DETROIT -- Ten years ago, the Tigers were having trouble getting phone calls returned from an agent of a former Most Valuable Player. Now, they're the first American League team in a half-century to have three consecutive Most Valuable Player Awards.
Ten years ago, Miguel Cabrera's impact as a 20-year-old rookie on the World Series champion Marlins left baseball wondering what he might be able to accomplish in his prime. Now, it's historic.
He's the first American League player since White Sox slugger Frank Thomas in 1993-94 to win back-to-back MVP Awards, and just the second Tigers player to repeat. And Cabrera just won his second on essentially one good leg.
"This year was tougher because of injuries," he said Thursday night. "I think this one was special."
The debate over Cabrera's offensive prowess against Mike Trout's overall game sounded familiar, but the suspense didn't carry over. The results ended up slightly more decisive.
Cabrera received 23 first-place votes, one more than he received last year, while Trout got five. Baltimore's Chris Davis garnered one first-place vote, as did Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson. In the National League, the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen took MVP honors with 28 first-place votes, beating out Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt (zero) and St. Louis' Yadier Molina (two).
All 30 ballots had Cabrera either first or second. His teammate, AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, received one third-place vote and a handful of others down the line, while Torii Hunter received a vote for ninth.
Combine Cabrera's repeat with Justin Verlander's MVP Award in 2011, and the Tigers became just the fifth team in AL history -- and the second other than the Yankees -- to claim three consecutive MVP Awards. Elston Howard's honor 50 years ago marked the fourth consecutive MVP for the Yankees squads of the early 1960s, including Mickey Mantle and back-to-back winner Roger Maris.
Add Scherzer's Cy Young Award from Wednesday, and Verlander's Cy Young Award from 2011, and the Tigers' run of five major awards is unprecedented in a three-year span. All that's missing is a World Series title. As much as recently retired manager Jim Leyland wished he could've delivered the latter, he's had a chance to sit back appreciate the former.
"The fans, they're seeing history," Leyland said Thursday. "They've seen quite a bit of it the last few years. It was a treat to manage them."
What he saw from Cabrera this season might have topped the list.
Cabrera didn't repeat his Triple Crown, but he improved in most statistics, with a career-best .348 average, a 30-point jump in slugging percentage and a 49-point leap in on-base percentage. He became the first player to lead the league in all three categories since Joe Mauer in 2009, the year he won AL MVP in a near-unanimous vote.
Cabrera matched his home run total despite hitting only one in September. He fell one short of his previous season's RBI total despite playing in 13 fewer games and having 18 fewer at-bats with runners in scoring position. He not only led baseball with a 1.078 OPS, he topped everyone else in baseball by at least 74 points, the largest gap by a player since Barry Bonds in 2004.
Cabrera did it not only with a groin injury that hampered him in September and required surgery at season's end, but with injuries that limited his mobility since the end of June, from a sore back and hip flexor to an abdominal injury.
"The last couple months, it was tough to play through that," Cabrera said, "but it was my job to play with that injury, because there was nothing I could do. Putting me on the 15-day disabled list, it was not going to help."
Not until end-of-season surgery to repair a groin tear did the full extent of Cabrera's injury become public. It also allowed the full appreciation of what Cabrera was able to do.
"I felt so bad for the kid," Leyland said, "because I saw how bad he was hurting. This is a nice reward, but nothing can repay what that kid did."
Or as Verlander put it last month, "I think 90 percent of baseball players would've been sitting on the couch, not playing, dealing with what he's dealt with this year."
Cabrera did it, he insisted, for the team's chances to win, not his own.
"I never think like I want to win the MVP anyway," Cabrera said. "It was a lot of competition. Trout, Davis -- they had a great year. The last month, it was tough because I had two injuries. It was tough to perform at the level I did five months before. Everything went right in the situation and we went to the playoffs. That was our concern. We were focused on that. I never think like I want to win the MVP."
Had Cabrera been healthy down the stretch, the individual numbers could have been historic. He came out of Labor Day on pace to become the first Major Leaguer with a .350-average, 50-homer, 150-RBI season since Foxx in 1932.
Though the Tigers managed to win over a few different stints with Cabrera out for a few days, they went just 13-13 in September with a hampered Cabrera, averaging less than four runs a game.
None of that, of course, comprised the argument against Cabrera last year. The prime evidence in support of Trout consisted of advanced metrics, which rewarded Trout for his ability to reach base, his efficiency running the bases, and his defense in center field. Even in sabermetrics, however, the gap narrowed.
Though Cabrera's defense hurt him more in metrics this season than last, based a little on his injuries, he still raised his wins above replacement (WAR) to a career-best 7.6 in 13 fewer games, according to Fangraphs.
If all those statistics became a redundant argument after a while, there was the long-held belief by some voters that the Most Valuable Player in a league preferably should have some sort of team success to reflect his value. Though Cabrera and the Tigers made it to the World Series in 2012, Trout's Angels actually posted a better record. This year, while the Angels struggled early and faded to a 78-win season, the Tigers won their third consecutive AL Central title.
"I have great teammates," Cabrera said. "I have a great organization. I mean, I'm very blessed because I'm in a great position right now. I'm excited."
Hunter, while not stating his MVP choice between current teammate Cabrera and former teammate Trout, noted that importance in a Thursday morning interview with MLB Network.
"MVP has got something to do with winning," Hunter said. "But Trout's numbers, what he does for that ballclub, is unbelievable. Davis, what he did was awesome. ... If you're helping that ballclub win with great numbers, I definitely think that means a lot."
So, too, does the talent.
"He's just a cut above the rest," Leyland said. "He's just an unbelievable player and an unbelievable kid, to do what he did."
2013 AL MVP VOTING
|Miguel Cabrera, DET||23||7||385|
|Mike Trout, LAA||5||19||3||1||1||1||282|
|Chris Davis, BAL||1||4||11||12||1||1||232|
|Josh Donaldson, OAK||1||14||9||3||3||222|
|Robinson Cano, NYY||1||5||9||2||6||5||2||150|
|Evan Longoria, TB||4||6||6||4||5||3||103|
|Dustin Pedroia, BOS||1||5||5||5||4||2||1||99|
|Adrian Beltre, TEX||2||8||7||3||4||2||99|
|Manny Machado, BAL||2||1||2||5||5||7||57|
|David Ortiz, BOS||2||1||2||2||1||2||2||47|
|Jason Kipnis, CLE||1||1||3||3||5||31|
|Max Scherzer, DET||1||2||1||1||2||25|
|Adam Jones, BAL||1||1||9|
|Edwin Encarnacion, TOR||1||2||7|
|Greg Holland, KC||1||3|
|Carlos Santana, CLE||1||3|
|Coco Crisp, OAK||1||1||3|
|Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS||1||1||3|
|Torii Hunter, DET||1||2|
|Hisashi Iwakuma, SEA||1||2|
|Koji Uehara, BOS||2||2|
|Yu Darvish, TEX||1||1|
|Felix Hernandez, SEA||1||1|
|Salvador Perez, KC||1||1|
|Shane Victorino, BOS||1||1|