The first question is whether Alan Trammell deserved it. The answer is yes. “Most valuable player” is a funny phrase — it means different things to different people — but if you spent time around the Tigers this season, you know Trammell, the shortstop and cleanup hitter, was oozing the right stuff.

The second question is whether George Bell deserved it. The answer is yes. You needed only see the box scores this summer to know that Bell, the outfielder and cleanup hitter, was winning a lot of games for his Blue Jays — and winning, after all, is baseball’s truest test of value.

The third question is: How do two who deserve an MVP award both win it? The answer is, they don’t. One does. And one comes in second. I’m not sure what the actual MVP trophy looks like, but if Solomon were doing the voting instead of sports writers, it would have been carved in half.

It wasn’t.

Bell won.

“Sure, I’m a little disappointed,” Trammell, who finished second Tuesday
— 12 first-place votes to Bell’s 16 — said on the telephone from California. “But George is very deserving. He had an excellent year. . . . ” It was a very good year

Second place. Trammell said he had spent the day golfing, trying to take his mind off the vote. Still, he’d hurried home to wash up, to await the phone call, to make plans to fly to Detroit. “We’d left the calendar open the next few days . . . ” he admitted.

It was strange to be talking with him in November. The skies outside were dark and cold. It was raining. Tiger Stadium had been deserted for more than a month. Talk of baseball at this juncture seemed almost disorienting, like planning a Hawaiian vacation during a snowstorm.

Yet Trammell’s voice lit a wick of memories. What a year this guy had been through. There was the news, back in March, that he was going to be the Tigers’ new cleanup hitter (“I think it’s just one of Sparky’s experiments,” he said back then, not sounding very happy about it). There was the hitting streak he began in May and ended in June — 21 games — the singles and doubles and home runs smacking off his bat as if pre-destined.

There was the weekend series against the Yankees in Detroit in August, in which he and the Tigers really turned the season into high gear. And, in late September, the birth of his daughter, Jade Lynn. I remember that because we were both in the clubhouse in Toronto, and Trammell had just gotten the call. He was walking around in his purple Lakers T-shirt and his underwear, smiling, not really sure what to do.

“TRAM HAS SOMEBODY TO COOK FOR HIM NOW!” screamed trainer Pio DiSalvo.

“You had a girl, Tram?” asked Kirk Gibson.

“Yo, congratulations,” said Larry Herndon.

There were all those diving plays at shortstop, the magic flips to Lou Whitaker for yet another double play. And, of course, there was that final weekend against Toronto, that glorious slice of baseball pie, in which Trammell’s single with the bases loaded in the 12th inning won the next-to-last game of the season. One day later, he was a champion, along with all his teammates, drenched in champagne, his voice gone from screaming:
“This is unbelievable! . . . It’s so great!” A winner in defeat

But now Trammell, who hit .343 with 28 home runs, was answering questions about disappointment, about second place. “It seems the voters didn’t overemphasize the final week of the season,” someone observed. (Trammell had gone 9-for-27, Bell a shocking 2-for-22).

“That’s the way it should be,” Trammell said. “You take the whole season into account.”

“Had you won, what would it have meant?”

“Well, it would have been overwhelming, to see your name alongside some of the great names in baseball. But, you know . . . it didn’t happen. I feel honored to be considered the second-best player in the American League this year. . . . “

“Did you expect to win?”

“No,” he said, finally. “I think that George did a better job of carrying his club. He was exceptional in home runs and RBIs. I do a lot of things well, but I’m not really exceptional in any one thing.”

Except maybe class.

You can argue forever about playing shortstop versus playing left field. About Bell’s pure numbers versus Trammell’s inspiration. In the end, you come back to this:

Two deserve it. One wins it. And in a few days, most people will forget about it. But there is a scene that neither of them and few of us will ever forget: that final out on that October Sunday afternoon, when Trammell and his teammates leaped into a pile, drunk with glee, winners of the AL East. And Bell and his Toronto teammates could only watch.

The fans had a cheer for Trammell that day.

It went, “M-V-P! M-V-P!”

Somehow, the results of the actual voting don’t have much effect on that.

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