Whether it's over who's more valuable or who's baseball's best player, we sure do argue about Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera an awful lot. What we don't do nearly as often as we should is appreciate them for what they are: the closest thing MLB has had to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa since...well, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
The credit is owed to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports for being the first to note the comparison in the wake of the race between the young Angels star and the veteran Tigers slugger for the 2012 American League MVP. And since we're still in the wake of their encore in 2013, yup, it still fits.
And speaking of said comparison, it's an idea that comes with a potential opportunity...
...one that MLB doesn't seem to have noticed yet.
Given how large Trout and Cabrera have come to loom on the baseball landscape and how it's long since joined them at the hip, you'd think that MLB would have taken the idea of Trout and Cabrera as a package deal and run with it by now.
But nope, not really.
For all the discussions on MLB Network and articles on MLB.com, the only thing that passes as a promotion actually featuring Trout and Cabrera is the slightly awkward interview they did at the 2013 All-Star Game.
Though we haven't seen it yet, we probably shouldn't expect Cabrera's spot for the campaign to hint at his rivalry with Trout in any way. Trout's didn't, after all.
I dig Trout's delivery of, "Are you kidding me!?" But what would have made it even better is if it had been in response to the off-camera kid saying, "Simon says win an MVP." Alas.
Now, I'll grant that questioning MLB's business sense these days is a bit like questioning Aaron Sorkin's dialogue-writing abilities. The league's revenues checked in at around $8 billion in 2013. Sources say that's a lot of money.
While I'm acknowledging things, I'll acknowledge MLB hardly has the wrong idea with its various marketing schemes.
Ad Week had a good article in January that can tell you all about how MLB wants desperately to appeal to the demographic that has all the young people in it. That's largely why the league has gone mainly with young stars and youngish flavors in its last few promotional campaigns.
Not a bad idea considering that, according to the The Wall Street Journal's Matthew Futterman, the average World Series viewer in 2013 was 54.4 years old.
But why stop at just young people? If it's unaffiliated fans the league wants, it's worth trying something to appeal to all unaffiliated fans.
The McGwire and Sosa treatment for Trout and Cabrera could do the trick. If MLB were to cast them as the contemporary version Big Mac and Slammin' Sammy, the league might find itself reaping the same benefits it once did.
Even though we know McGwire didn't do it on the level and we have every reason to believe Sosa didn't do it on the level, you still hear it said that McGwire and Sosa "saved" baseball with their assault on Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998 and encore home run barrage in 1999.
L. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated downplayed that idea in '99, but not without giving the notion some credence:
From baseball's perspective, the ultimate windfall from the home run chase and its redux has been intangible and immeasurable. It's goodwill. It's watercooler fodder. It's the shift in focus from Don Fehr and Richie Phillips to the game on the field. It's salve on the wounds wrought by the 1994 strike.
And then this to prove the point: "A study recently commissioned by the players' association revealed that on the heels of last season's Mac and Sammy drama, 50% of American adults consider themselves fans of major league baseball, compared with 33% three years ago."
Times are different nowadays, of course. The '94 strike remains baseball's last work stoppage. And despite all suggestions to the contrary, baseball's popularity is doing just fine. There's no need for Trout and Cabrera to "save" baseball.
But if they were to be sold as baseball's latest can't-miss duo, it's conceivable that Trout and Cabrera could also be successful in converting nonbelievers.
They're not carbon copies of McGwire and Sosa, to be sure. But we know that's good to the extent that no chemicals are involved, and beyond that, the Trout-Cabrera duo has the right qualities to strike the same chord that McGwire and Sosa did.
Fans and non-fans alike tuned in to watch McGwire and Sosa specifically for home runs, but more simply because they were the two most exciting players baseball had seen in some time. Tune in to watch one of their games, and you were going to be glad you did.
In the last couple of years, Trout and Cabrera have risen to that same kind of status.
With his hitting, baserunning and defensive skills, Trout's a human highlight reel who has established himself as maybe the greatest young player baseball has ever seen. With baseball's first Triple Crown season in 45 years in 2012 and a .340 average over the last three seasons, Cabrera has established himself as the most feared hitter in an era dominated mainly by feared pitchers.
But fans and non-fans alike were also drawn to McGwire and Sosa because their rivalry was the fun-for-the-whole-family kind of rivalry. They were competing with each other, yes, but they were also buddies. They made you want to root for both of them.
Granted, it's clear from the vitriol of the last two AL MVP debates (especially the first one) that baseball fans have a hard time rooting for Trout and Cabrera. But since there's a mutual admiration between the two players themselves, there's surely hope for the unaffiliated to be able to enjoy both equally.
“You have to be excited when you play against Mike Trout,” Cabrera recently told Bleacher Report's Scott Miller. “When he’s on the field, he’s going to do something special."
“It’s fun just in general to be on the same field with Miguel,” said Trout. “It’s fun to watch him and playing against him."
The ability to perform awesome feats on the diamond and a relationship with one another that's equal parts competitive and friendly: These are the goods that drew people to the McGwire-Sosa duo, and the Trout-Cabrera duo has the same goods.
All MLB has to do is get the word out.
A commercial with Trout and Miggy in it would be a good start. If for whatever reason that's asking too much, individual commercials that at least reference their rivalry would suffice.
But MLB certainly has other routes to go in these modern times of ours. How about a special Twitter account that tracks Trout and Cabrera's latest heroics, complete with images and video? How about a rendezvous at the MLB Fan Cave in New York for some special entertainment?
Have them show up and play war or something. Not war as in Wins Above Replacement, mind you, but the card game, in a wink-and-nod reference to Wins Above Replacement. That would be a hoot.
Better yet, bring back Cabrera's Telenovela bit and have Trout play a role in it.
Here at the end, I'll note once again that MLB doesn't need to turn Trout and Cabrera into the next McGwire and Sosa to "save" itself. The league doesn't need saving. If anything, it needs a bigger bank.
And if MLB chooses not to use the two of them as a package deal to attract additional attention, hey, it's not like Trout and Cabrera are going to be lacking in attention from what fans baseball does have.
But what the heck. It's worth a shot.
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