I personally fall somewhere in between—choosing to fully recognize the “valuable” component, while not disqualifying a player who fell just short in a pennant race.
In many seasons, such as the 1998 Yankees, the best team is just that—a “team.” They are a unit comprised of multiple high quality players that represent something far greater than the simple sum of its parts.
A “Most Valuable Player” many times cannot be chosen from the game’s best team, as no player distinguishes himself as more important than the men standing next to him.
In other cases, a player has a season immortalized in baseball lore, and his accomplishments can/should sometimes outweigh a great season by a pennant winner—so long as they occur as part of a competitive ball club.
As a result of my slightly modified criteria, I have created a list of five controversial MVP decisions that particularly irritated me. Each personifies my frustration and disappointment with the MVP voting process, and shows why things need to change.
5. Andre Dawson (1987)
The 1987 vote represents most people’s underlying issue and concern with the MVP process—being “most valuable” on one of the league’s worst teams. Everyone loves “The Hawk,” but 1987 in no way represented an MVP-caliber season.
Not only did his Cubs finish dead last in the National League East (a staggering 18.5 games back of first place St. Louis), but Dawson’s stats were one-dimensional.
Dawson sported just a .287 BA and .328 OBP—just the 6th best batting average and 8th best on-base percentage of his career. As a result of his anemic OBP, Dawson scored just 90 runs that season even though he nearly hit 50 home runs.
To put an icing on the “undeserving cake,” Dawson’s strikeout-to-walk ratio was worse than at any point of his career from 1980 to his final year as a starter in 1993.
4. Alex Rodriguez (2003)
Another prime example of an MVP rising from the ashes of a last place team, Alex Rodriguez undeservedly won the award in 2003 with the Texas Rangers.
A-Rod’s Rangers finished 71-91, and were so far in Oakland’s rearview mirror that they stopped keeping track by the All-Star break. The eventual deficit stood at 25 games on the season’s final day.
Exactly how “valuable” can a player be for a last place team? Texas was nearly closer to capturing the worst record in MLB history than they were to catching the AL West Champion Athletics.
Though A-Rod’s numbers were very impressive, they left much to be desired for an eventual MVP winner. He produced 47 HR, 118 RBI, 124 R, and a .298 BA, but the bottom-line stats don’t tell the whole story.
Aside from being buried in last place, A-Rod hit just .276 with runners in scoring position, .260 in late-and-close situations (though I dislike the stat), and drove in just 47 of his 118 runs (39.8 percent) on the road.
A-Rod was no more than a product of a little league park in Arlington on a last place team. The Rangers finished last with him, and they would have finished last without him. There is nothing inherently “valuable” about a season like A-Rod’s in 2003.
3. Dennis Eckersley (1992)
Though this vote may be the one that raises my blood pressure to the most alarming of heights, it cannot possibly rise higher than No. 3 on the list.
This voting process does credit a solid season on a division-winning team, but it opens up a whole new can of worms. There have been players ignored in MVP discussions who had far better seasons than those Eckersley beat out, but this vote makes as little sense as any other.
The 1992 season didn’t represent Eckersley’s best season as a pitcher. It didn’t even represent his best season as a relief pitcher.
Yet this is the year a reliever wins the league’s Most Valuable Player Award?!
Eckersley was 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA while pitching 80 innings, recording 51 saves, and sporting a WHIP of 0.913. A very solid season, but nothing out of the ordinary for any season’s best closer.
To put things into perspective, “Eck” was 4-2 with a 0.61 ERA and 0.614 WHIP in 73.1 IP in 1990. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was an absurd 73:4, and he added an equally impressive 48 saves.
Not only did Eck not win the Cy Young in 1990 (finishing 5th), but he finished just 6th in the AL MVP voting process. His numbers were drastically better in 1990 than 1992, and help to illustrate how unimpressive his 1992 MVP season truly was in comparison.
2. Lou Gehrig (1934)
Lou Gehrig was a player underrated and underappreciated from the day he replaced Wally Pipp as the New York Yankees first baseman. He was overshadowed for much of his career by Babe Ruth—though he may have been just as responsible for Ruth’s breath-taking offensive performances.
Gehrig’s greatness was never ignored more starkly than during the 1934 major league season.
“The Iron Horse” captured the Triple Crown during that campaign—hitting .363 with 49 HR and 165 RBI. He also added 128 R and a .465 OBP—all without the benefit of a dangerous and productive Ruth.
Not only did Gehrig lose the MVP voting in 1934, but he finished fifth. Fifth? How can a Triple Crown winner be determined to have the fifth best season in the American League?
To make matters worse, the 1934 MVP vote went to the Detroit Tigers’ Mickey Cochrane. Gehrig lost out to a man who hit .320 with just 2 HR, 76 RBI, and 74 runs scored.
Cochrane only played in 129 games that season (Gehrig played all 154), and collected just 140 hits in comparison to Gehrig’s 210. Gehrig even stole more bases than Cochrane in 1934 (nine vs. eight).
A player who hit .43 points lower, scored 54 fewer runs, drove in 89 fewer runs, hit 47 fewer home runs, and collected 70 fewer hits was more valuable than Gehrig?
For those of you assuming the Yankees had a poor season, New York was 94-60 in 1934—winning 61 percent of their games.
* Mickey Cochrane was a player-manager and played a more important defensive position at catcher, but this alone cannot overshadow Gehrig’s godlike offensive season.
1. Ted Williams (1941, 1947)
The only thing that could possibly upstage Gehrig’s disappointment is a Hall of Fame player who was robbed of the MVP twice by division rival Joe DiMaggio.
Remember when I explained that some seasons are immortalized in baseball lore, and that these efforts should sometimes overcome a solid season by a pennant winner?
Ted Williams was ignored for epic achievements in both 1941 and 1947.
In 1941, Williams generated one of the most magical numbers in major league history when he hit .406. Never duplicated and rarely even approached since 1941, Williams’ “.406” is still recognized as one of the few statistical anomalies that may never be broken.
Unfortunately for Williams, he was put up against an equally immortalized baseball feat by a man on a pennant-winning club—DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
Even if voters chose to deem the two epic accomplishments as “equal,” Williams lead the league in walks, runs scored, home runs, slugging, on-base percentage (.553), and OPS.
Although a strong DiMaggio proponent, it is impossible for me to justify his MVP selection over a season like Williams’.
To further prolong the “head-scratching” phenomenon, Williams joined Gehrig in “Triple Crown but no MVP” purgatory in 1947.
Again losing the vote to “Joltin’ Joe,” Williams hit .343 with 32 HR, and 114 RBI—also leading the league in runs, walks, OBP, OPS, slugging, and total bases.
DiMaggio received the award even though he did not lead the league is any offensive category. He also played in 15 fewer games than Williams, hitting just .315 with 20 HR 97 RBI, and 97 R.
It can be argued that 1947 represented the worst full season of DiMaggio’s career, and it is rather difficult to argue against that notion. To hand him the MVP award is rather laughable, and an indictment on the voting process in general.