This is Crossed Up, where we merge the thoughts we have on two sports into one post because we can and we want to. In a previous edition of this series, we made a baseball team entirely out of hockey players. Here, we do something similar.
Last week, the Washington Capitals captured their franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup championship in a five-game series win over the Vegas Golden Knights. The win was the first time Alexander Ovechkin, one of the greatest pure goal scorers of all-time, captured the league’s 126-year-old trophy that had previously eluded him throughout his 13-year career.
Ovechkin had been perceived as a choker, a selfish player whose talents in the regular season never translated to postseason play. He couldn’t win the “big game,” so to speak, unlike his contemporaries Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews. (For what it’s worth, I always thought this was nonsense, and these narratives are for use by only the biggest hacks in sports media.)
Anyway, Ovechkin has since shed that reputation and finally got what he deserved, a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Award for the postseason’s most valuable player. I’m also not sure he’s had a clear, coherent, sober thought since Thursday night, but that’s beside the point.
Baseball has an Alex Ovechkin, because every sport has an Alex Ovechkin. Major League Baseball has an assortment of aging future Hall of Famers without World Series titles, the likes of which include guys who have — like Ovechkin — lost in the postseason many times. But who is the Ovechkin of MLB? Let’s take a look at the options and decide.Alex Ovechkin has finally won the Stanley Cup, shedding his reputation as a choker and a perennial disappointment. Does MLB have an Ovechkin, though? A new Crossed Up examines.Click To Tweet
Note: Keep in mind that championships are a team achievement and it really isn’t fair to pin postseason failures on one guy. However, that’s exactly what happened to Ovechkin for a decade and change, as silly as it is.
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels:
Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, with nobody close in second-place. Like Ovechkin, who has led the National Hockey League in goals seven times, Trout has paced MLB in bWAR four times, including as a rookie when he posted 10.7 wins above replacement. He’s only 26, but he has 59.7 bWAR, 220 home runs, over 600 RBIs, and a .306 career batting average to his name already.
Ovechkin was eliminated early in the postseason countless times in his career, but at least he won playoff games. Trout can’t say the same; he’s been to the playoffs just once in his eight-year career, losing to the American League pennant winners Kansas City in the 2014 AL Divisional Series by virtue of a three-game sweep.
Ovechkin’s career has epitomized the brutal nature of never having enough help on your team to win a title. Trout falls in line with Ovechkin in that regard pretty easily, but again, he’s only 26. Ovechkin is 32, and had been through a whole lot more before his Cup conquest. As weird as it sounds, Trout is gonna have to, uh, suffer some more before we can compare him to Ovi.
Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals:
Max Scherzer has quite a bit of the same résumé as Ovechkin: lots of playoff disappointments, tons of regular season accomplishments that fail to transition to the postseason, and hey, he plays in Washington, D.C. Scherzer is on pace for his third straight Cy Young Award in the National League, but he has never won the World Series.
Scherzer has pitched a pretty sizable amount in the playoffs, going 82 innings, facing over 300 batters, and even making a World Series start. Unlike Trout, and more like Ovechkin, Scherzer has been there before and also been responsible for his teams’ postseason demise. In addition, the 33-year-old is around the same age.
The only part I have trouble with in comparing these two is that Scherzer has been on three teams, and been very successful (like, the Cy Young Award in the AL successful) with two. Ovechkin is a career Capital, and part of his reputation leading up to his Cup run was his part in the championship drought of D.C. teams. The five-time All-Star hasn’t been there his whole career the same way Ovechkin has.
That’s also an awfully arbitrary way to discredit someone. Screw it, Scherzer is Ovechkin.
Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins:
Joe Mauer may not be the transcendent talent in his sport that Ovechkin is, but the parallels are there. Mauer has been with one team his whole career, he’s getting up there in age (35), has previously been the game’s premier player (Mauer won MVP with the Twins in 2009, hitting .365 with 28 homers and 95 RBIs), and has never won the World Series.
