Top Ten MVP Snubs of All Time

Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com

 

If Barry Bonds does not win the National League MVP this season, it will be quite a snub. But will it be one of the top ten of all time? Probably not.

 

10. 1995: Barry Larkin over Dante Bichette.

 

A couple of years ago, Scott and I were on the phone, dogging Barry Larkin for winning the 1995 NL MVP. We both had our trusty copies of Total Baseball on hand, so we both looked up Barry. What we found shocked us:

 

 

R

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

Barry Larkin

117

33

89

36

96

52

.298

.410

.567

.977

156

 

 

 

You could have heard a pin drop. We both backtracked and began to wonder out loud why it was that we had dogged Larkin so vehemently. His season had been outstanding, and our conversation turned from MVP snubs to the greatest shortstop seasons of all time. Then, at the exact same moment, what we were missing suddenly occurred to both of us: those were not his MVP numbers! We had both looked at Larkin's 1996 season and naturally assumed it was his MVP year, in part because his numbers overwhelmed us so, and in part because his 1995 numbers paled in comparison:

 

 

R

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

Barry Larkin

98

15

66

51

61

49

.319

.394

.492

.886

134

 

 

 

Make no mistake: I go as ga-ga over a .319 average and 51 stolen bases as the next guy, but in 1995 Barry Larkin was a very good member of a talented division winning team, while Dante Bichette out-produced Larkin dramatically while leading the Rockies into the playoffs in only their third year in theleague.

 

 

R

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

Dante Bichette

102

40

128

13

22

96

.340

.364

.620

.984

130

 

 

 

Is it possible that Dante's comical 22 walks and hilarious OBP, which was a mere 24 points higher than his AVG, were responsible for his not winning the award? Sure. Is it possible that Dante was hurt by playing in Colorado? Sure. Was Barry Larkin more deserving of the MVP in 1995? Not really.

 

9. 1970: Boog Powell over Carl Yastrzemski

 

1970

H

R

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

Player A

156

82

35

114

1/2

104

80

.297

.412

.549

.961

163

Player B

186

125

40

102

23/36

128

66

.329

.452

.592

1.044

178

 

 

Quick, which of these players was Boog Powell, the 1970 AL MVP? Hint, it was not Player B.

 

8. 1987: George Bell over Alan Trammell

 

By now it should be clear that in 1987, the voters were homer happy, as the NL MVP went to the HR and RBI leader[1], and the AL MVP went to the league runner up in HR, and leader in RBI, George Bell. Fact is, George Bell was simply not as good as Alan Trammell in 1987, despite the apparent advantage in the power categories. Bell hit 47 homers and 134 RBIs, which bested Trammell by 19 and 29, respectively. However, Trammell hit 35 points higher than Bell, stole 21 bases to Bell's 5, had 17 more hits than Bell, and had an OPS only 4 points lower than Bell's despite Bell's sizable home run advantage. Further, Trammell struck out 47 times to go with his 60 walks, while Bell struck out 75 times to go with 39 walks.

 

Two non-offensive factors also weigh heavily in Trammell's favor. First, Trammell's Tigers won the American League East by 2.0 games over Bell's Blue Jays. Ask Ted Williams about players on second place teams winning the MVP over players on first place teams. He'll probably slug you one. Second, Trammell was a shortstop while Bell was a leftfielder. And to the extent that range factor means anything at all, Trammell was .30 above the league average while Bell was .23 below the league average.

 

7a. 1942: Joe Gordon over Ted Williams

7b. 1947: Joe DiMaggio over Ted Williams

 

A case could be made that Ted Williams was robbed every year he was in the league, so listing each season would not be of use. However, these two seasons make the list, and are paired together, to draw attention to one phenomenon. It is tolerable when a guy goes 40-40 and doesnít win the MVP (ARod and Bonds). It is tolerable when a guy leads the league in HR and doesnít win the award (happens all the time). But one thing is certain, and this you can be sure of: no player should ever win the Triple Crown and not win the MVP.

 

Ted did not merely win the Triple Crown in these seasons. In both seasons, he lead the league in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, Runs, Total Bases, HR, RBI, BB, and XBHits. Ted simply dominated the league in these two seasons, and yet finished second in the MVP balloting to a Yankee each year. Joe Gordonís AL MVP in í42 was a less severe version of seasons like Marty Marionís NL MVP in í44. Gordon was no better than the third best player on his own team, but as a second baseman, he must have riveted the voters with his 18 HR, 103 RBI, 88 Runs, and .900 OPS. Williams, however, was 36-137-141-1.147 in those categories.

