Debate continues nearly every year about what the “Most Valuable Player” award in baseball means. Does it mean the best player in the league? Does it mean the best player on the best team? Does it mean the best player out of all of the playoff teams? Does it mean a guy whose team just missed the playoffs, but couldn’t have done anything about it? Does it mean the player who got a few key hits when its team was making a run for the playoffs?
It seems to change every year, but most years, the voters end up getting it right. Sometimes, however, they get it completely wrong; but in their defense, baseball is probably the hardest sport to pick an MVP since pitchers and hitters can’t control one another (unless they are voting on little league MVPs when the best players usually do both, but that’s a different Top 7).
When they do get it wrong, it’s out of an infatuation with a certain player, a player’s story or their inflated worth to their team, or sometimes just for a completely bizarre reason. You will also notice that a lot of talk exists about Alex Rodriguez, Albert Belle, and Barry Bonds in these entries. Although I’m no fan of any of those guys, there is no denying that if they were not constant guys to rip on, they’d have some additional trophies (or in Belle’s case, one trophy). That leads us to this week’s Top 7.
7. Sammy Sosa, 1998
Personally, I will argue this one with Cub fans until I die. Yes, Sosa’s team won the Wild Card, and it was a huge story. But the Cardinals finished five games behind them, and it sure as hell wasn’t McGwire’s fault that Jeff Brantley was the Cardinals closer, their bullpen blew an extraordinary amount of games, and their starters were not very good either. I won’t even bother with all of the stats that clearly favor McGwire just because this argument can never be won.
6. Andre Dawson, 1987
You may think that this is included because Dawson’s Cubs were the last place team that year. Not the case—there isn’t anything wrong with a player winning MVP if his team sucks, as long as he is easily the best player in the league that year, which Dawson was not. It was similar to last year’s MVP “debate,” when some thought that Andruw Jones was MVP of the league only because of his HR and RBI totals. In on-base plus slugging, Dawson was 10th in the league. There were other guys who played for winning teams with better years, and other guys on non-winning teams with much better years, including Dale Murphy, Jack Clark, Will Clark, Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines, Eric Davis, and Tony Gwynn.
5. Terry Pendleton, 1991
It’s amazing to think back to 1991—almost everyone in the country was rooting for the Braves to win their division and the NLCS because they were known as that horrible, horrible team that played on cable. Due to the turnaround and its coverage, someone on their team had to be recognized as MVP, and that was Pendleton. Bonds had more homers (25 to 22), RBI (116 to 86), and stolen bases (43 to 10), and his team even had four more wins if that’s your thing. He also won the Gold Glove in left field. This was a classic “best story wins the MVP” year.
4. Ichiro, 2001
Everyone in the media had a man crush on Ichiro in the 2001 season, but this was ridiculous. Yes, Ichiro had a better AVG (.350 to .342), more runs (127 to 109), and way more stolen bases (56 to 2) than the guy that should have won, Jason Giambi. But Giambi annihilated Ichiro in doubles (47 to 34), home runs (38 to 8), RBI (120 to 69), OB% (.477 to .381), and SLG% (.477 to .388). The playoffs thing wasn’t even an excuse—the A’s made the Wild Card that year. It was simply that Ichiro was the better story, and Giambi had won the previous year’s award.
3. Barry Larkin, 1995
Larkin did have a great year in ’95 as the Reds made the playoffs, hitting .319 with 15 homers and 51 stolen bases in the strike-shortened year. It was just that there were other guys more worthy--this one was more of a lifetime achievement award and a pat-on-the-back for being a “good clubhouse guy” and friendly with the media. One is Mike Piazza, who hit .346 with 32 homers and 93 RBI and the Dodgers also made the playoffs. Barry Bonds that season had to suffer with some of the worst pitching in the league, or he probably would have won the MVP easily this year—he played in all 144 games, had the highest OPS in the league (barely edging Piazza), stole 31 bases, but still finished an astonishing 12th in MVP voting.
2. Miguel Tejada, 2002
This was the year that the A’s had the 20-game winning streak, and Tejada had game-winning hits in the 18th and 19th games of that streak. That is why he won the MVP—he had huge hits in games that had tons of attention. Never mind that Alex Rodriguez played the same position and destroyed Tejada in nearly every single category. This is the year that the “he played on a bad team” argument came into play, which became such a stupid argument the next year that it’s mind-boggling. In 2003, A-Rod was MVP of the AL, still on a last-place team, and he had a worse year than he had in 2002. How did the rules change in one year? Is it A-Rod’s fault that the Rangers had guys throwing underhanded on the mound? Does anyone in their right mind think that the A’s would not have made the playoffs in 2002 with Rodriguez and not Tejada at shortstop? This one truly makes no sense because of what happened later.
1. Mo Vaughn, 1995
Albert Belle was the MVP. Both teams made the playoffs, with the Indians winning 14 more games. Belle led in runs (121 to 98), doubles (52 to 28), homers (50 to 39), average (19 points), on-base (13 points), slugging (115 points), and they were tied in RBI. There is not one single legitimate argument as to why Belle did not win over Vaughn except for the fact that Belle was completely insane.