Alex Gordon will not win the American League MVP. This is true for many reasons, including but not limited to Mike Trout’s generational talent and Gordon’s lack of bold-faced statistics. Gordon will be on many ballots and continue to be the subject of these “he should be in the MVP conversation” stories, but he will not win the actual trophy. There.
Can we accept that as truth and move on?
Because the more the most important season of Gordon’s professional life is held up to this false standard, the fewer opportunities we have to appreciate a brilliant year (and remarkable career) in an honest way.
The more that Gordon’s MVP case is presented as a sort of second-rate debate show topic, the more his specific baseball genius is pushed down and misrepresented. It’s OK that Trout will win the MVP in a landslide. It’s OK that Gordon will finish third or fourth or fifth in the voting.
It’s OK, in large part because of nights like Wednesday.
The Royals beat the Rangers 4-1 to complete a sweep and a decent homestand that probably would’ve been a buzzkill and kick-started a fierce round of defeatism from Royals fans without Gordon.
That does not make him the MVP.
But it is part of what makes him an indispensable star in his boyhood team’s push to its first postseason since he was in diapers. Gordon is a two-time All-Star and a lock for his fourth consecutive Gold Glove. He has probably already played his way into the Royals’ Hall of Fame and is now working on a case as the franchise’s best player since George Brett.
Leading the Royals into the playoffs would do that.
And he does not need the MVP award to validate any of this.
The Royals finished their homestand 5-4, with one of the games against the Indians suspended going into the bottom of the 10th with the Royals down two runs. It is entirely conceivable that they would have won just two or three times in the last week and a half without Gordon.
He hit the walk-off homer against the Twins last week in the moment of the Royals’ season so far. Then this week, he was on base twice and scored twice in a one-run win on Monday and put the Royals in charge with a two-run homer on Wednesday.
Statistical studies show that clutch hitting either doesn’t exist or is unrepeatable, but Gordon has preposterous numbers in what the miracle that is Baseball-Reference defines as high-leverage situations: .330 batting average with .441 on-base and .580 slugging percentages.
In the last 41 games — starting with July 22, when the Royals began their quick and steady climb from two games under .500 and eight games behind the Tigers — Gordon is slugging .537. It’s not a coincidence that the Royals have changed their season in that time.
Gordon has 10 home runs since Aug. 7 (27 games), after hitting nine before that (106 games). Only the Astros’ Chris Carter has more home runs in the last 30 days than Gordon, who credits the power surge to doing more biceps curls. And it’s impossible to tell whether he’s joking, which is actually part of the charm.
All of this, and we haven’t even talked about how he is the best defensive left fielder in baseball and one of the game’s best base runners. Bragging on Gordon’s baseball prowess by traditional hitting numbers is a bit like bragging on a Lamborghini’s leather seats. It’s only a small part of the beauty.
There is also an intangible strength to Gordon’s presence. He might be the Royals’ most trusted teammate and is almost certainly the team’s hardest worker. He is completely devoted to the cause and not just because he signed a below-market-value extension to stay here three seasons ago and not even because he plans on exercising a below-market-value player option to stay here through 2016.
In Gordon, Royals coaches and executives sometimes say they see the best version of the franchise. He is wildly talented but has pushed and grunted his way through a stack of setbacks to a rising career built largely on hard work and self-belief.
In the old days, maybe Gordon’s MVP case would have more traction. The voting used to be much more about a surprise team making the playoffs, especially by a close margin. The voting used to be much more about narratives that appealed to sports writers, and what could be more appealing than Gordon’s story?
A boy grows up going to Royals games, eventually is drafted by his hometown team and goes through years of struggles to live up to unfair expectations before changing positions out of organizational desperation and earning his stardom as the muscle behind the possible end of the longest playoff drought in North American sports.
That’s what makes Gordon’s remarkable season matter to the Royals, and matter much more than any manufactured debate about “being in the conversation” for an MVP award clearly going to someone else.
Gordon won’t be the MVP.
But he could be the reason for something much more valuable to the Royals and Kansas City.
To reach Sam Mellinger, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.