 

Joe DiMaggioís award in 1947 was simply a gimme to an old favorite whose team also happened to win the pennant. While Tedís Sox slipped to third place in the AL, Joe D. had 20 HR, 97 Runs and RBI, and hit .315 with a .391 OBP. Did I mention that he was a Yankee?

 

6. 1959: Ernie Banks over Hank Aaron

 

Hank Aaron was once asked why he didn't win more MVP awards, and he said that it was because the sports writers who voted for the award were racist. From 1949 to 1969, 16 of the 21 NL MVPs were black, which calls Aaron's assertion into question a bit. What he should have said in response to that question was, "Well, I don't know why it was, but that damn Ernie Banks stole one from me in 1959, I can tell you that much." (By the way, Hank, Ernie was black, and he managed to win two MVP awards.)

 

Frankly, Aaron just smoked Banks in 1959. Not only did the Braves finish second in the NL while the Cubs finished fifth, but Aaron led Banks in every major offensive category, except HR and RBI, convincingly. He scored 19 more runs, stole more bases, gathered more 44 more hits, hit 21 more doubles, and batted 51 points higher than Banks. Banks did play shortstop, but this is of little consequence. Aaron was the superior player, on the better team, and deserved the award in 1959.

 

 

5. 1996: Juan Gonzalez over Alex Rodriguez

 

There are players about whom it can be said that each year they were in the league they probably deserved the MVP (Williams, Mays, Mantle), and thus they were snubbed repeatedly. But rarely throughout baseball history has one player robbed the same player more than once. In 1996 and 1998, though, Juan Gonzalez almost did just that to Alex Rodriguez.

 

To be sure, Juanís Texas Rangers won their division in both seasons in which he won the MVP, and ARodís team finished second and third in those seasons, respectively. At some point, however, individual accomplishment has to outweigh a teamís finish in the standings, particularly where the stats are so far superior:

 

1996

H

R

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

Gonzalez

170

89

47

144

2

45

82

.314

.368

.643

1.011

150

ARod

215

141

36

123

15

59

104

.358

.414

.631

1.045

160

 

 

Juan Gonzalez winning the 1996 AL MVP can only be explained by one thing: occasionally, MVP voters become obsessed with the home run and the RBI, and somehow allow themselves to overlook other categories. ARodís production so far surpassed Gonzalezís in 1996, but the fact is that Juan Gonzalez had significantly more HR and RBI. Apparently, those other factors, like runs scored, OPS, batting average, stolen bases, etc, just didn't matter very much in 1996. Not to mention the fact that ARod was a shortstop, a far more valuable position than right field, where Juan Gonzalez. In the end, it was HR and RBI, plus a division title, which pulled it out for Juan Gonzalez.

 

The case is a little less clear in 1998. For one, ARodís team finished third to JuanGonís team, which starts ARod off in a hole. Then, the stats donít match up as favorably either:

 

1998

H

R

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

Gonzalez

193

110

45

157

2

46

126

.318

.366

.630

.996

149

ARod

213

123

42

124

46

45

121

.310

.360

.560

.920

135

 

 

The gaudy stat is certainly ARodís 40-40. His 213 hits are also impressive. But his production simply does not measure up, as JuanGon accounted for more R+RBI, and his OPS numbers were significantly better. While ARod and his fans probably felt that they deserved a ďmake-up callĒ for '96 from the baseball writers, the baseball writers actually made the right choice in 1998.

 

4. 1962: Maury Wills over Willie Mays

 

This inversely named duo finished atop the league in MVP voting and in the standings in 1962, with Maury Wills taking home the hardware and Willie Mays and his Giants taking home the pennant. Willie was fantastic in í62, hitting 49 HR, 141 RBI to go with 130 runs, a .304 average and a.999 OPS. Willie also had 18 stolen bases, which may be what cost him the award because in 1962, Maury Wills set the then Major League record with 104 steals, and scored 130 runs. Other than that, his numbers were pedestrian, as he finished with 13 doubles, 10 triples, 6 HR, 48 RBI, a .299 average, and a .720 OPS. His stolen base record was impressive, but so was Maysí overall season, and with his Giants finishing first, there is little doubt as to whom the award should have been given.

