At the end of the COG, a lot of us were talking about a “next” project. Nothing has yet emerged or, more accurately, I haven’t found the time to follow-up some of the suggestions that were made. Thus, I’m delighted to introduce a new series authored by Dr. Doom, whom many of you will know from his frequent contributions as an HHS reader.
So, without further ado, I’ll let Dr. Doom introduce himself, after the jump.
Hey, y’all! Dr. Doom here, ghostwriting for Doug. Sorry I haven’t been around much lately. I had a little COG hangover here at HHS, and in March, my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world – a ten-pound future Prince Fielder or Rick Reuschel or something. As of his six-month appointment on Friday, he was in the 97th percentile for weight… so yeah. 😉
Anyway, I know I haven’t been super active in the last half-year, but I’m hoping to rectify that. I thought that maybe it would be worthwhile for me to try to put together one of the ideas we discussed: re-voting MVPs. I’m hoping to do so by writing this series (weekly, I hope) revisiting and re-voting seasons with several players worthy of MVP consideration.
Personally, my favorite thing here at HHS is the interesting discussions we have – it’s the reason the COG was so fun. Therefore, I’m not planning to put together EVERY MVP, because some of them are obvious. No one’s voting against Robin Yount in 1982 or Cal Ripken, Jr. in 1991 or Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 or Mickey Mantle in 1956, so I don’t want to re-hash things that are obvious. Likewise, I’m also not super interested in years in which the voters picked “wrong” between two candidates. Yes, maybe it’d be better if Ted Williams had those two MVPs over Joe DiMaggio. Maybe the world would be a more just place if Barry Bonds had topped Terry Pendleton in 1991. But those are binary choices that are more referenda on the voters and their lack of knowledge, instead of years when any of several candidates might have been a deserving choice.
What interests ME most, are those years when the choice isn’t easy – when there are three or more candidates, and not necessarily a “right” and “wrong” choice. Think this year’s AL Cy Young debate, if you want to know what I’m thinking about. I’m interested in how our community would choose to deal with some of the more challenging selections of the past. Some of these are years in which there are two or three players having “MVP-type seasons.” Some are years in which there’s really no one having an outstanding season, so the selection is difficult for that reason.
I have 14 seasons picked out, beginning in 1960 but with none from the last 10 years (I don’t want us to go TOO far back, but I think it’s best if we have a little bit of distance, as well). In each of these seasons, there were reasons to reconsider the choice of the BBWAA. These are elections where there were multiple candidates with similar seasons. Sometimes, the winner was one of those players, and sometimes he wasn’t.
My thought was that we’d have 3-ish days of pure discussion, with no voting, and then take the next four days to re-vote, with descending 10-player ballots, scored 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, just as the MLB award goes. If you feel like you can’t fill out all ten spots, that’s fine – but you have to fill out at least half. Ballots with fewer than five players named will be thrown out.
Now, I can’t require this of the rest of you, but I’m writing these posts without reference to WAR, not because I don’t use it (I think you all know that I do), but because it often wasn’t available to MVP voters. If you even want to make your selections without reference to it, more power to you. I kind of think I might do that, just so we’re not mechanically looking at WAR and listing the players in that order… because where’s the fun in that? But hey, reference what you want to, because looking at WAR can be interesting, too.
So, with all of that prelude out of the way, here’s the first post, and the first “controversial” election I have for us: the 1960 NL MVP race.
The 1960 season was, in many ways, the end of Major League Baseball as it had been. The following year, there would be a round of expansion. While teams had already moved and integration had happened, the baseball of 1960 still featured a 154-game season in both leagues and the same 16 franchises that had been duking it out for over a half-century. It was the last season in which the single-season HR record belonged to Babe Ruth. Although expansion would not reach the NL until two years later, this season was, in many ways, the last of the “good ol’ days.”
The NL “pennant race” was not much of one. The Pirates roared into first place for the first time on April 24th (their 11th game of the season and the 13th day overall). They gave up that lead two weeks later, but gained it back on May 18th – from which point they did not relinquish it. They weren’t even tied for first after July 24th. They won 95 games, outperforming their Pythagorean record by 3 games.
