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Friday, September 28
Baseball's great MVP controversies

By David Schoenfield

Sammy Sosa is having an all-time great season. Barry Bonds is having an all-time greater season. It should shape up to be a close vote when the results are announced in November.

Here are 10 other controversial or interesting MVP votes from the past. Check the statistics and read the summary and decide who you would have voted for.

1998: Mark McGwire vs. Sammy Sosa

          G   AB  H   R  2B 3B HR RBI  BB SB  AVG  OBP  SLG
McGwire  155 509 152 130 21  0 70 147 162  1 .299 .470 .752
Sosa     159 643 198 134 20  0 66 158  73 18 .308 .377 .647

McGwire won the home run race while Sosa led the NL in runs and RBI, edging out McGwire in both categories. But Big Mac had an on-base percentage 93 points higher and a slugging percentage 105 points higher. McGwire's combined on-base + slugging was the second-highest in NL history ... but the Cubs won the wild card (6½ games ahead of the Cardinals).
The vote: Sosa 438 points, McGwire 272. It wasn't even close, as Sosa got 30 of the 32 first-place votes. Only the two St. Louis writers voted Big Mac first.
Who we would have picked: McGwire. OK, the Cubs made the playoffs. Was it McGwire's fault the Cardinals fell short?

1996: Juan Gonzalez vs. Alex Rodriguez

           G   AB  H   R  2B 3B HR RBI  BB SB  AVG  OBP  SLG
Gonzalez  134 541 170  89 33  2 47 144  45  2 .314 .368 .643
Rodriguez 146 601 215 141 54  1 36 123  59 15 .358 .414 .631

The right fielder had 21 more RBI than the shortstop but the shortstop had 52 more runs scored than the right fielder. Rodriguez played more games, had more hits, more walks, more steals and had perhaps the greatest offensive year ever by a shortstop. Gonzalez's Rangers beat A-Rod's Mariners by 4.5 games to win the AL West.
The vote: Gonzalez 290, Rodriguez 288.
Who we would have picked: Rodriguez. Frankly, this was one of the worst MVP votes in history. Both Seattle writers voted Ken Griffey Jr. first and another writer from Oakland somehow placed Rodriguez seventh. But this vote probably came down to the Rangers making the playoffs and the Mariners falling short. The faulty logic that was applied to Sosa was applied to Gonzalez in this case as well: by arguing that the Rangers (or Cubs) wouldn't have made the playoffs without Gonzalez (or Sosa) is, as Bill James once wrote, a "specious argument, since it attributes to the player himself the value which is inherent in the position he occupies." In other words, it wasn't Gonzalez who made the Rangers 4.5 games better than the Mariners, it was the Rangers who were 4.5 games better than the Mariners.

1986: Roger Clemens vs. Don Mattingly

           G   AB  H   R  2B 3B HR RBI  BB SB  AVG  OBP  SLG
Mattingly 162 677 238 117 53  2 31 113  53  0 .352 .399 .573
           GS  CG  IP  H   R ER HR  BB  SO   W  L  ERA
Clemens    33  10 254 179 77 70 21  67 238  24  4  2.48

A classic pitcher vs. hitter debate (see Pedro vs Pudge, 1999; Koufax vs. Clemente, Mays, et al). Mattingly led the AL in hits, slugging and total bases and ranked third in runs and RBI, second in average and fifth in OBP. Clemens started 14-0 and led the AL in wins and ERA while finishing second in strikeouts. The Red Sox finished first, 5.5 games ahead of the Yankees.
The vote: Clemens 339, Mattingly 258. The last starting pitcher to win the MVP.
Who we would have picked: Clemens. Mattingly had great all-around numbers, but he didn't dominate the league to the same extent Clemens did.

1985: George Brett vs. Rickey Henderson vs. Don Mattingly

           G   AB  H   R  2B 3B HR RBI  BB SB  AVG  OBP  SLG
Brett     155 550 184 108 38  5 30 112 103  9 .335 .442 .585
Rickey    143 547 172 146 28  5 24  72  99 80 .314 .422 .516
Donnie B. 159 652 211 107 48  3 35 145  56  2 .324 .379 .567

A great three-way debate. Brett powered the Royals to the AL West crown by one game over the Angels; the Yankees finished second by two games (although they won six more games than the Royals). Mattingly led the AL with 145 RBI, becoming the 16th player since 1950 with 140 RBI. Henderson led the AL with 146 runs; nobody had scored 140 since 1949. Brett led the AL in slugging and was second in OBP. Brett and Mattingly won Gold Gloves. Henderson played primarily center field that year. We should add that Brett, with K.C., fighting for the playoffs, went 9-for-20 with 5 HR and nine RBI in the final six games -- five wins, including three over the Angels.
The vote: Mattingly 367, Brett 274, Henderson 174.
Who we would have picked: Brett, by a nose over Henderson. In the end, this is a good example of how voters can lock in on the RBI leader and forget players who had better all-around years.

