team’s long-term fortunes. But at least the QB takes every snap of every game. We see the Cy Young winner twice a week, at best, for about 14 to 16 innings.
Kershaw has been so good the last few years pundits have pondered lowering the mound to make it (almost literally) an even playing field. No one is doubting his dominance. And the argument against pitchers isn’t some old, obdurate need to hang onto the past.
Progress is essential in any sport, and baseball has led the way. Baseball is the game that broke racial barriers and introduced free agency. It’s the only team sport that has different dimensions on every playing field. No two ballparks are alike, and no sport is like our pastime. That’s not a reason to give pitchers an award designed for non-pitchers.
Surely the dwindling supply of steroids and amphetamines has gelded the current crop of hitters. It leads some to think that, in the absence of PlayStation production, no everyday player earned the award.
But it really means our eyes just have to adjust to the game in its original contours. Giancarlo Stanton’s 37 HR and 105 RBI would have rated rather well in 1985. And it will in five years. But we’re not ready for the new reality. McCutchen was America’s darling last year, the progenitor of Pittsburgh’s rebirth. But since we’ve already written that narrative, he’s not nearly as trendy this year.
The fact that no one hits 60 or 70 homers anymore, puts up regular, Ruthian numbers is a good thing, and the dearth of dominant hitters shouldn’t preclude a great position player from winning the MVP.
The problem is that there’s no Mike Trout in the National League. But that’s not a good reason to misplace the NL MVP Award.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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