Baseball’s Most Controversial MVP Winners

In the wake of Cardinals’ first basemen Albert Pujols winning the NL MVP Award despite his team finishing fourth in the NL Central, has ranked baseball’s most controversial MVP winners of all-time.

Dennis Eckersley#3 Dennis Eckersley, 1992, AL MVP
Eckersley, the prototype one-inning closer, pitched 80 innings on the year. Frank Thomas, with a .978 OPS, played 1424 innings for the White Sox that season. Did Eckersley contribute more to his team in those 80 innings than Thomas did in nearly 18 times as many? Or Kirby Puckett, league leader in hits and total bases and a Gold Glove centerfielder? Or teammate Mark McGwire, who had 42 homers and 104 RBIs with an OPS of .970 and won a Gold Glove as well? Closers are valuable – just ask Mets fans – but they’re disproportionately rewarded for how little they actually work.

#1 Joe DiMaggio, 1947 AL MVP
While DiMaggio’s victory over Ted Williams in 1941 is defensible, this one is not.

How do you win the league Triple Crown without also being the MVP? Were DiMaggio’s intangible contributions so much greater than Ted’s superior performance in batting, slugging, on-base, hits, doubles, home runs, runs, and RBIs?

Williams finished one single point behind DiMaggio in the voting, and one sportswriter refused even to list Williams on his ten-man ballot (though it was not a Boston sportswriter, as Williams charged in his autobiography My Turn At Bat; the man Williams named did not vote that year). Stranger still, Williams only received three first-place votes (worth 14 points each) out of twenty-four, while DiMaggio received eight, no doubt reflecting New York’s pennant-winning season and Boston’s lackluster one. Strangest of all are the two first-place votes cast for Philadelphia Athletics shortstop Eddie Joost, a good glove man who batted .206 for the season.

Boston fans probably believe that Hank Steinbrenner was in on the 1947 AL MVP scandal considering they think he runs hell itself.

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Kirby Puckett: 1960-2006

Wow. That was my initial reaction when I saw the headline on announcing that Kirby Puckett had passed away Monday, one day after suffering a massive stroke. He was 45.

Rather than trying to encapsulate Puckett’s Hall of Fame career or discuss (again) the ugly details of his personal life, I figured I’d post some of the quotes I found about Puckett from various baseball people:

“If we had to lose and if one person basically was the reason…you didn’t mind it being Kirby Puckett. When he made the catch and when he hit the home run (in the 1991 World Series), you could tell the whole thing had turned. His name just seemed to be synonymous with being a superstar. It’s not supposed to happen like this.” -John Smoltz

“There was no player I enjoyed playing against more than Kirby. He brought such joy to the game. He elevated the play of everyone around him.” -Carlton Fisk

“There are a lot of great players in this game, but only one Kirby. It was his character that meant more to his teammates. He brought a great feeling to the clubhouse, the plane, everywhere.” -Rick Aguilera

“This is a sad day for the Minnesota Twins, Major League Baseball and baseball fans everywhere. Kirby’s impact on the Twins organization, state of Minnesota and the upper midwest is significant and goes well beyond his role in helping the Twins win two World Championships.” -Twins owner Carl Pohland

“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I am terribly saddened by the sudden passing of Kirby Puckett. He was a Hall of Famer in every sense of the term. He played his entire career with the Twins and was an icon in Minnesota. But he was revered throughout the country and will be remembered wherever the game is played.” -Bud Selig also has a nice photo career retrospective of Kirby’s playing days.

I will say this: Despite all the dirt that was revealed about him following his premature retirement (and, sadly, there was a lot), there haven’t been many players in the history of baseball who were easier to root for than Kirby Puckett. If you liked baseball, you loved watching Puckett play. Period. He was always smiling, always hustling, always playing his ass off. His heroics in the 1991 World Series were legendary and were most likely the main reason he got elected into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot 10 years later. If only more of today’s players played the game the way Kirby did.

His career numbers: .318 / 207 HR / 1,085 RBI / 2,304 hits / 414 doubles / 134 steals. He still stands as the Twins’ franchise leader in hits, doubles, total bases (3,453), at-bats (7,244) and runs (1,071).

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