Joe Mauer is your AL MVP. Not Mark Teixeira. Not Kendry Morales. Not Derek Jeter. He is MVP by just about every standard imaginable except for the one applied by bored sportswriters who need copy during an inert pennant race.
Lots of smart people have made the case for Mauer, and to them I'll add that, as late as Aug. 18, Mauer's batting average was higher than Teixeira's on-base percentage (and today it's still above Morales' OBP). If VORP is your thing, the distance between Mauer and Jeter is roughly the same as the distance between Jeter and Marco Scutaro, and Mauer missed all of April. He is so self-evidently the MVP, even by the discredited standards of the old school, that the fact there is even a question makes you wonder if the awards discussion is not so much a proxy war between the statheads and the deadline poets as it is an argument between people who are paying attention and those who are trying to make a tee time.
The latest entry in the genre is Allen Barra's brief on behalf of Jeter, whose resurgence is at least partly due to his playing in a stadium with the rough dimensions of a rice cooker. You can probably recite the argument by heart:
The case for Mr. Jeter as American League MVP is being made by more subjective arguments. "How do you measure the value of inspiration and professionalism?" asks Marty Appel, author of "Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain." "Some people will argue that intangibles don't exist, but in the ninth inning of close games everybody believes in them."
Thurman Munson's and Mr. Jeter's personalities were different; Munson was surly and pugnacious, while Mr. Jeter still projects the image of boyish enthusiasm he had as a rookie in 1995. But, says Mr. Appel, the two share one important characteristic: "They both lead by example and performance. They helped make their teams better just by being there. No one ever slacked off with either of those guys on the field." To which Mike Ozanian of Forbes.com adds: "Jeter has been the anchor on a team that could have been derailed by injuries to key players like Alex Rodriguez. Winning has to count for something."
The campaign for Teixeira was inevitable. He has driven in a fat load of runs for the team with the best record in baseball, and even reasonable people think that should count for something. (It shouldn't, but whatever.) And someone was bound to bring up Morales, undeserving or not, if only because he's put up the most surprising numbers on a team that has put up a lot of them. Jeter is another matter entirely. Barra admits as much, writing, "No one would argue that Mr. Jeter's statistics are better than those of Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer." An MVP for Jeter wouldn't be an award for performance; it'd be an honorarium for Jeter's lengthy service to the sportswriting profession as a catch-basin for all its loose ideals about hustle and leadership and sportsmanship. (It'd be cousin to the vote that put Jim Rice in the Hall of Fame not because he deserved it but because he could be turned into a living PSA about steroids.)
Baseball is full of unworthy MVPs — Jimmy Rollins and Justin Morneau come readily to mind. But at least for them, people had the better sense to make specious arguments on faulty statistical grounds rather than specious arguments on matters of character. Jeter's MVP would be a case of the mythmakers congratulating themselves on the quality of their myth, of sportswriters swallowing their own line of arrant bullshit.