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The dreaded MVPs

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  September 17, 2008 11:10 AM

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Some years the MVP thing in baseball is more trouble than it's worth. This is one of those years.

Prepare yourself for howling in both leagues. Somebody has to win. But there may be no true MVP in either league, not if you're going to insist on making sense out of the troublesome word "valuable."

Some years it's easy. You get a catcher with at least a little bit of a defensive/handling pitchers reputation who swings a big bat and plays on the pennant-winning team, and you've got a nice consensus MVP. The next easiest choice is a slugging shortstop, which is always the sexiest position on the diamond, whether you're talking about the local Little League or the Bigs.

Many times a first-place team has one guy having The Year, and that's another no-brainer. Yaz in '67 is Exhibit A. And there have been many other comparable examples.

But after that, oy. What if the first-place teams have no clear-cut position player biggie? Tampa Bay and the Orange County American League baseball representative qualify here, and so do the Cubs. Keep looking. You'll find no MVPs on any of those clubs.

Pitchers? That's a nice can of worms. I'm one of those people who wish they had decreed long ago that pitchers were pitchers and position players were position players, and never the twain shall meet when the subject turns to MVP voting. It's peaches and kumquats, and if you throw in closers now it's peaches, kumquats, and watermelons. You cannot possibly make a legitimate evaluation of their relative merits, and you shouldn't be asked to try. The pitchers have their Cy Young Awards. That should suffice.

Then we get to the meaning of the word "valuable."

Some voters try to take it literally, and those people generally say, "If you took this player away from that team where would they be?" Makes no sense to me. Ridiculous reasoning in the context, actually. A player can be only himself. He cannot be responsible for who's behind him. If a team happens to have a quality replacement at an MVP candidate's position, that's neither here nor there. The guy can only do what he does. A man must be judged on his own merits, not the general manager's.

So this makes me a "Player of the Year" guy. If the person you feel is having the best season comes from a last-place team, so be it. The best player in the league can be on the worst team.

Things are so muddled in the National League this year that I take it people are actually advocating the candidacy of Manny Ramirez, who, if he is in the lineup for every remaining regular season game, will have played in 54 Dodger games. Granted, Manny has had an enormous impact on both the team and the NL pennant race, but can a man be the MVP for 54 games, precisely one-third of the schedule? Or, more importantly, should he?

The closest thing to a precedent would be the 1959 NL Rookie of the Year voting, in which Willie McCovey won it by playing in 52 games, during which he went .354/13/38 with an OPS of 1.085 (though we didn't know what an OPS was in those days). But I would submit to you that the Rookie of the Year is one thing and the MVP is quite another. It would be just, you know, wrong to give someone a league MVP for 54 games, no matter how scintillating those 54 games were.

But that's just me. You may differ.

So who else is there? Ryan Howard? He is the quintessential HR/RBI type that has won many an MVP. It may or may not bother a voter to cast a first-place ballot for a man who has struck out 200 times (he's at 190 with 11 games left, although he has only whiffed once in his last five). After a sluggish August (.213 with a .791 OPS), he is having a monster September (.396, 8 HR, 22 RBIs, 1.448 OPS) and could sneak off with his second MVP, I suppose.

Folks in New York are beating their drums for a pair of Mets. David Wright has had a very nice year. He's a Gold Glove-level third baseman who has 31/114/.920 OPS credentials. And then there's Carlos Delgado, who got hot in July and has been a constant run-producing presence.

But somehow I can't get excited about either of them.

That leaves us with the best player in the league.

That would be Albert Pujols, of course. The Cardinals aren't going anywhere, but let there be no doubt as to who remains the best player in the National League. Pujols is checking in with a .357/33/101 line to go with a 1.106 OPS. He is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. He's Albert Pujols, and he's having yet another Albert Pujols year. He would probably get my vote, because no one else is jumping out at me. Then again, should someone from the Howard-Wright-Degado trio have a season-ending like Yaz in '67 (.522 over the last two weeks) he might lock it up.

Thank God we don't have to hear about a pitcher, anyway.

There's a similar mess in the American League, where the Rays, White Sox (Carlos Quentin? Nah) and Angels all lack a primo position player candidate.

Ah, but the Red Sox have two. How about that?

Yeah, Quentin has all those homers and RBIs, but it may be out-of-sight, out-of-mind for him by the time the ballots are filled out next week. Josh Hamilton had the monster first half, and he was a sensational feel-good story, but he has cooled off, and the team still stinks. Really. When is the last time you even heard his name mentioned for anything?

Justin Morneau is back in the picture, but as we speak the Twins are fading. Still, in this murky year I wouldn't rule him out.

So what about our guys?

We know where the fans stand. It's Dustin Pedroia, not Kevin Youkilis, who hears the "MVP" chants each time he enters the Fenway Park batter's box. And he's hard not to like, having hit around .400 for three months while making nightly highlight film plays at second base. Who doesn't love Pedroia, who may win the batting title and lead the AL in runs scored and who will lead the major leagues in hits?

Yet it seems to me a better case can be made for Youkilis. In a season when David Ortiz has struggled with his wrist, Mike Lowell has been in and out of the lineup, J.D. Drew has been his maddeningly talented and fragile self and Manny has Mannyed himself clear out to the Left Coast, the great constant in the lineup on a team that could still win the AL East has been Kevin Youkilis. Throw in the stellar play at first and the solid play, when called upon, at third, and you've got a guy who's been both continually productive and, yes, valuable.

It irritates me to note that there is a pitcher in the mix, and, worse yet, it's a closer. I'm sure Francisco Rodriguez will get some Top 5 votes for MVP. Too bad. Closers should have their own prize, the "Hoyt Wilhelm Award," and it should be a subjective vote, not based on numbers alone.

I'm just saying ...

That I really have no clue on what's going to happen in either league. Over here, I will say there is no buzz for Youk, but there is for Pedroia. If he wins it, fine. He's been terrific. Just as long as they don't give it to K-Rod.

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