(Photo: Baltimore Sun)
Power with a great glove hand to match.
This baseball season will be remembered for a lot of things. The Stephen Strasburg imbroglio about when he should be shut down. What damage shutting him down would do to the Zombie Expos’ playoff hopes and if he should have been shut down at all. It will also be remembered for playoff races fraught with drama, Miguel Cabrera snatching the greatest hitter alive title from Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter leading the league in hits at the age of 38, and Josh Hamilton being the most intriguing free-agent pickup in my living memory.
But when I look back on the 2012 MLB season, I think of something else entirely. I think of ascendance. Not just Mike Trout and Bryce Harper already becoming the faces of their respective franchises at scarily young ages. Not even the A’s and Orioles who ascended to heights that no one expected them to.
I also think of the players known as young guys with potential who became franchise cornerstones. Andre Ethier was this way. Robinson Cano has become this, even as he is surrounded by quite a few stars. And Andrew McCutchen is putting his name in the hat as the guy who can restore the old glory to the Pirates. BJ Upton is becoming that for the Rays, and going forward for whatever team he signs with in the off season.
The player I’m thinking of right now has done more to make the proverbial leap from future star to star. The player I’m thinking about has revived a moribund franchise. Reminding his city that people actually still play baseball, and in a normal year would be an AL MVP candidate. The player I’m talking about is Adam Jones.
He isn’t the only MVP candidate who would be one in a normal year. Miguel Cabrera would be too as much as it pains this crazed White Sox fan to admit it. Derek Jeter might be, even if that means every single voter for the American League MVP was suddenly given the Tiger Driver ’91 at the same damned time. Josh Hamilton is a candidate for his stunning power numbers and on a wire-to-wire division leader.
And of course, the phenomenal Mike Trout who is remolding what we think of rookies with every home run and great defensive play.
But this isn’t about them. This is about Adam Jones; the heir to the throne of great Orioles stars.
Think about what we’re saying here. The best player on a surprising division contender who is unquestionably playing his best baseball when it matters most isn’t even an MVP candidate? If we can discuss Derek Jeter who’s not even the most leading candidate on his own damn team. Adam Jones damn sure belongs in this conversation. Even though this part shouldn’t be important, it is anyway. He’s doing it on the Orioles, the Orioles of Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson, the Orioles of Cal Ripken Jr and Eddie Murray.
For two decades the Orioles franchise was the gold standard of baseball. A standard that began in 1966 and ended when I was merely 2 years old in 1983. With that brief flicker to life in 1996 and 1997 before everything went down into the crapper again. But it was still there, and just as importantly, the fans of this team were raised knowing that it was. Understanding what it meant to be an Oriole, and expecting that your greatest players understand that responsibility is what the fans wanted to see again. I imagine if you asked a long-time Oriole fan it would be the thing they remembered the most about this year. The fact that the Orioles are back has to be thrilling to their fans.
The fans of the team will always be there, they will always know and appreciate the team’s history. Players come and go. The great ones, the meaningful ones get their number retired. But the fans are the keepers of that story, the ones who can tell you about seeing Brooks Robinson take over an entire world series. The fans are the ones who remember intimately, what it was to see Frank Robinson be the best outfielder in the American League. Those fans, if they’re old enough to remember what it was like to own the Yankees. To be the class of the American League, and to be the model that everyone else aspired to.
Back to Adam Jones, this isn’t the year for this discussion. In the NL, the year Adam Jones is having would make him the runaway MVP. Hitting 30 home runs, scoring 100 runs, stealing 15 bases, and playing top-shelf defense. Who else is there? Buster Posey? Adam Jones is having just as good a season as he is. Other than him it’s Ryan Braun, and who the heck else? In the AL, in the year of Miguel Cabrera’s triple-crown candidacy, Josh Hamilton pounding home runs, and Mike Trout breaking the rookie record book, Jones doesn’t have a chance. Carrying an unlikely division winner as the other good players on his team (Nick Markakis, Wilson Betemit, Jason Hammel, Brian Roberts, and Randy Wolf) have fallen to injury? That’s an MVP-esque performance. But he won’t get there.
Josh Hamilton took that chance from him by pounding 40-plus homers on a division winner. Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera got there by having landmark seasons as well. So even if he doesn’t get it, I think it’s only fair that we mention him. He’s earned that much. It’s not his fault that he stumbled into two historic offensive seasons.
If you were going to argue for him as the MVP which is only tangentially sort of what I’m doing here, ask yourself one simple question: If not for him, then what? If you didn’t have Adam Jones playing center field, hitting third, and the most consistent offensive threat on their team what would the Orioles be? Where would they be? Without him being the linchpin of this team, would the Orioles be as good as they’ve been? Without him being 8th in the league in HR, 3rd in the league in runs scored, and 10th in slugging percentage, where would their offense come from on a regular basis? If he wasn’t 4th in the league in hits, and 8th in doubles, who would be their best and most consistent hitter (admittedly, defensive numbers are harder to quantify, but he does lead all CF’s in putouts, meaning he catches what comes to him. Also, he is tied for 3rd in assists, meaning you don’t run on him)?
In closing, take a look at Adam Jones. Look at what he’s doing. Look at how well he’s doing it. That might help you understand just how good everyone else is doing as well.