ANAHEIM -- Mike Trout turned heads, set records, catapulted a team and put together one of the best campaigns in baseball history during his age-20 season in 2012.
But he couldn't top a Triple Crown.
On Thursday, Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, on the heels of the first Triple Crown in 45 years, was named the American League's Most Valuable Player by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, beating out finalists Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre of the Rangers, Robinson Cano of the Yankees and Trout.
It wasn't particularly surprising that Cabrera won; it was surprising that it wasn't all that close.
Cabrera notched 22 of the 28 first-place votes, beating Trout, 362-281, in total points. Beltre (210), Cano (149) and Hamilton (127) followed, respectively. Albert Pujols finished 17th, marking the first time in his 12-year career that he finished outside the top 10, and Jered Weaver got one ninth-place vote one day after finishing third in the AL Cy Young Award race. Points were awarded on a 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
"I'm very grateful because they voted for me," Cabrera said of the BBWAA in a conference call. "I thought it was going to be very close, because Trout did a very good job this season. You had two unbelievable seasons."
The 21-year-old Trout, who four days ago was the unanimous choice for the AL Rookie of the Year, would have been the youngest MVP in baseball history had he won. And since being called up to the Majors in late April, the center fielder made quite the intriguing case.
Trout was the first player to combine at least 45 steals with 125 runs, 30 homers and a .320 batting average in one season. He played game-changing defense, dominated in the all-encompassing sabermetric stat Wins Above Replacement, added a whole new dimension to the lineup from the leadoff spot and was no doubt the better all-around player.
But Cabrera led the AL in batting average (.330), homers (44) and RBIs (139) to notch the first Triple Crown since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. He posted a 1.081 OPS in the regular season's final two months, just as the Tigers were making a push for an eventual AL Central crown and World Series trip. And he didn't particularly hurt them defensively after the Prince Fielder signing moved him back to the hot corner.
That ultimately gave Cabrera the edge over Trout, handing the 29-year-old slugger his first MVP after finishing in the top five in voting each of the previous three years.
"I think if I don't win the Triple Crown, if we don't get into the playoffs, I think there's no question Trout would be the MVP," Cabrera said. "I think winning the Triple Crown helped me a lot to win this. I think [getting to the playoffs] helped me a lot."
Asked recently what awes him the most about Cabrera, Trout said, "His swing."
"Especially watching from center field playing defense," he added. "When he's up at the plate, he's fouling off pitchers' pitches. But once you leave that one over the plate, he's not going to miss it. He squares up almost everything, and once he does, he hits them a long way. It was pretty cool to be in center field and watch him hit."
Hamilton (.285 average, 43 homers, 128 RBIs), Beltre (.321/36/102, Platinum Glove) and Cano (.313/33/94, Gold Glove) each had fantastic seasons.
But the MVP was basically a two-man race between Cabrera and Trout, sparking a heated debate over the old- and new-school approaches to determining value in this game.
Everyone -- bloggers, reporters, columnists, broadcasters, analysts, fans, executives, players, even famous political prognosticator Nate Silver -- had a voice, and many took a hard stance.
The announcement might have officially settled the argument, but many believe this is a debate that will never go away.
"This is more [nerve-wracking] than actually going out there and playing," Trout said via satellite on MLB Network, minutes before the announcement was made. "Every once in a while, I'll check my phone and all these things pop up on Twitter; all these debates. Some people have Cabrera, some people have me. It's pretty cool to just have your name mentioned in this MVP race at the end of the year. It makes you feel good inside."
Trout finished second in the AL in batting average (.326), first in steals (49) and runs (129), third in on-base percentage (.399) and third in slugging (.564). He robbed four homers (only three others have done that since 2004) and saved 23 runs (fifth in the Majors). He made the All-Star team, graced the covers of ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated, and led the Angels to the third-best record in the AL after his callup.
Only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle have notched a Wins Above Replacement higher than Trout's 10.7 at age 25 or younger. Only Ted Williams, Mel Ott and Alex Rodriguez have hit at least .320 with 30 homers in their age-20 season. And only Ty Cobb, way back in 1907, stole more than 40 bases at a younger age.
Former All-Star pitcher Vida Blue is the youngest MVP in history, winning it at age 22 with the A's in 1971. And Fred Lynn of the Red Sox (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners (2001) were the only players to win the Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season.
Despite Trout's valiant efforts, it'll stay that way.