The decisive words are encrypted into the league standings, available in every daily print newspaper in America, the Internet, and in repetition on the Major League Baseball television channel.
The words are most valuable player. Simple words. MVP — the annual vote fest that so frequently provides contentiousness, contrariness and controversy on the previously noted media outlets. Some years the speculation approaches bloodshed.
The standings must be factored into the MVP contests because they indicate the worth of ballplayers. Plain math. Nothing to do with metrics.
Once first place was all that mattered in the baseball summers. That was before Bud Selig, the lame-duck baseball commissioner, came along with his cockamamie wild-card schemes. Now it’s the playoffs and a variety of standings, every day.
The daily grind happens to be the most alluring part of baseball. To me, anyway.
Two years ago was one of those near-bloodshed seasons in the American League’s MVP electioneering. It was Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout. The Tigers’ Triple Crown champion vs. the Angels’ multi-talented rookie outfielder.
Cabrera’s team finished first in a hectic division race. They won the playoffs for the pennant and advanced to the World Series, which turned into a Detroit flop. Trout’s team finished third in its division race and failed to reach the pennant playoffs.
Additional points for Cabrera — above the three hitting titles — for contributing to a first-place finish.
The award, I repeat, goes to the most valuable player. It is not the best-player award. It is not the most-talented award.
Cabrera’s value to the Tigers, simply, was that they finished first in 2012 and again in 2013 because he was the top force on the roster.
That being explained, Trout, in less-than-vintage form this season, should nonetheless be a shoo-in for the American League’s MVP award. By acclimation. He is the straw that stirs the drink on the Angels. And for the first time Mike Trout is bound for the postseason.
The Angels are headed toward the playoffs, likely as first-place winner of the AL West or the most proficient wildcard choice.
Cabrera is suffering painfully through an inferior season, regardless of where the Tigers finish in their current chase.
If there is any athlete who might deserve any sort of MVP recognition after Trout, it should be Victor Martinez.
OK, I am a self-admitted purist — I maintain a love of baseball played the old-fashioned way. And Victor is in the Detroit lineup as designated hitter, the scoffed-at DH, with rare games at a field position. And there is the notion that a DH does not deserve any recognition as an MVP.
On the other hand, I was affixed to the MLB Network the other afternoon when the Tigers were playing in desperation against the Yankees. This was the game that was tied 2-2 in the ninth. Viewing from afar, it could be deemed the most important game the Tigers had played all season.
This is a crisis-bound ballclub. Another loss might have given stronger reasoning to the quitters.
Then, Victor Martinez cracked a double to lead off the bottom of the ninth. His hit, in the body of pinch-runner Bryan Holaday, developed into the winning run in the Tigers’ 3-2 victory.
Again, I stress the notion of value.
Trout is the most talent-laden young ballplayer to reach the Major Leagues in some 60 years. My unshakable opinion. The most talented since the 1950s young years of Willie Mays and the great Roberto Clemente. The only young player with similar multiple talents since was Ken Griffey Jr.
But in this strange season, Victor is out-hitting Trout by some 35 percentage points. For some odd reason, Trout is batting below .300, sub-standard for him.
Trout wins the production war — home runs and runs batted in. And Trout plays glorious defense. He competes with the speed of a sprinter — and seems to get his uniform dirty every game.
He packs the ingredients to be MVP — with the added points of driving a club to first place, or at worst a wild-card playoff place.
The MVP contentiousness this year is confined to the National League.
A pitcher is required to be exceptional to be considered in the voting for MVP against quality every-day athletes. This was the debate three seasons ago when Justin Verlander was in consideration.
He was a no-doubt Cy Young Award winner. The Cy Young is the trophy that goes to the best — not always the most valuable — pitcher. Verlander appeared in one of every five of the Tigers’ games in contrast to outfielders and infielders.
Yet he was so dominant he deserved the MVP Award as a second trophy, simply because he was the most valuable player in the American League. Regardless of his position.
We go back — it is the most valuable player award — and Verlander was the most dominant player in the American League. Pitchers do happen to be ballplayers. Again my perhaps singular opinion.
And for that reason, this year’s MVP in the National League is Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers are running away in the NL’s West Division.
I was a naysayer a few years ago when I read a statement by a Los Angeles media homer that Kershaw was the best pitcher in Major League Baseball. Back then, Verlander was the best pitcher; I confess the longer I live in California the more of a Michigan homer I become.
That said, Clayton Kershaw in 2014 is the best pitcher in baseball. He makes pitching a work of art.
Kershaw is dominant in his league — more dominant than the only other possible National League candidate, Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton is an awesome basher. He leads his league in home runs and runs batted in.
Stanton’s value to the Miami Marlins is that he has carried a rinky-dinky team to .500 respectability.
But first place is worth points. Kershaw’s Dodgers are destined to finish in first place. They are the best team in baseball, because of Kershaw. They should go to the World Series, this time.
Gosh, here out on America’s Pacific rim, the homers are yelling about a Los Angeles-only World Series, pitting the Dodgers and Angels. Hollywood vs. Disneyland.
And the two obvious MVPs. Kershaw vs. Trout.
A natural matchup!
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports columnist. Read his web-exclusive columns Saturdays at detroitnews.com.