These, though, were the last vestiges of the “strength up the middle” years of MVP voting, wherein the BBWAA would pick a middle infielder, CF, P, or C as the MVP each season, usually from the pennant winner. In Pittsburgh’s case, a very balanced team with strong but not necessarily outstanding players all over the diamond, the honor fell to SS Dick Groat. Groat was a career .286 hitter entering 1960, but won a shocking batting title, hitting .325 (his career OBP entering ’60 had been only .324!), and in the days of batting averages and strength up the middle, that was all anyone needed. Never mind that his .325 was almost entirely empty – 25 2B, 6 3B, 6 HR, 85 R, and only 50 RBI! But he had a good glove and played a tough defensive position and won a batting title for a pennant winner in a cake walk, so what do you want from the voters?
Well, his teammate Don Hoak was the runner up, garnering 5 of the 6 1st-place votes Groat failed to receive. He played solid defense, as well, but added 16 HR to his .282 average, scored 97 and drove in 79, and his season got memorialized by one of my favorite moments from City Slickers, so there’s always that. The other 1st place vote that year also went to a Pirate – to Roberto Clemente, who batted .314 and paced the Bucs in RBI with 94, to go along with 16 HR and that gorgeous arm in RF. Oh… except it’s possible that none of those guys were the most valuable of the eyepatch-wearers. Vern Law was 20-9 with a 3.08 ERA in 271.2 innings, pacing the senior circuit with 18 complete games. Reliever Roy Face was also a popular down-ballot choice for MVP that year, going 10-8 in 114.2 stingy innings – 2.90 ERA, 1.064 WHIP, and what-weren’t-then-but-might-be-later 24 saves.
Milwaukee continued to be merely excellent instead of dynastic (perhaps justifying Bill James‘s claim that they were the team in baseball history to do the least with the most), winning 88 and outperforming their Pythagorean expectation by 4. Third-place St. Louis also outperformed their Pythagorean record, by SIX in their case, winning 86. Los Angeles, the previous year’s pennant-winner, fell back to fourth, and underperformed by 3, winning “only” 82. The Giants also finished about .500 (79 wins), and the rest of the second division was rounded out by the “usual suspects” – Cincinnati (67 wins), Chicago (60) and Philadelphia (59).
The Braves were led by the always-stellar combination of Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron. Their numbers are indistinguishable from one another, basically – .277/.397/.551 with 108 R, 39 HR, and 124 RBI for one, and .292/.352/.566 with 102 R, 40 HR, and 126 RBI (and the league lead) for the other (Mathews’ stats listed first).
Willie Mays (.319/.381/.555 – scored 107, knocked in 103, belted 29 and swiped 25… and was WILLIE MAYS in CF) was his usual self. Ernie Banks, playing for a terrible team and beginning (only slightly) to show his age at SS, was just about as good a hitter as he’d been in the previous two seasons, during both of which he’d won MVP: .271/.350/.554 with a league-leading 41 HR, plus 117 RBI and 94 scored.
Two Cardinals, Lindy McDaniel and Ken Boyer, were the other standouts in 1960. McDaniel was the highest-finishing pitcher in the MVP vote that year (topping Vern Law in MVP votes, but trailing both Law and Warren Spahn in Cy Young votes), but only started two games. As a reliever, he appeared 65 times and went 12-4 with 27 saves (which, remember, weren’t counted in 1960). He had a 2.09 ERA and 105 Ks in 116.1 pitched. Boyer finally put it all together. His .304 average was right in line with his career mark (three of his previous five seasons had shown averages of .306, .307, and .309), but his SLG jumped from a previous high of .508 to .562, as he hit 26 doubles to go along with 32 homers. He rounded that out with 95 R and 97 RBI, and Ken Boyer defense at third.
So, who will it be? One of the pennant winners? A stalwart Brave? A Cardinal? A third consecutive MVP for Ernie Banks? The perpetual candidate Willie Mays? Or someone I didn’t even mention? Let the discussion (and voting) commence!