Justin Morneau’s Mighty Bat

I pay enough attention to baseball that I knew about the kind of season that Justin Morneau was having. I am, after all, the owner of a fairly sane Canadian patriotism and was once the custodian of a fairly sweet portside swing (and warning track power). So I’d heard that Our Man Justin was in the mix, but even The Globe and Mail’s excellent Jeff Blair wasn’t picking him to win.

When ‘Big Papi’ David Ortiz came back with another superbly (absurdly) clutch-hitting season, I figured that maybe the a DH doesn’t deserve to win MVP argument might have run its course. And even more compelling, the isn’t it about time Derek Jeter won an MVP blast carried a lot of weight with me. It seemed sure that, with the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Twinkies in the running, it wasn’t going to be the kid from hockey country (who plays his baseball in the State of Hockey, Minnesota) that the sportswriters selected.

But it was, and I’m mostly happy. Canucks have had Larry Walker winning the National League MVP award in ’97, Jason Bay as NL Rookie of the Year in ’04, the ridiculous Steve Nash topping the NBA voting for the last TWO seasons, and any number of Howes, Lafleurs, Lemieux and Gretzkys (and Joe Thornton last year) who have won the NHL’s Hart Trophy. (Lest we forget: Howe won it six times. Gretzky won NINE.) And now, Justin Morneau has become the first Canadian to win honours as the American League’s top player. Particularly because of how loyal he has been to our national baseball team, that engaging humility, and because his salary is about 5 percent of Jeter’s, it’s hard not to like Morneau’s selection.

Unless you appreciate the defensive side of the game: apparently, not only do chicks dig the long ball but sportswriters do as well. Though he plays for the Evil Empire, there’s a lot to admire about Derek Jeter, and I liked the idea of a magnificent all-around player – and someone with his leadership and class – getting recognized individually. Shoot, a mashing first baseman is next door to a DH, and the National League choice was also a long-ball, bushel-basket-glove sort of guy, Ryan Howard. Whatever happened to “strength down the centre”? When was the last time a shortstop was MVP? (I’m thinking Cal Ripken.) Or a catcher? (Johnny Bench?) Or even a centre fielder? (Hmm. Surely we don’t have to invoke Willie Mays?)* Not that I’m complaining. Congrats to Mr. Morneau. New Westminster, B.C. is the capital of Jock Canada today.

* Okay, how did I do? (And how ’bout you?) Shortstops. Yikes. There’ve been three since Ripken: Barry Larkin (1995 NL), Miguel Tejada (2002 AL) and Alex Rodriguez (2003 AL), though the last two were picked mainly on big home run numbers. Catchers. Bench in 1970 and 1972 (NL), but I’d forgotten Thurman Munson (1976 AL). Centre fielders? There have been a few since Mays. Robin Yount (who also won as a shortstop, and is therefore the greatest all-around player in history) got it in 1989 (AL), and was preceded by Fred Lynn (1975 AL) and Willie McGee (1985 NL) and followed by Ken Griffey Jr. (1997 AL), whom I thought would win several. Many other outfielders have won, but few of them were better than average defensively and some were highlight reels of ineptitude. George Bell comes to mind. (And if I don’t shut up soon, somebody will mention that Wonderful Stevie Nash ain’t exactly a defensive stopper, either!)

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