 

3. 1995: Mo Vaughn over Albert Belle

 

Personality goes a long way with baseball writers. When Albert Belle dies and goes to heaven, there will be a spot reserved for him in the back of the dead baseball players bar, where he can join Roger Maris and Ted Williams, who are half way through their eternal beers, and still lamenting their unfair treatment by the baseball writers.

 

Albert Belle had a truly remarkable year in 1995. In only 143 games, a result of the lingering effects of the strike in '94, Belle became the first player ever to hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in one season. He had over 120 runs and RBIs, and his OPS was a robust 1.091 (178 OPS+). Not only were his stats great, but he led the Indians to 100 wins (again in only 143 games) and a division title. But, the baseball writers are a sensitive group, and Belle's treatment of them over the years came back to haunt him as they selected Mo Vaughn for the AL MVP that season. Playing first base, Vaughn tied Belle in RBI at 126, while compiling an AVG 16 points lower, hitting 11 fewer HR, scoring 23 fewer runs, striking out 70 more times, and compiling an OPS of .963, a far cry from Belle's mark. Additionally, the Red Sox won their division, but did so by winning 14 fewer games than the Indians. Appropriately, Mo's Red Sox were swept out of the playoffs in the first round by Belle's Indians.

 

No one claims that Belle ever said kind word one to any member of the baseball writing media, and in a sense Albert Belle has only himself to blame for his 1995 AL MVP snub. Nevertheless, the baseball writers should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for their failure to recognize a player who so overwhelmingly outperformed everyone else in the league simply because he was not a very nice guy.

 

2. 1941: Joe DiMaggio over Ted Williams

 

Quick, which of these players won the AL MVP in 1941:

 

 

R

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

Player A

122

30

125

4

76

13

.357

.440

.643

1.083

184

Player B

135

37

120

2

147

27

.406

.553

.735

1.288

235

 

 

 

 

Player B was the last person to bat .400 in a Major League season, had the highest single season OPS in Major League history for anyone not named Barry or Babe, and played for the Red Sox.

 

Player A played for the Yankees and had a 56 game hitting streak. The Yankees finished in first that season over the Red Sox, but picking an MVP from a team that didn't win the pennant was not unprecedented in those days. Given Ted Williams' reputation with the media and Joe DiMaggio's iconic status in America, the burden which Ted would have had to overcome to win the award was just too great.

 

 

1. 1944: Marty Marion over . . . Everybody Else.

 

In 1944, the St. Louis Cardinals won the NL by 14.5 games over the Pirates. That year, the Cardinals had five pitchers whose combined win-loss record was 83-31. Of those five, Harry Brecheen had the highest ERA at 2.85. First Baseman Ray Sanders hit .295 with 12 HR and 102 RBI. Stan Musialhit .347 with 51 doubles, 14 triples, 90 BB, and 28 SO. Third Baseman Whitey Kurowski hit 20 homeruns, drove in 87 while scoring 95, and struck out just 40 times. The worst player on the team was Emil Verban, who joined the 2-2-2 club that year (.200 AVG, OBP, and SLG) and scored 51 runs while hitting .257.

 

Despite all this talent, the NL MVP in 1944 went to shortstop Marty Marion, who finished last on the team behind Verban with 50 runs scored in 506 at-bats, a .267 average, and a .686 OPS. His 6 HR and 63 RBIs were both second lowest on the team. Additionally, he committed 21 errors at shortstop and finished with a range factor of 5.06 in a league with a range factor of 4.85.

 

In short, Marty Marion beat out easily 10 more qualified players on his own team for the NL MVP in 1944. The only explanation I can come up with is that he was incredibly good looking, and all the male baseball writers had been shipped off to World War II, leaving only the women to vote for the MVP that year.

 



[1] It is important to note the very strong argument that Andre Dawson's MVP season in 1987 robbed several players (most notably Tim Raines, Eric Davis, Dale Murphy, Ozzie Smith, and Darryl Strawberry), and that given the Cubs last place finish, his award was undeserved. Discussion of this topic may in fact be merited here, but it is beyond my capabilities to say anything bad about Dawson, especially given the fact that in every other season in which he played Dawson was quite underrated, and, frankly, has had his fair share of dogging by Bill James to make for any dogging I spare him.