LA Angels News

How Do You Quantify Greatness?


Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

I know the “Mike-Trout-was-robbed-of-another-MVP-award” horse is dead already, but I’d really like to jump in here and get in a whack or two before it is shipped off to the glue factory. I understand that everyone and their mother have chimed in – my own mother wrote about it on her blog (ok, I’m lying. My mother neither has a blog nor cares much for baseball) – but I think I’ve come up with the last new perspective on the issue.

My issue with the whole thing is the vagueness and ambiguity in the MVP voting criteria. How do you objectively quantify words like “actual value of a player to his team,” “strength of offense and defense,” or “general character, disposition, loyalty, and effort”? What statistics measure these things, specifically? And then how do you rank ten players based on these criteria?

Answer: you can’t. Which is remarkable given that baseball is all about numbers. It’s a math teacher’s dream sport. There are stats for everything. They are even creating new statistics – the ever-talked-about-but-oft-misunderstood WAR, for instance – to attempt to measure and quantify the immeasurable greatness of those in uniform, both past and present.

But true athletic greatness is like artistic greatness; you can’t really define it, but you certainly know it when you see it. Viewing a Rembrandt or Van Gogh painting, listening to a Bach or Mozart symphony, reading a Keats or Wordsworth poem, you can see and hear and feel the beauty and grandeur but you can’t quite put your finger on what makes it truly great. As author David Foster Wallace once said, “Good art is a kind of magic. It does magical things for both artist and audience. We can have long polysyllabic arguments about how to describe the way this magic works, but the plain fact is that good art is magical and precious and cool.”

And so it goes with athletic greatness. I don’t want to sound like I am man-crushing, but there is something beautiful about watching Mike Trout in action. His prowess in the field. His savvy at the plate. His speed in the base paths. He is a rarity, a once-in-a-generation anomaly. He is poetry in motion and every other cliché in the book.

Mike Trout possesses “character, disposition, loyalty, and effort” that bring “actual value” to his team (hell, he has been just about the only redeeming value of the Angels franchise these past two seasons). And those traits are ones that are not easily measured or quantified. His is a greatness that is indefinable, but you certainly know it when you see it. And we’ve seen an awful lot of it in his short tenure in an Angels uniform. His is a greatness that demands our attention and our appreciation because it is “magical and precious and cool.”