My first stop when I started thinking about this year’s MVPs was at my local dictionary:
Valuable (adjective): 1. Having considerable monetary worth; costing or bringing a high price. 2. Having qualities worthy of respect, admiration, or esteem. 3. Of considerable use, service, or importance.
Well if you use definition no. 1, you’d have to give the AL MVP award to A-Rod every year. But since the MVP award isn’t a salary medallion, we must turn to definitions 2 and 3. Clearly, “considerable use, service, or importance,” measured by statistics, is the main criterion by which an MVP prize is awarded. But you can’t discount the less tangible “qualities worthy of respect, admiration, or esteem.” Also, I know that people generally don’t vote for designated hitters or pitchers, but I think this is a silly, arbitrary, and almost cruel prejudice. Finally, the team has to be a good team. Not necessarily a playoffs-bound team, but good.
So with this in mind, let’s start with the Senior Circuit. Ryan Howard’s monstrous, monstrous offensive stats (57 homers as of today; 147 RBI) must make him the frontrunner. However, I would like to point out for all the anti-DH “purists” out there that Howard is a among the worst in fielding for a starting NL first baseman. He’s basically a DH who happens to stand at first for three outs between hitting. This gives leaves room for an upset by Pujols, whose offensive stats are still gaudy, but who has a much better fielding percentage and range factor. Of course, if you’re trying to figure out the odds of either one of them getting the award, Howard is definitely helped by the holy-cow-what-is-he-doing August and early September he just had. Pujols was a more established star at the start of the season and was on pace to break the single-season home run record at the beginning of the year—-however, spending time on the DL and a relatively cool bat later in the season put the kibosh on that. So if this were a presidential race, you’d say that Pujols was sort of the Howard Dean, if you will, an early favorite who lost momentum, while Howard has the advantage of getting hot at the right time—so my money’s on him to win. And for a third choice? That’s tough. But just to be tricksy, I’m picking Freddy Sanchez. I don’t think he’ll actually win, but wouldn’t it be cool if he did? (It would serve Boston right for getting rid of him—yes, watching these meaningless games in the Fens has me feeling vindictive, even sadistic.) As of Friday, his average is an MLB-leading .347, and while he hasn’t played enough games at one infield position to qualify for a ranking at any of them, he’s got more games played at third (93) than any other “unqualified” infielder (if you follow me) and his fielding percentage at that position is better than any of the “qualified” third basemen. Nor has he made an error in 20 games at second this season. (He has 4 boo-boos during 28 games at short.) Ten errors in 148 games this year? Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all. Counting against him? Well, I’m sure his team liked having those 83 runs batted in, but his power is just not there, nor is his on-base percentage among the league’s leaders. His stolen bases and caught stealing are almost the same. And his team isn’t a good team. The Pirates suck. But I needed three, so he’s my third.
Now, the American League—much tougher. While the NL has a clear frontrunner and a close second, with everyone else a distant also-ran, the AL has several contenders all neck-and-neck. Derek Jeter is getting good press from even the Boston writers, but I don’t know. Someone more clever than me wrote that if Jeter gets the AL MVP, it’ll be a “lifetime achievement award.” Derek is second in the batting title race this morning, and his fielding this year has been solidly middle-of-the-pack, though of course we all know that every time he plays he leaves it all on the field yadda yadda yadda okay. He mostly seems to be a contender for two reasons: one, his team is good. Very good. Annoyingly, heart-wrendingly, maddeningly good. (Shut up.) And two, he’s the captain of this incredibly good year-after-year team, which has just happened to win the AL East title every year he’s been on it. In other words, he’s got “intangibles.” Some scoff at the idea of intangibles. I don’t. I’m just not sure exactly whether Derek Jeter has them or not. (Also, not that this has to do with anything, but I really do think he’s gay, and that the rotating bevy of babes he trots out like show dogs are just a clever ruse. Come out, Derek! Stop living a lie!) I’m not opposed to the idea of a lifetime achievement MVP, if no one else in the league really deserves it that year. But do they? Let us ponder.
