Most often, the best player is the MVP

There's a part of me that doesn't give a tinker's damn who wins the American League's MVP Award. I don't need some piece of hardware, the recipient determined by 28 men with their own sets of biases, to tell me who the most valuable player in the league is. And neither do you.

Then again, there's another part of me that cares a whole hell of a lot. If I were living in a cabin off in the mountains, without my DirecTV or my Internet, I probably wouldn't pay much attention at all. But "Who's the MVP?" is such an overwhelming topic that I can't help but get caught up in the hubbub. And this year (like most years), there's plenty of hubbub in which to get caught up.

Everybody says that Alex Rodriguez is the best player in the American League. This becomes more clear with each passing day. And yet, with each passing day the list of people who say that Alex Rodriguez is not the most valuable player grows larger.

First off, let's discard the irrelevance of whether or not Rodriguez's team is in last place. The Texas Rangers play in a four-team division, which means it's not all that difficult to finish last. The Rangers are, in fact, not an awful club. There are 10 major-league teams with worse records. Nevertheless, one of my colleagues refers to the Rangers' "overall ineptitude."

Really? If that's overall ineptitude, I sure wish my favorite team were so overall inept. That .453 winning percentage would look pretty good to the baseball fans in Kansas City and Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. The Rangers have scored 723 runs this season ... more than the Athletics. Granted, the Rangers play half their games in a hitter's park and the A's don't. Still, given their record and their run production, it's hard to argue that the Rangers are anything like a terrible team.

Ernie Banks won MVP Awards in 1958 and 1959 while playing for the Chicago Cubs. And no, the Cubs didn't finish last. Both seasons, they finished sixth -- which is worse than fourth -- with similar winning percentages, .468 and .481. Were Banks' teams really so different from Rodriguez's team? Have you seen anyone suggest lately that Banks didn't deserve his MVP Awards because the Cubs were contenders?

But I'm just dodging the central issue here, because I think Rodriguez would deserve serious consideration for the award even if his team was terrible (oh, and did I mention it's not?). Why?

Two reasons.

One, those games the Rangers play are not irrelevant. Every game has an impact on attendance and all the other things that contribute to the future success of the franchise. Every game has an impact on each of the team's fans. If baseball should really be "for the fans," as the media likes to tell us, then shouldn't a player's "value" to the fans be considered? I have to think that if you're a Rangers fan, you're very happy that Rodriguez is doing what he's doing. And yes, I understand that the Rangers might be better without him, assuming of course that they spent that extra money wisely. But if the MVP voters take salary into consideration this year, it would be the first time.

Two, it simply doesn't make a lot of sense to suggest that Rodriguez's value is significantly less because his teammates aren't as good as Miguel Tejada's or Alfonso Soriano's teammates. By that crazy "logic," one could easily argue that Vinny Castilla is more valuable than Edgardo Alfonzo, or that Scott Hatteberg is more valuable than Mike Sweeney.

The best -- as it turns out, the easiest -- way to measure "value" is to simply ask, "Which player does the most things to help his team win?" If you ask that question, you can't avoid the singular conclusion that Alex Rodriguez is the most valuable player in the American League. Yes, Miguel Tejada and Alfonso Soriano are both having great seasons ... but neither of them is within shouting distance of Rodriguez.

  • Alex's on-base percentage is 49 points higher than Tejada's, and 67 points higher than Soriano's.

  • Alex's slugging percentage is 84 points higher than Soriano's, and 131 points higher than Tejada's.

    We could talk about home runs and walks, but of course those are encapsulated in the figures already mentioned. If you're a fan of "clutch" stats, though, I'll mention that Rodriguez leads the major leagues with 124 RBI.

    But this isn't the point, is it? Even the most unsophisticated media types can't help but admit that when it comes to statistics, nobody's better than Alex Rodriguez. He is the "best" player; just not the most valuable. And it's for players like Rodriguez -- so the argument goes -- that baseball needs a new award.

    My friends, Major League Baseball needs a new award like it needs another team in the Sunshine State.

    Remember the Hank Aaron Award? Announced with great fanfare by public-relations wizard Allan H. Selig, the Aaron Award was supposed to honor the best hitter in each league. The first year, the winners were determined by some fairly simple statistical criteria. The second year, the winners were determined by a panel of experts.

    Or maybe it was the other way around. I forget ... but then, so has everybody else. The Hank Aaron Award made such an impression that MLB's Web site doesn't even list the 2001 winners (assuming of course that they bothered with winners).

    I suppose if the Baseball Writers Association of America -- proprietor of all the "major" awards -- were to institute a Willie Mays Award, it might have some currency. There are two problems, though.

    One, the BBWAA is just as hidebound, just as paralyzed by tradition as most professional groups. They're unlikely to institute a new award of any significance. And second, even if the BBWAA did comes up with something, is there any reason to think they would do a better job with the new award than they've done with the old one? As often as not, they'd give the MVP to the guy who was not the most valuable in the league (by whatever measure you choose), and they'd give the Willie Mays Award to the guy who was not the best hitter in the league.

    In the end, we'd need another award. Call it the Darrell Evans Award, so named to annually honor the players in each league who the BBWAA screwed out of the other awards.

    So no, another award isn't necessary. We're all better off trying to make people understand 1) who the best players are, and 2) that in the great majority of cases, the best player is the most valuable player.

    This really isn't as difficult as everybody makes it out to be.