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Green: Too soon to call Mike Trout one of MLB's greats

Jerry Green
Special to The Detroit News
Mike Trout

Detroit – Ernest Hemingway, who had the knack of putting a few words together so that they grabbed the reader by the gullet, termed this masterful attribute "grace under pressure."

Mr. Hemingway was a baseball devotee, and he favored a precious, graceful center fielder: "The Great DiMaggio." Far back, at the start of my personal passage through baseball devotion, Joe DiMaggio was the supreme great of the sport.

The Great DiMaggio is the ballplayer with whom all comparisons would be made. At least in my mind.

And it remains true.

Twenty-first Century baseball devotees are now trumpeting the skills of another graceful, precious center fielder – Mike Trout. Trout is the ballplayer with whom all comparisons will be made 75 years from now.

DiMaggio and Trout are matches as center fielders, with the five paramount skills used to categorize position ballplayers. These talents – hitting for average, hitting with power, foot speed, fielding and throwing – are packaged in only the rarest of athletes.

Willie Mays emerged as DiMaggio was departing in the baseball frenzied 1950s. Mays played with all five skills, plus a sixth, enthusiasm, as Al Kaline once suggested to me. Mickey Mantle arrived the same era as Mays, but without the immense in-the-field skills. Kaline and the nonpareil Roberto Clemente, right fielder contemporaries of Mays and Mantle, played with all five of the basic skills, without the recognition of the New York publicity engine.

Now there is Trout, the American League's reigning Most Valuable Player. And still fresh is Fox TV's gushing appraisal that Trout deserved to be fitted into company with the All-Star Game living celebrity Hall of Fame foursome – Mays, Henry Aaron, Sandy Koufax and Johnny Bench.

That's nice.

For sure, Trout is graceful. And he is a brilliant fielder and a mighty hitter.

But he has yet to prove that he could play gracefully under pressure.

Rather, he has been awkward under pressure.

MVP numbers?

I am loathe to tag the word "greatness" onto a player in just his fourth MLB season at age 24.

The standards should be stronger.

Joe D came up to the big leagues in 1936 at age 21. His first four seasons with the Yankees he batted .323, .346, .324 and .381. His home-run totals those first four seasons were 29, 46, 32 and 30.

Joe DiMaggio

Those numbers exceed Trout's statistics for a comparable early period in the majors. Trout was 20 when the Angels brought him up early in the 2012 season. He hit .326 that seasons, .323 and .287 the following two seasons. He is hitting .293 this season. His home run totals are 30, 27 and 36 plus 38 entering the weekend this current season.

The baseball journalists back in the 1930s must have been as ornery as we craggy veterans are today. They did not vote DiMaggio the MVP award until his fourth season, 1939, when he won the batting title.

Trout won the MVP last year after a loud campaign among the sabermetric carnival barkers since his rookie season touting him for the 2012 award. Miguel Cabrera prevailed then when a rare Triple Crown and old-fashioned common sense prevailed over foggy numerical nonsense.

The numbers are the mere beginning of this comparative study between DiMaggio and Trout, two ballplayers with historical skills.

But the discussion is about Hemingway's concept of grace under pressure. And now we have the power facts.

The most valuable statistic in baseball is simple. It is winning vs. losing – the W-L columns.

DiMaggio's Yankees won American League pennants and all four World Series in his first four seasons in the majors – 1936 through 1939. Joe was a cog in those World Championships, going 24 for 83.

It was a time of baseball purity. The ballclubs played a season, two teams won league pennants – and they played against each other in the World Series.

Joe DiMaggio never had the benefit of padding his individual statistics in other postseason baseball events such as wild-card games and divisional playoffs.

It was all World Series. All pressure.

Trout, in contrast, has played on a first-place team once. That was last year, when the Angels won in the American League West. They flopped dreadfully in their playoff series against the wild-card Royals, flogged in a three-game sweep.

In his only postseason appearance so far, Trout failed to perform with grace under pressure. The sabremetrics revisionists should add a new statistic to their WAR and BABIP and wRC+ etc.

That would be PUP – Performance Under Pressure.

Winners count

Trout, the MVP, flunked with an imagined minus PUP in the three playoff games of his career.

He had one hit in 12 postseason at-bats. It was a home run that meant nothing.

But the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America already had voted Trout the 2014 AL MVP on the basis of his regular-season .287 batting average and 36 home runs.

And I hope that they factored in the Angels' first-place finish with extra points.

In two weeks after the regular season ends, the MVP writers will vote again. There will be a strong push again for Trout. The Angels have been a flop again this season, with a faint shot at one of the two wild-card spots left to us by the departed commissioner, Bud Selig.

Trout has been a major reason for the Angels' struggles. This is not a vintage season for Mike Trout.

It would be a sham if he collects another MVP award. Even the sabermetric proponents believe the award should be voted to Josh Donaldson. Donaldson has been a powerful force for the playoffs-bound Blue Jays all season.

I do not have an MVP vote, thus I am entitled to rant and rave publically as I am now.

If I did have a vote, it would go to: Salvador Perez. Perez defines the spirit of grace under pressure.

Ordinary stats, but the force behind the runaway Royals.

Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports writer.