How to define the most valuable player in baseball

27 Dec

The voting for MVP has always been quite subjective. In early years it seems as though voters prized the total package of a player, the intangibles if you will along with statistical output. In the modern era it seems as though it’s all numbers and nothing else matters.

While argument against my theory can be made I point to the past so we can move forward. We seem to hold the belief that it is all about the numbers but the award was initially to be awarded by the following guidelines: “The Trophy Committee was formed to “honor the baseball player who is of greatest all-round service to his club and credit to the sport during each season; to recognize and reward uncommon skill and ability when exercised by a player for the best interests of his team, and to perpetuate his memory.” This leaves a lot of gray area but it does plainly point to the all around greatest service to his club. What does greatest service to the club mean? This is what we call the intangibles; leadership, the ability to be the glue that holds the team together and elevate the play of those around him. Someone that is willing to sacrifice their own personal achievements for that of the teams success. Being a credit to the sport would point to a player that conducts himself within the confines of the rules, presents them self as a gentleman and role model, and does nothing to bring discredit to them self or the sport.

In the early era of the sport when this code was more fully in force players such as Roger Peckinpaugh, Frank McCormick, Joe Gordon, Jim Bottemly, Bob O’Farrrel, and George Burns took MVP honors. Now these weren’t players that were statistically the best by any stretch of the imagination. They didn’t do amazing things in those years. What they did was perform solidly and help lead their teams to greatness while conducting themselves in a professional manner. The year Joe Gordon won the MVP Ted Williams won the triple crown. Statistically Williams was more deserving, however Gordon was considered pivotal to his teams success. Granted Williams was hated by the press and more deserving, these rules were applied to justify Gordon’s nod. No one said the writers aren’t full of shit sometimes.

In modern days, we will say the last 30 years for simplicity, the award has taken a drastic turn. Players that have great years on teams going nowhere have by and far dominated the winners. Rod Carew, Don Baylor, George Bell, Terry Pendleton, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds, Mo Vaughn, Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez, Jeff Bagwell, Ken Griffey Jr., and Larry Walker have all won the award on unsuccessful teams. Some would argue that there individually gaudy statistical years are so overwhelming they are deserving regardless of how their teams performed. Now it may sound as though I’m arguing you have to win the ring to win the award but it is far from that. My question is did these players elevate their teams to good seasons? No, in some cases these were guys on teams with losing records. Did they conduct them self in the professional manner outlined in the award criteria? In some case blatantly no. I won’t argue the greatness of a player or season they had, but could you see Phil Rizzutto winning an MVP against these statistical monsters based primarily on his intangibles? How about Zoilo Versailles, Bobby Shantz, Nellie Fox, or Jim Konstanty? Probably not. They had strong statistical years but not eye popping.

Is the old way better or the new? Who is to say. The game is different, it’s much more a business now than ever and the “Sexy” stats bring in the dollars. I do think there needs to be more emphasis on the intangibles. I certainly believe a guy like Derek Jeter has earned the award although he has never won one. Based on past recipients it seems so. I believe it’s a good thing to recognize greatness a player displays even on a bad team, but as defined by the framers of the awards voting standards many of today’s MVP’s just don’t make the cut.


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