From a kid who didn’t know which hand to wear his glove on to the shortlist for American League MVP, the legend of Lorenzo Cain continues to grow.
The truly odd thing about the Lorenzo Cain story is how the more it gets told, no matter how often it’s verified, the less likely it feels like it could possibly be true. Each time you are just about able to wrap your mind around the details, it reaches another degree of unlikelihood.
The kid who never even played Little League quickly became a solid player on his high school team.
The boy who only went out for baseball because he got cut from the basketball team and wasn’t allowed to play football was drafted.
The guy who didn’t know what it meant when the Brewers called to say he was drafted made it to the Major Leagues.
The teenager who, the first time he ever shagged fly balls, didn’t know on which hand he should wear his borrowed glove became an All-Star.
It is a superhero origin story with no radioactive spider to explain the sudden acquisition of amazing abilities. How are we supposed to come to grips with the fact Lorenzo Cain could be the American League MVP?
Kansas City has a long and unique baseball history. It’s a place where they’ve heard all the legends and tall tales and figured out what to take with a grain of salt. They know the stories about Satchel Paige when he played for the Monarchs. How he had the infielders sit down while he struck out the side on barnstorming tours or how he loaded the bases on purpose in the 1942 Negro World Series just so he could sit down Josh Gibson.
There’s the one about Charlie Finley pointing the KC Athletics’ team bus toward New York and setting it on fire to make a point that the A’s were no longer going to serve as a de facto farm team for the Yankees.
Buck O’Neil, the late, beloved player for the Monarchs and scout for the Royals, had seen all the great ones and said when Bo Jackson took batting practice the sound of the crack of his bat was one he’d only heard from Gibson and Babe Ruth.
Not a single story is as amazing as the rise of Cain. He came from Florida, where kids are groomed to become college or pro baseball players from elementary school when they start playing year-round on travel teams and in showcase events. But Cain sat out of organized sports as a youngster so he wouldn’t add burden to his single mother working two jobs.
Somehow, it didn’t matter how late he picked up the game, he always caught up. When the Royals traded Zack Greinke to the Brewers in 2010, getting Cain, Alcides Escobar and others in return, they tried to sell the trade to fans by planting the idea the young outfielder Cain could be a Torii Hunter with less power.
By the time Cain won the ALCS MVP last fall, the comparisons seemed legit. He would have won a Gold Glove in centerfield had he not played so many innings in right as the Royals worked to get Jarrod Dyson playing time.
This year, he should get his first Gold Glove as a full-time centerfielder, but it might not be the only piece of hardware he earns. As of right now, he’s a legit MVP candidate.
Of course, Mike Trout is still the favorite. He’s the name and the face of the league at this point and having an MVP season himself. But if the season ended today, Cain would have to be on a short list of players deserving serious consideration.
He entered the week hitting .320 with an OPS of .890, all while playing magnificent centerfield and taking on more responsibility in the Royals outfield with Alex Gordon injured.
A Moneyball loyalist who only trusts data and an analytical approach? Cain is tied for second in the American League in Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball Reference. He’s ranks in the top 10 in batting average (5th), on base percentage (9th), runs scored (8th) and stolen bases (3rd).
An old-school baseball lover with more appreciation for intangibles? Cain is having the best season for the best team in the American League. He’s softened the blow of losing Gordon by playing his best after his fellow All-Star went down. Before last night, he had a nine-game hit streak and 46 hits in his last 32 games. He seems to always make a play just when the Royals need it most and without Gordon, he’s the man in the clubhouse.
Live with us in the land of the sane where the game is best viewed through both lenses? You come to the same conclusion: Cain is having an incredible year and is clearly one of the best position players in the American League right now.
And for a guy who never hit many home runs, he’s suddenly on a power surge, hitting four homers and three doubles in the past two weeks. His 10 homers this season are easily a career high.
At this point, it couldn’t make his story any more incredible if he finished the year on a run that gives him 30. After all, if a guy can go from never putting on a glove to playing pro ball in a span of three years, why would it be hard to believe he suddenly figured out how to hit the ball over the fence?
It’s what makes this particular tall tale special. There’s not the typical level of faith or skepticism usually required. There’s no exaggerating to grab your attention. This is like actually witnessing Pecos Bill ride a tornado. We’re all watching the legend unfold in real time.