November 15, 2012 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

Major-leaguers know Tigers' Miguel Cabrera is the deserved MVP

One group of voters mattered more than the writers in awarding Miguel Cabrera his American League Most Valuable Player Award during Thursday's dramatics in New York.

The players.

After the most divisive, most acidic, debate I can remember in my baseball experience, Cabrera beat a glorious rookie, Mike Trout, for the 2012 AL MVP plaque.

An official vote confirmed it. Twenty-two of 28 ballots from Baseball Writers Association of America members had etched Cabrera's name into that first-place slot. Six had chosen Trout. Victory for a Tigers superstar, the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years.

But what made this vote, and this sadly polarized discussion, less of an argument and more of a validation, was last week's release of the Players Choice Awards. Cabrera's big-league peers named him the best player in either league in 2012. They decided, also, he was the American League's Outstanding Player for 2012.

And if those prizes didn't make clear what his counterparts thought of his skills, he also won the Sporting News 2012 Player of the Year in a vote of big-leaguers. They gave him 108 points to 71 for Trout, who was runner-up.

Tense times

This has been a difficult, uncomfortable skirmish we have been watching play out in recent weeks and months, this Cabrera-versus-Trout standoff.

It got ugly because it never should have been so antagonistic. But it became, too many times, an I-know-baseball-and-you-don't controversy. It became, probably as many times, a reflexive, hometown-flavored popularity contest centered on the statistical fact Cabrera won this year's Triple Crown.

The Trout supporters were infused with conviction and correctness: Trout played ungodly defense. He stole 49 bases in his 5½-month cameo with the Angels. He bashed 30 home runs and stole 49 bases. He batted .326.

Trout was the definitive all-around player. Cabrera was one-dimensional, critics said. Trout was a pure — pure — baseball player. Cabrera, a big lug who could hit, was below average on defense and a dinosaur on the bases.

True, in a bloodless clinical analysis.

False, in the grand context of what Cabrera had done to opposing players and teams while taking the single most difficult art in sports — hitting a big-league baseball — to an astonishingly high altitude.

Cabrera changes baseball games, even if it is in his perceived one-dimensional way. He probably changes games at least as much as Trout did, even as Trout was sprinting to catch balls no other center fielder was grabbing, or swiping bases that allowed him to score nearly a run per game.

You could argue otherwise and have a season full of statistics, as well as common sense, on your side. Trout could have won Thursday and the baseball world would have celebrated. To be a 20-year-old rookie, performing so exquisitely at the highest competitive level in baseball's world, is worth MVP glitter.

But to suggest for a moment, as Cabrera's critics too easily implied, that he was something less than a MVP-caliber baseball player, something less than Trout in his execution of baseball art, is a narrow appraisal of Cabrera's presence and impact on a game, and on a team.

Players votes telling

His colleagues said as much with their Players Choice and Sporting News votes.

Obviously, it will be argued players aren't about to cut any slack to a rookie. It's a valid point. Cabrera has been around for nearly a decade. Trout got here last April. The guys who have paid their dues aren't about to hand a hotshot kid any heavy hosannas until he has proven himself beyond a 5½-month rookie audition.

But those same players never appeared to resent Trout as much as they respected him. They weren't into putting him in his place as much as they were quick to praise skills they could see were talents that could re-craft baseball's Mount Rushmore during the next 20 years.

But neither were they going to dismiss Cabrera, whose at-bats are as cerebral as they are dynamic. His cohorts understood he was not a skilled defensive player. But they understood he, in making his migration back to third base in 2012, was fundamentally a baseball player who did his job. He accepted a new assignment. He played it with passion, and with greater skill than some of us imagined.

Above all, though, his opponents feared his at-bats, respected his at-bats, marveled at his at-bats and how they could crush an opponent and lift the Tigers.

What they finally said was this: The guy who has been around, whose skills are otherworldly, had a majestic year, all to the benefit of his team, which is at the heart of Thursday's award.

Cabrera is the MVP. That his peers also view him as the best will be honor eternal, recognition that should mean as much to Cabrera as that MVP trophy he hauled home Thursday.

lynn.henning@detnews.com

Twitter: @Lynn_Henning

Twenty-two of 28 ballots from Baseball Writers Association of America members gave Miguel Cabrera first place in voting for MVP. / Robin Buckson/Detroit News