1978: Ron Guidry vs. Jim Rice

           G   AB  H   R  2B 3B HR RBI  BB SB  AVG  OBP  SLG
Rice      163 677 213 121 25 15 46 139  58  7 .315 .373 .600
           GS  CG  IP  H   R ER HR  BB  SO   W  L  ERA
Guidry     35  16 273 187 77 53 13  72 248  25  3  1.74

Another pitcher vs. hitter, another Yankee vs. Red Sock. Rice led the AL in home runs, RBI, slugging, triples and total bases (406, the first ALer to reach 400 since 1937). Guidry had the highest winning percentage ever for a 20-game winner. The Yankees, of course, beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff (Guidry was the winning pitcher).
The vote: Rice 352, Guidry 291.
Who we would have picked: Louisiana Lightning. Rice did play in a great hitter's park and also spent time as DH. Guidry held the Yankees together as they struggled in midseason.

1962: Willie Mays vs. Maury Wills

          G   AB  H   R  2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SB  AVG  OBP  SLG
Mays     162 621 189 130 36  5 49 141  78  18 .304 .385 .615
Wills    165 695 208 130 13 10  6  48  51 104 .299 .349 .373

If Ichiro is your man in 2001, than Maury Wills would have been your man in 1962. As is Ichiro, Wills was a speedy singles hitters who didn't walk much and played good defense (Wills won the Gold Glove at shortstop). The Dodgers and Giants even tied for the pennant (the Giants won the three-game playoff). Wills broke Ty Cobb's longstanding record of 96 stolen bases, which captured the media's fancy.
The vote: Wills 209, Mays 202.
Who we would have picked: Mays. Steals are nice, home runs are better. And Mays could pick it pretty good in center field too.

1957: Hank Aaron vs. Stan Musial

           G   AB  H   R  2B 3B HR RBI  BB SB  AVG  OBP  SLG
Aaron     151 615 198 118 27  6 44 132  57  4 .322 .379 .600
Musial    134 502 176  82 38  3 29 103  66  1 .351 .428 .612

Aaron was a 23-year-old right fielder who led the NL in runs, RBI and homers. Musial was a 36-year-old first baseman who led the NL in batting average and OBP. Aaron's Braves finished first; the Cardinals finished second.
The vote: Aaron 239, Musial 230.
Who we would have picked: Aaron. Clear advantages in playing time, in defensive value, and speed on the bases; that the vote was so close shows how enormously respected Musial was in his day.

1947: Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams

           G   AB  H   R  2B 3B HR RBI  BB SB  AVG  OBP  SLG
DiMaggio  141 534 168  97 31 10 20  97  64  3 .315 .391 .522
Williams  156 528 181 125 40  9 32 114 162  0 .343 .499 .634

Williams won the Triple Crown and led the league in runs, OBP and slugging. DiMaggio's Yanks finished first by 12 games (the Red Sox were third, 14 games behind).
The vote: DiMaggio 202, Williams 201. It was controversial at the time, when one writer (not Boston's Mel Webb, as commonly believed) left Williams off his ballot. But three writers left DiMaggio over their ballots. It's been written that Williams was shortchanged in MVP voting -- he won just twice, and didn't either win either time he won the Triple Crown. But he also finished second four times. There's no shame in that.
Who we would have picked: Williams. OK, maybe he should have won three.

1941: Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams

           G   AB  H   R  2B 3B HR RBI  BB SB  AVG  OBP  SLG
DiMaggio  139 541 193 122 43 11 30 125  76  4 .357 .440 .643
Williams  143 456 185 135 33  3 37 120 145  2 .406 .551 .735

Not pictured: DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Williams had one of the greatest offensive years ever, including a record .551 OBP; DiMaggio may have had the best year of his career. DiMaggio played a mean center field; Williams played left. The Yankees won the pennant by 17 games (over the Red Sox).
The vote: DiMaggio 291, Williams 254.
Who we would have picked: DiMaggio. Williams was amazing, but DiMaggio played a superlative center field, played in a tougher park to hit in and his team won by a huge margin. And ultimately, that is the goal.

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