Triple Crown Still Matters
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 23:10
Over the past few weeks, as Miguel Cabrera neared baseball’s first Triple Crown since 1967, the lack of mainstream media attention became as much of a story as Cabrera’s pursuit itself.
No one has led either the American or National Leagues in batting average, home runs and runs batted in at the end of the season since Carl Yastrzemski over 40 years ago, but there was still almost no attention paid to the man who has just achieved one of baseball’s rarest and most sacred milestones.
Perhaps the reason that Cabrera has stayed out of the limelight is the argument that rookie Mike Trout and his near-legendary 10.3 Wins Above Replacement are more deserving of the AL MVP award. But despite Trout’s stellar showing, the Triple Crown winner deserves the MVP award — and much more media attention.
As their children grow up, the parents of baseball fans pass on the lore of the game’s incredible feats. From Ted Williams’ batting over .400 to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, baseball never fails to inspire fans with that wish to see old, seemingly impossible-to-replicate feats repeated in a new generation. And until this year, the Triple Crown belonged among these achievements. Cabrera’s chase, however, shows how baseball has changed.
Instead of a sport where the past is cherished, America’s pastime has become a statistically driven game dominated by general mangers who employ sabermetrics, the use of complex statistical analysis made famous in “Moneyball.”
The move to advanced statistics has diminished the significance of traditionally important benchmarks. Wins for pitchers are no longer as important as statistics like FIP and BABIP. In fact, the last 30-game winner in baseball — Denny McLain — is mostly forgotten.
Joining wins on the discard pile is one leg of the Triple Crown — RBIs. Stat geeks have declared the RBI too arbitrary a measure of a player, given that picking up an RBI is often based on circumstances. But in trying to substitute more effective measures, the RBI has come under unnecessary attack. It is not a perfect measure of hitting performance, but it still should be one-third of the Triple Crown.
The Triple Crown not only is made up of the three best statistical categories but also is a signal of an incredible season, one that ties us to past feats like Yastrzemski’s in 1967. WAR did not exist in 1967, so fans need statistics like the RBI to rate current heroes against the legends of baseball’s past.
The move away from the sanctity of accomplishments like the Triple Crown has become apparent in more ways than just Cabrera’s situation. After baseball’s links to steroids doomed any chance the sport had to continue to get by on its storied past, that change was only a matter of time.
Instead, that past has been erased by a generation of steroid users who posted monstrous numbers, like Barry Bonds’ 73 home runs in one season. Because of these pumped-up figures, Cabrera’s winning the Triple Crown with less than 50 home runs seems too easy. When fans cheered on Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, no one thought that chase would one day ruin the Triple Crown. It has.
As the steroid era closed, baseball realized its fan base was aging drastically. The younger fans that rooted for Bonds moved on to more exciting sports like football and LeBron’s NBA.
To draw in younger fans, baseball teams and writers almost have a duty to draw attention to the exciting players in the game. Trout embodies that energy as a young player whose exciting play can captivate young fans. Cabrera is a quieter player with a history of legal problems — hardly a poster child for a league in need of new stars.
If someone approached any baseball fan in 1967 and told them that the next time a player would achieve the Triple Crown, no one would care, that fan would be furious.
The fact that Cabrera’s Triple Crown chase did not warrant a headline on any major sports website is a sign of the times for baseball. The old records that were once thought sacred have fallen by the wayside, and a once-in-a-generation event like a Triple Crown has generated almost no interest.
As someone who grew up learning about the great achievements in baseball like Yaz’s 1967 Triple Crown, the way Cabrera’s achievement has been covered is downright embarrassing for baseball. The league has the most history of any of the United States’ four major sports. That’s a history that must be embraced, not ignored.
Corey Blaine is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. THE BLEACHER SEATS appears every Friday.