You’ve got the M&Ms on the Twins—Mauer and Morneau (or Joe and Justin, if you prefer—that’s also pretty snappy, but I couldn’t figure out a cute candy nickname with the letter J). In some ways, both are doing so well, and on the same team (a good team and a so-hot-right-now-Hansel team) I feel like they almost cancel each other out. I’m sure the baseball writers of America would like to award the MVP jointly to both of them, but that’s just not how it’s done. Mauer and Morneau are both in the top five in average. Mauer is currently edging out Jeter for the batting title, while Morneau is second (after David Ortiz) in RBI. Mauer may get incredulity points (a catcher as batting champ? a really good catcher as batting champ??) while Morneau is just another (yawwwwn) slugging first baseman. Is that fair? No, but life’s not fair. So between the Twins’ twins, I’d say Mauer has a clear edge over Morneau.
Then you’ve got Johan Santana, the first pitcher to seem like a legit AL MVP candidate since Pedro Martinez’s storied 1999 season. But I can’t give it to Santana, as awesome as he’s been this year. When Pedro was robbed that year, he won 23 games (Santana has 18 this season) and had a lower ERA (2.07 to 2.79) and had 313 strikeouts (Santana has 240). Also I have to say, 1999 was way before the Great Deflation. All kindsa sluggers were injecting all kindsa things. So to me, Pedro’s pitching triple crown is just more impressive than Santana’s. Is it fair to compare anyone to Pedro in 1999? No, it’s completely unjust. And do two wrongs (denying two deserving pitchers the MVP) make a right? No. But this is baseball, sport of caprice. If Pedro can’t have it, NO ONE CAN. Bitterness 1, Johan 0.
Which brings me, of course, to David Ortiz. In my heart of hearts, I want him to have it. I do. I wanted him to have it last year. I think he deserves it, at some point. But given that the Sox were pretty much out of the postseason chase weeks ago, given that he is a DH (and while I’m willing to give it to a DH, I think that, like a pitcher, it’s got to be a standout case of deservedness, where the candidate is head-and-shoulders, Pedro-in-1999 above the rest) and given that the AL field of candidates is so crowded this year, I’m just not sure he will get it. But does he deserve it? Let’s take a moment to reflect in a calm and dispassionate manner. He’s had five walkoff hits this year (15 in his career with Boston), so without him, the Sox would have fallen from contention even sooner. He’s had 52 dingers (breaking a Sox club record that had stood since 1938) and 132 RBI—in fact, his slugging stats this year were so good, that even when he missed a week’s worth of games with an irregular heartbeat, no one else came close to dethroning him. Getting less fanfare than his homers and ribbies, but no less “of considerable use, service, or importance,” he’s first in the AL in walks (yes, even with Manny Ramirez hitting behind him for most of the season), second in slugging, third in runs scored, and third in OPS. Also, he’s David Ortiz. Clubhouse intangibles? Check. Awesome nickname? Check. Even managers of other teams send him thank-you notes for “what he’s done for the game.” Yowza.
But for me, silly dictionary definitions aside, “valuable” just means, “Which of these dudes would you rather have on your team?” Since this is UmpBump and not actually an MVP ballot, I’ll give Morneau and Jeter a tie for third. (What the hell Johan, you can tie for third place, too.) While Jeter’s run has gathered about it the sense of resigned inevitibility of, say, the Kerry nomination, I predict that like that campaign, it will ultimately fall short (I don’t know why this all seems so much like the 2004 election). He’ll get over it, though. Unlike John Kerry, Derek Jeter has his own cologne.
And the runner-up, in case the MVP is not able to fulfill his duties….is Joe Mauer. (He’s young. He’ll win another year.)
Therefore, the winnah and still champeen: David Americo Ortiz! Wow, that’s funny. I realize that no one reading this is surprised that he’s my pick, but I really didn’t think I was going to choose him when I started this post (about thirty seven years ago). Honest!
Oh, and yeah—I stuck to three picks per league because that was the deal, and I’m not an overachieving Harvard scholar. I did write way too much, but that’s just because I’m a woman, and we talk a lot. Also because I feel like these MVP picks have become a sort of UmpBump arms race—bigger better faster more! Up next: Coley’s film treatment/Russian novel/phone book.