MVP voters don't ignore greatness

I'll have more nominations for the Wing of the Amazing in future posts, but Jim Caple sent me a thoughtful response to Monday's introductory post, which began with a long critique of Omar Vizquel and the Hall of Fame voters who seem to love him ...

    I realize this was only a small part of your piece but I think you make a faulty argument by equating Hall of Fame voters and MVP voters. I'm not sure there's that much overlap.The majority of Hall voters (which I hope will include you one day) seldom have an MVP vote because most of us are no longer daily beat writers. I've been a Hall voter for 13 years but have had only one MVP in the past 18 and probably will never get another.

I think it depends on your local BBWAA chapter. In some chapters, there aren't a lot of voters and even newbies like me are often asked to serve as award voters. In the Seattle chapter, though -- where Caple and I ply our honorable trade -- there are more than enough members, thanks to Ichiro and all the newspapers.

But all this sort of misses the point. My point, possibly irrelevant, is that the Hall of Fame voters and the annual award voters generally come from the same population -- newspaper writers and ex-newspaper writers -- and thus we might attribute some of the same experiences and biases and everything in between to all of them. I do believe there is some degree of commonality of opinion, both during the players' careers and later, during their Hall of Fame candidacies.

Anyway, more from Jim:

    You're also holding Omar to the same suspect standard that other voters applied to Blyleven for so long. Just because an MVP/Cy Young voter (who may never have a Hall of Fame vote) doesn't vote for a particular player or pitcher in any particular season doesn't mean we don't value them over the course of a career. This is particularly true with position players.

    And funny, it's not like Ozzie Smith got a lot of MVP love, either. More than Omar, certainly, but only one year among the top dozen. He finished second in 1987, 13th with 25 points (points, not votes) in 1982, just five points in 1985 and received one 10th place vote in three other years. Omar's strength, like Ozzie's, was his defense and voters usually overlook that in the MVP vote.

I anticipated the Blyleven argument, but didn't address it Monday because I'm not yet comfortable with the million-word blog post. I'll work on that.

Today, I will say that I am absolutely not holding Vizquel to the same standard that other voters applied to Blyleven. For one thing, it's not at all apparent that voters applied any standard at all to Blyleven, who got 14 percent in his second year on the ballot and 80 percent in his last year. What's the standard, exactly?

Speaking of standards, though ... Historically speaking, it's simply not true that the award voters' opinions during a player's career don't presage the Hall of Fame voters' opinions. Yes, maybe it's hard for position players to be considered among the top 10 players in the league ... but it's funny, isn't it, how the great players -- you know, the sort of players you want in the Hall of Fame -- still manage to do it, some of them with great consistency?

Bert Blyleven, the suggestion goes, fared poorly in the Hall of Fame balloting for so many years because when he pitched he wasn't considered one of the game's dominant pitchers. Perhaps he wasn't. But Blyleven still managed to finish seventh, fourth, and third twice in the Cy Young balloting.

Alan Trammell draws little support from the Hall of Fame voters. Criminally so, in my opinion. But Trammell finished a close second in the MVP balloting in 1987, and in other years finished seventh, ninth, and 15th.

Yes, it's hard to be considered among the top 10 players in the league. Probably harder in this era than ever before, simply because there are so many teams and so many MVP candidates. But I don't believe the BBWAA has ever elected a player to the Hall of Fame with an MVP record remotely like Vizquel's.

Some years ago, I looked at every Hall of Famer from the modern MVP Award era, and identified Richie Ashburn as the Hall of Famer who'd done least well in MVP voting; his highest finish was seventh, twice.

Since I ran that study, Bill Mazeroski has been elected. He showed up in the MVP results just once, finishing eighth.

Both Ashburn and Mazeroski were elected by the Veterans Committee. Both were marginal candidates who drew relatively little support from the BBWAA.

Let me repeat something from yesterday ... Omar Vizquel's best (and only) finish in the MVP balloting was 16th.

One of my favorite non-Hall of Famers is Bobby Grich, who was terribly underappreciated during his career and still is. He finished eighth, ninth, and 14th twice in MVP balloting. Another terribly underappreciated player is Ted Simmons, who finished sixth, ninth, 10th, 13th, and 14th. Jimmy Wynn finished fifth, 11th, and 15th. Lou Whitaker finished eighth one year. Ron Santo finished fourth, fifth, eighth twice, and 12th.

All of those players were terribly ignored by Hall of Fame voters when their turns came, in part because they were undervalued during their careers ... and yet somehow all of them fared significantly better than Vizquel in the MVP voting. For the simple reason that if you're really a great player, at least a few times you'll probably do some things that the MVP voters simply can't ignore.

No, I don't think Vizquel's failure to score more than three points and one 16th-place finish in the MVP balloting should be held against him. I do think that Hall of Fame voters who now claim Vizquel was a great player are engaging in some serious historical revisionism, because it's obvious that most of them did not consider him a great player when he was actually playing.

Historical revisionism is fine. But there should be some link between the old opinion and the new opinion, otherwise the revisionism seems the result more of capriciousness than logic and intelligence. And I'm still waiting for the first column in which a BBWAA member describes the eureka moment when he realized that Omar Vizquel was not a good player, but rather a great one.