Friday, November 16, 2012

Miguel Cabrera = John Wayne in 1969

A star is honored with the most prestigious annual award he can get. By all old standards of the award he is a clear shoo in.

By every way the honor has been evaluated for generations, this star has hit all of the right spots and would receive the award without controversy.

 But these are different times.

There are not only new young faces to contend with but new ways of evaluating excellence. The old standards seem to have been thrown into the dumpster and discarded as old fashion, uncool and no longer with merit. 

Talent and performance are judged differently and challenges all of the old thinking. In the face of a changing world, the old standard won but the writing is on the wall.

People will be looking at talent through different glasses and judge excellence by an entirely new criteria.

 Am I talking about the 2012 American League Most Valuable Player vote?
Or am I talking about the 1969 Oscar for Best Actor?

This year it was Miguel Cabrera who did all the things that in past years would have made the MVP discussion a debate of who would finish second and third.

 He won the Triple Crown.
His team made the playoffs.
Cabrera's Tigers overtook the White Sox while Cabrera was on fire.

 Boom. Open and shut case.

 But Mike Trout, who began the season in the minor leagues, had a more complete season.

 His average and OPS were comparable to Cabrera.
His on base percentage was superior. He hit for terrific power and stole bases.

 Plus his defense was exceptional. (The fact that he didn't win a Gold Glove was insane.)

 Plus he towered over Cabrera in WAR.

 I don't get WAR. No two people seem to calculate WAR the same way. I hate WAR as a stat because it is subjective. But I digress. Trout's case is compelling without that vague stat.

 So you have the new mindset clashing with the old.

 The 1969 Oscar ceremony was very similar.

 Old time Hollywood was being overtaken by new talent and a new attitude. The Oscars still honored big spectacles and traditional stars.

During the counter culture peak of 1968, the Best Picture Oscar went to the very safe musical spectacle Oliver! 

In 1969, everything was pointing to John Wayne winning his Oscar.

He had never won before and he might not ever get a better shot than True Grit.

 It was everything an Oscar performance could ask for. He was a big star in a physically challenging role, all the while showing a sensitive side to go with his rough exterior.

 It was the big crowd pleasing blockbuster that Hollywood could crank out with one eye closed, or behind a patch in the case of True Grit.

 But new talent and a new kind of filmmaking was emerging and getting harder to ignore. Just a few years prior, The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde won a few major awards, challenging the old style of films. (The baseball equivalent of Felix Hernandez winning over a 20 game winner despite barely having a winning record.)

 Challenging John Wayne was another cowboy named Jon. Only this one was a male whore played by Jon Voight.

 Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy was going to take on Rooster Cogburn. 

(Never confuse male whore Joe Buck with Fox Sports' Joe Buck. Or at least try not to.)

 To make the race even more interesting, Joe Buck's pimp, Ratso Rizzo, was nominated as well. Anyone watching the movies saw that what Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman brought to their roles was more exciting and more complete than John Wayne's.

 Look at Hoffman! He was the kid in The Graduate and he transformed himself into a totally different role. What range!

 And like Mike Trout, Voight' s performance seemed to come out of nowhere for a new comer and he commanded the screen with emotional depth and humor.

 It was a new kind of movie and new kind of performances. And with a new criteria for judging excellence, they towered over even John Wayne.

 So what happened?

 The Oscars had the same result as the MVP. The old school won. And frankly, I am glad that John Wayne won an Oscar. He may not have deserved it for that movie, but a movie star of his quality should have a golden guy.

 In a similar manner, Miguel Cabrera won the MVP. There was no way that Sabermetrics were going to trump a Triple Crown. Not yet, at least.

Just like there was no way that Voight and Hoffman were going to deny the Duke his Oscar. But what happened after that?

 The new Hollywood's stars began to take over and the old stars and their acclaim took a back seat to a new way of thinking. Midnight Cowboy wound up winning the Best Picture Oscar. Actors like Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson and Ellen Burstyn started winning the acting awards. The old kind of Oscar films faded away for a time and a new measure of excellence evolved.

 So maybe this was the last gasp of the old guard the same way that John Wayne's Oscar signaled the end of a different era.

 Looking back, Wayne's performance does not carry the same resonance of Voight and Hoffman. It isn't even the best Oscar nominated performance of someone playing Rooster Cogburn. (I found Jeff Bridges' performance in the Coen Brothers remake to be more compelling).

 Maybe Cabrera's award will have the same feel with retrospect.

 And Mike Trout supporters take heart: Both Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman went on to win Oscars before the 1970s were over.

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