The sabermetric clan just love them some Albert. If they could shove all of their ultimate exotic measures like VORP, WHIP, RAR, DIPS, SNW, OPS and WAR into a statistical blender, out would pop Virtual Pujols, a spectacular hitting machine even Keith Law could unconditionally love.
And I say thank goodness for Pujols, because he is the perfect baseball creation who, at least for the moment, has allowed the game's stubborn old-school traditionalists, new-school deep thinkers and baseball's statistical moderates, too, to meet on some common ground.
I woke up Tuesday morning with a slight case of uncomfortable dread bubbling in my stomach, wondering who and how someone armed with a Baseball Writers Association of America National League MVP ballot in one hand and a sabermetric crib sheet in another was going to use the rigid language of science to explain why Pujols didn't deserve to win his third NL MVP.
Much to my surprise and relief, no one went rogue on the MVP voting, with Pujols receiving all 32 first-place votes, becoming only the sixth NL player to win the award by unanimous vote ... and sanity was once again restored to Baseball America.
After the turbulence of last week's Cy Young balloting, where we saw a seismic shift in the way baseball writers measured what constitutes greatness in their game, an angry debate ensued.
In this corner, Old School intuition.
In this corner, New School sabermetrics.
And oh, what a nasty war of words came spilling out of both corners of baseball's hottest debate.
And in spite of some unsettling stubbornness on the part of Law, ESPN's new-age statistical prince who fought his battle armed with mind-numbing formulas and obtuse alibis, steadfastly resisting the urge to rely on anything beyond his spread-sheet meanderings to quantify something so wonderfully intuitive as the athletic gift of excelling at baseball, I think some progress was made.
As my new-school buddy Matthew Leach of MLB.com says, even if you don't agree with Law's inflexible logic, we shouldn't shut him out of the conversation. In fact, it might do baseball a world of good to let more of these voices -- as insane as they might be -- scream on the mountaintop.
This is an important debate that has been on a slow rise from a steady simmer to an all-out boil for some time now, even with moderates like Cards general manager John Mozeliak trying to bridge the gap. "I believe in analytics," Mozeliak said Tuesday. "There's a lot of value in them. But I also realize that baseball-card stats (batting average, home runs, RBIs, wins and losses, ERA) tell you a lot, too, and to ignore that wouldn't be very smart, either." I am with Mozeliak on this. It can't be all old-school intuition and traditional numbers any more than it should be all new-school sabermetrics. I am not an anti-numbers traditionalist. I am not some athletic Neanderthal who wants to swing a cudgel upside the head of anyone who dares to bring an intellectual analysis to the game. I just happen to believe that you can overthink yourself when all you do is rely on numbers in evaluating athletic greatness.
Numbers are not an absolute tool like the sabermetric worshipers would have you believe. You do not calculate the baseball genius of any great player solely with a spreadsheet any more than you would judge the musical genius of Chuck Berry or Miles Davis by an elaborate math formula.
Sports is more art than science. It is about improvisation and instinct as much as it is about technique and calculations. I can teach 100 men to mimic Pujols' batting stance and swing, and a hundred more to copy Tim Lincecum's pitching motion, but how many will produce the same results? I can come armed with any number of potent analytical data to prove that Pujols is better than Prince Fielder, and that's just fine. I love the stats as a useful tool, not an absolute, can't-miss measuring stick. At some intuitive level, can't I simply go to a few games, sit in the stands and rely on my eyes and instincts to do the same job with considerably fewer high-minded calculations? There is of course some science in sports, and it has created some dramatic improvements in terms of training, equipment, coaching and performance. And it's no different when it comes to the demanding world of talent evaluation, too. Give me a radar gun, a video camera and a thick booklet of revealing stats to grade any number of players.
But every time I hear these stat freaks clinging too tightly to their rigid formulas and reciting an exhausting litany of sabermetrics to describe athletic greatness, I am reminded of a conversation I had several years ago with NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.
I once asked Sanders, who is generally regarded as the greatest pure runner in the history of the game, what he saw when he was zig-zagging his way through all that heavy traffic and finding daylight during a game, and I was expecting a dramatic recitation that might have been best-suited for a kinesiology class.
Instead, Sanders let out a soft chuckle and gave me the simplest description of athletic greatness I've ever heard: "I see the same thing you would," he said. "The only difference is, I can get there."
In other words, sports just isn't that darned complicated.