Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, left, and Mike Trout of the Angels share the latest cover of ESPN The Magazine (image is cropped). (ESPN)
In one fantastic weekend, in the hot stove of a pennant race, Mike Trout proved every accolade was true.
He was svelte, he could hit, he had power, he was lithe, he was fast, he was quick, he could jump, he could catch. He had all the five tools that make ballplayers excel, to reach stardom and above. Five tools in a single package are rare and precious. The five tools apply to Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds (in the before segment, not the after), Roberto Clemente, Ken Griffey Jr., Henry Aaron, perhaps Ty Cobb.
That weekend in Anaheim, Trout led off the first ballgame with a double, then the second and, again, the third with home runs. He ran the bases with the wind at his tail. He saved a ballgame by climbing above the fence to steal a home run from Prince Fielder.
The Angels won all three games over the Tigers. Two were one-run victories.
It was September and the Tigers left Anaheim confronted by doom. They were marked as an overrated, defeated, pretender of a ballclub.
The Tigers, somehow, would win their division as the White Sox rolled over in their usual surrender mode. Then the Tigers would oust the Athletics, sweep the Yankees for the pennant. Then they would get swept by the Giants in the World Series — a bittersweet season.
The aftermath was pure controversy.
War between the traditionalists — the baseball purists — and the new-fangled Sabermetricians, those who contaminate the sport's statistics with contrived numbers.
I left Anaheim that weekend last September convinced Miguel Cabrera deserved to be the American League Most Valuable Player.
Simultaneously, I raved about the skills of Mike Trout. He was a wondrous rookie who would be baseball's best player for the next 15 years.
I called Trout the best rookie to enter baseball since Willie Mays in 1951. In doing so, I skipped over Barry Bonds — he had a poor rookie season — and other multi-skilled ballplayers.
The challenge hit me immediately from the Sabermetric fantasizers.
They claimed Trout should be the MVP.
Of course, the traditional, old-fashioned MVP voters among the baseball writers selected Cabrera based on his Triple Crown — as batting champion, home-run champion and RBI champion.
Plus carrying a ballclub to an unexpected pennant.
The debate still rages.
Trout was a special rookie
Trout, to me, remains the finest rookie to enter Major League Baseball in more than the half-century since Mays.
But now loving baseball — and the spring training speculation and boasts — from afar, I wonder if Trout could ever duplicate his rookie season.
The sophomore slump is a huge pile of baloney, in my judgment.
Great ballplayers have outstanding second seasons.
DiMaggio did. Mays did. Al Kaline won a batting championship in his second full season.
They all continued to excel with their traditional five tools — hitting for average, hitting with power, speedy base-running, fielding, throwing.
In his second full season with the New York Giants, 1954, Mays returned to the majors after missing most of two seasons in the Army. He was spectacular in '54. He led the Giants to the National League's pennant and a championship sweep in the World Series.
"Willie Mays had six tools," Kaline once told me.
"Huh? Six tools?"
"All five, plus enthusiasm," Kaline said simply.
Mays exuded it.
He played stickball in the streets with kids in Harlem. He giggled. He ran from under his cap. He played with flamboyance.
He reported in shape, conditioned for his second season.
Right now, according to all reports about Mike Trout from the Angels' spring camp in Arizona, the wind has more tail to push.
The Angels list Trout at 210 pounds. He reported at 241.
Not so svelte.
His unexpected avoirdupois has garnered wide coverage on the Internet — that overwhelming source of information for all of us.
Trout, himself, on several sites claimed he is not fat and he would lose poundage during spring training.
The debate still rages
There is more to say, however, about Mike Trout — the second-season Angel.
The Los Angeles Times sent a reporter across the country to do a feature earlier this month on Trout in his hometown, Millville, N.J. Trout snubbed the guy, refused to talk then to the LA Times, a publication that covers him with exaggerated passion.
Something odd there. Not such a wonderful attitude.
Hurrah, he did provide quotes to the Times after he arrived at the Angels' camp in Tempe, Ariz.
But as spring training continues, Cabrera and Trout have become cover-page fodder for an issue of ESPN The Magazine. They appear together — and they are featured in a TV clip publicizing the March 4 magazine, the Analytics Issue.
"WAR is the answer," ESPN The Mag declares as the headline to the feature article.
It is the answer to what?
The Sabermetrics professors fail to get it straight among themselves. Sites such as Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs.com and Baseball Prospectus have different versions.
Generally, WAR includes all the traditional batting vitals and meshes in speed, stolen bases, defense, ballpark configuration, contributions and so on into a whirling blur. It stands for Wins Above Replacement. And the replacement is regarded as the average bench dweller in the majors or some ordinary minor leaguer — nobody identified.
"For Mike Trout supporters, WAR was simple and unimpeachable evidence of a perfect player performing at a nearly unprecedented level," Sam Miller wrote in ESPN The Mag. "For Miguel Cabrera supporters, WAR was the joyless and inscrutable tool of eggheads, trolls, all of us who never played the game."
And thus, the blather rolled on, extolling the marvels of WAR.
Admitted again — I am old-fashioned, proud. I respect tradition and believe in baseball purity. The sport is an American treasure.
Defense, base running — and hitting home runs and driving in runs — matter.
What WAR misses, again, is winning pennants, reaching the World Series.
And WAR fails to factor in weight gain — and sour attitude.
Mike Trout was a fantastic rookie in 2012.
That was last year!
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports writer.