Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 3, 1998
BASEBALL: My 1998 AL MVP Ballot
This is an email I sent to friends on September 3, 1998, reformatted for publication.
This is a hotly contested question. Let's establish a few parameters.
First, if the Rangers win the AL West, it will be almost impossible to beat Juan Gonzalez, even though he is clearly not the best hitter in the league and has no defensive value, because guys who lead the league in RBI on winning teams almost always win.
Second, going by the percentages, clearly (though not by far) the best offensive player in the AL this year has been Jim Thome. Thome may well have been my pick, but you can't be MVP and miss six weeks in August and September, especially when you are outhit by your replacement in that period. Much the same argument (though it was earlier in the year) KOs Bernie Williams, the most productive of the Yankees.
Third, if your test is, "what player has had the largest positive impact on his team" -- which is a rather literal way of saying, "who was most valuable?", I can't see how anyone could possibly argue with Pedro Martinez. Can you really say with a straight face that any other player would have cost his team more dearly if you went back and replayed the season without him? OK, he may not win the Cy Young, but my older brother points out that Clemens can't be an MVP candidate because his slow start contributed to the Blue Jays giving up on the wild card race (and don't give me any B.S. about the value of relievers who throw 1/3 as many innings a year as starters and appear in half as many games as everyday players).
Fourth, the overall best offensive player -- counting in the value of staying in the lineup -- was probably Griffey, then Belle, then a bunch of almost identical seasons by Gonzalez, Vaughn, Palmiero, etc., as well as different players of similar value but different skills.
Fifth, players suffer from competition in the voting. There are three key shortstops (Nomar, A-Rod, Jeter), three Red Sox (Nomar, Vaughn, Pedro), numerous first basemen (Vaughn, Palmiero, etc.), two players on the underacheiving Mariners (Griffey and A-Rod), but -- and this is very important -- only one guy who in my view is a legit candidate on the Yankees, for all their impressive record: Jeter.
So, if you put Gonzalez in his place, count out the Mariners on the grounds that a team that blows out their expectations so badly, and refuse to give the award to a starting pitcher who might not clearly be the league's best, you get two players: Jeter and Nomar. Rodriguez then becomes relevant as well, as a point of comparison, though the consensus seems to be that he's just an average defensive player while the other two are stars (and we know the MVP voters don't like him because they screwed him in 1996). Steals are overrated and distort perceptions, so I'll leave those out:
Getting on base matters more than slugging, because the difference between a base and an out is bigger than the difference between a base and two bases. A player has more control over his runs scored than over RBI (compare Scott Brosius 1998 to Brook Jacoby 1987: .300-32-69 batting behind Joe Carter and Cory Snyder) because the RBI difference between the bases loaded and the bases empty is bigger than the Runs difference between being on first with Babe Ruth up and with Bob Buhl (Milwaukee Braves pitcher with record 0 for 70 season) up -- after all, unless you hit ahead of Jim Rice, more than one guy gets a chance to drive you in. And Nomar spent half the season hitting ahead of Mo, while the Yanks have nobody like him.
Even so, and even giving Jeter extra credit for six more games in the lineup, I would have to side today with Nomar; the difference in slugging and RBI is very large, and their defensive reps are a wash at best. It's tough because Jeter is the key guy on an alltime great team. And I was never a Nomar believer because before last year he'd only had one full season of professional ball, an undistinguished year at AA. But Nomar has really done it this season.
MVPs aren't truly locked up yet with a month to go, George Bell 1987 notwithstanding. Jeter could win the batting title. But my vote would go