There's no doubting Thomas as MVP

October 01, 1993|By Jerome Holtzman | Jerome Holtzman,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- The Big Hurt is hurting. No home runs or runs batted in since Sept. 19, when he ran into a fence pole in Oakland. But if Frank Thomas needs an emotional boost, this is to advise him that the Most Valuable Player ballots must be in the mail by midnight Sunday, following the 162-game regular season.

Performances in the playoffs and World Series are not included, which is how it should be, because only a comparatively few players qualify for the postseason adventure. If good sense prevails, and it usually does, Thomas should win the American League award. More than any other position player, he carried the White Sox to a flag.

For some reason, I'm not quite sure why, some confusion exists. The MVP is not the best player. If it was, Willie Mays would have won 10 times instead of once. In a five-point list of voter instructions, No. 1 reads as follows:

"Actual value of a player to his team, that is strength of offense and defense." The guidelines also include "number of games played and general character, loyalty and effort." There is no mention of the "best" player.

The award began in 1911 under the sponsorship of the Chalmers DTC automobile company and continued through the 1914 season. Eight years later, the award was resumed under the official auspices of the American and National leagues. The AL dropped it after the 1928 season when Mickey Cochrane of the Philadelphia Athletics used it as a bargaining chip in a salary dispute with owner Connie Mack. The NL discontinued the award in 1929.

The Baseball Writers Association of America came to the rescue in 1931 and has run the elections ever since.

There have been seven three-time winners: Jimmy Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle in the AL; Stan Musial, Roy Campanella and Mike Schmidt in the NL.

Ted Williams was a two-time winner but finished second to DiMaggio in 1941. That was the year Williams hit .406 and DiMaggio batted safely in 56 consecutive games, heroic achievements. In addition to leading the league in hitting, Williams led in home runs. DiMaggio won the RBI title, 125 to 120, but was third in batting with a .357 average and fourth in home runs.

Williams was a gracious loser and said DiMaggio deserved the award because he had led the Yankees to a pennant. The next year, 1942, Williams was robbed. He not only won the Triple Crown, leading in average, home runs and RBI, but also in total bases, slugging percentage and walks. Second baseman Joe Gordon of the pennant-winning Yankees, who hit .322 with 88 RBI, was the MVP. DiMaggio finished second.

Williams finally won in '46 when he led the Red Sox to the pennant, the only time in a five-year stretch he didn't win the batting title.

The next year, '47, produced the biggest rhubarb in MVP history. Williams won his second and last Triple Crown, but DiMaggio beat him for the award by one point, 202 to 201.

Williams would have tied or won if Mel Webb, a Boston writer who had a season-long feud with Williams, had not left him off his ballot. But what has been forgotten is that DiMaggio was left off three ballots.

Eight players were unanimous selections: Al Rosen, Mantle, Frank Robinson, Denny McLain, Reggie Jackson and Jose Canseco in the AL, Orlando Cepeda and Schmidt in the NL.

Carl Yastrzemski, in '67, won the Triple Crown and was brilliant on defense. Without him, the Red Sox would not have won the pennant. He would have been a unanimous choice but missed by one vote.

Max Nichols, a respected Minneapolis scribe, led off his ballot with Cesar Tovar, a super-sub with the Minnesota Twins. Nichols insisted that Tovar, who played six positions for the second-place Twins, was more valuable to his team. Tovar was not a force. He drove in 47 runs and was 16th in the league in hitting with .268 average. An attempt to censure Nichols at a subsequent national BBWAA meeting failed.

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