Mauer has only appeared in 10 postseason games, and just one of those coming since 2010. The five-time All-Star is probably the most analogous to “The Great Eight” in those respects, but like Trout, he doesn’t match up well as far as playoff sorrow goes.
In my opinion, Mauer is a surefire Hall of Famer, but not everyone in and around the game feels that way. It doesn’t help that some don’t even view you as a historic talent if you’re supposed to be like Ovi.
Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers:
Adrian Beltre is the oldest and the most ihaveneverwonachampionship-y of all potential Ovechkins in consideration, having played 2,850 games, compiling over 3,000 hits, over 460 home runs, and over 1,650 runs batted in. He has had a Hall of Fame career and would be in now if he retired tomorrow.
That World Series ring still eludes the five-time Gold Glove winner at third base, though. He has competed in the Fall Classic before, but fell at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011.
To be Ovi, you have to eventually win a ‘ship, right? Well, Beltre is 39, can hardly stay on the field (94 games last season, 35 in 2018), and plays for the last-place Rangers. A trade isn’t out of the question, but Beltre’s stock is extremely low with all things considered, therefore it is no formality. It’s likely that Beltre, one of the most purely entertaining players in baseball, won’t get another shot.
He won’t be Ovechkin, he’ll just be Marcel Dionne or somebody.
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners:
Over the last decade or so, Felix Hernandez has been up there with the premier pitchers in MLB, putting up numbers that would rival the most dominant stretches of Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, and Bob Gibson. King Felix now, however, is a decent-to-mediocre middle-of-the-rotation starter who has clearly lost a step.
But so has Ovechkin to a large degree. The Capitals captain led the NHL in goals this season with 49, but it’s a far cry from his career single-season high of 65. To recap, both Hernandez and Ovechkin are legends at the position who are past their prime, but still high-quality guys on a good night.
Hernandez, unlike Ovechkin, has not been blamed for the playoff failures of his teams, and that’s because the six-time All-Star has never stepped on the mound in a postseason game. He’s never won a ring because, well, he can’t get to October with the laughable supporting casts he has.
To have a miserable team behind you and still play lights out for a long time is very Ovechkin-esque, and that’s Felix in a nutshell.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds:
Joey Votto is a career .313 hitter, a former MVP, a five-time All-Star, a Gold Glover at first base, and has seven times led the National League in on base percentage. Despite all this, he plays on the Reds, and has taken his position in just nine career postseason games. Votto has never advanced past the Division Series, and that’s pretty pre-Cup Ovechkin to me.
He’s a Hall of Famer now, will be a Hall of Famer in the future, etc., but no playoff success and no prowess on the biggest stages. He’s 34, stuck on a rebuilding Cincy club, and owed $20 million a year until he’s 40, so it’s hard to visualize how any team absorbs Votto and gives him a chance to get a ring.
He’s the Eternal Alex Ovechkin in a way even Ovechkin isn’t.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers:
Clayton Kershaw is one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. He may not be as dominant or as consistent as the Kersh of old — the NL MVP and three-time Cy Young winner — but that only evens him and the rest of MLB out.
Before the Cup win, Ovechkin was often blamed for Washington’s failures in the Stanley Cup Playoffs despite being the main reason as to why they were there. Kershaw is basically the same, a one-man wrecking crew on otherwise flawed Dodgers clubs basically carrying them to the postseason (to be fair, they have a billion NL West crowns in a row, but Kersh has been arguably the most important player on every team).
Here’s a little something to sweeten the pot in that regard, too: Ovechkin’s Capitals have won the President’s Trophy, awarded to the NHL team with the best regular-season record, three times. In all three seasons, they lost in the first or second round of the postseason with home-ice advantage and far more skilled rosters. Kershaw is 7-7 in the postseason with an ERA two runs higher than his regular-season average.
Kershaw might be the ultimate Ovechkin.
Oh, by the way, if you have any ideas for a future edition of Crossed Up, or any extra MLB versions of Alex Ovechkin, make sure to comment below.