Ted Williams and the MVP Award
"It appears that the oldtimers must have checked out other metrics besides triple crowns as Cobb, Gehrig and Williams did not win the MVP for those years."
--Comment by Reader
In Supernatural, I presented a list of pitchers and hitters who led both leagues in their respective Triple Crown categories. As detailed, there have been seven hurlers (covering 12 different seasons) and four players who have won MLB's Triple Crown.
With respect to the comment, it should be noted that the MVP award wasn't in place when Ty Cobb led the majors in AVG, HR, and RBI in 1909. However, the reader was correct in stating that Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams were not named MVPs in their Triple Crown seasons.
Williams, in fact, is one of only two players--along with Rogers Hornsby--to win the Triple Crown twice. The Splendid Splinter led the A.L. in AVG, HR, and RBI in 1942 and 1947. Amazingly, the man some believe was the greatest hitter of all time was NOT named the Most Valuable Player in either of those two years.
In 1942, the writers saw fit to give the award to Joe Gordon. Five years later, the voters selected Joe DiMaggio. Williams was the runner-up both times.
Let's take a look at how Williams compared to Gordon in 1942 and DiMaggio in 1947.
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS+ Williams 150 522 141 186 34 5 36 137 3 2 145 51 .356 .499 .648 217 Gordon 147 538 88 173 29 4 18 103 12 6 79 95 .322 .409 .491 155
Williams led the league in everything. He won the traditional Triple Crown (AVG, HR, RBI) and swept the rate stats (AVG, OBP, SLG). He even captured to so-called Quad Award by leading the league in OBP, SLG, times on base (TOB), and total bases (TB). The Thumper also led in walks, extra-base hits, runs, runs created, and adjusted OPS (or OPS+).
Gordon, on the other hand, led the A.L. in two categories only. Strikeouts and Grounded Into Double Plays (GIDP). I'm not kidding!
Need more evidence that Williams got shafted? The Boston left fielder earned 46 Win Shares and the Yankee second baseman was credited with 31. In addition, Ted picked up 15.3 Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP3) and Joe had 10.9. By both measures, Williams was worth about 4-5 more wins than Gordon that year.
In the book Win Shares, Bill James wrote, "Ted's still mad about that one."
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS+ Williams 156 528 125 181 40 9 32 114 0 1 162 47 .343 .499 .634 205 DiMaggio 141 534 97 168 31 10 20 97 3 0 64 32 .315 .391 .522 154
Once again, let the record show that Williams led in every important offensive category. AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, R, HR, BB, R, RBI, TB, TOB, XBH, and RC. DiMaggio? He didn't lead the league in anything (other than MVP votes).
Williams had 44 Win Shares, DiMaggio had 30. The Kid had 13.5 WARP3, Joe D. 7.3. Therefore, Williams was worth about 5-6 more wins than DiMaggio that season.
James dubbed the balloting, "A famous controversy."
According to Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia, "Williams always blamed Boston writer Mel Webb for leaving him completely off the ballot, thereby costing him the award, but Webb didn't even have a vote that year--a writer in the Midwest had left Williams off the ballot instead. He collected only three first-place votes; had any of the 20 other writers who voted for Williams picked him even one place higher, he would have won the award."
Teddy Ballgame also led the A.L. in Win Shares in 1941, 1948, and 1951 without winning the MVP. Instead, he lost the award to DiMaggio, Lou Boudreau, and Yogi Berra, respectively. Yes, Williams had the most Win Shares in the league seven times, yet captured only two MVP trophies--neither of which took place in the years when he won the Triple Crown.
As it relates to the opening comment, I don't know what the "oldtimers" were considering when filling out their MVP ballots. It goes without saying that they certainly weren't impressed with Teddy's Triple Crowns. But I don't think one can say that they were checking out "other metrics" because, by almost any objective measure, Williams clearly was the Most Valuable Player in the A.L. in 1942 and 1947, and arguably in 1941, 1948, and 1951, too.
While I don't profess to be on Bill James' level, perhaps one important number was instrumental in Ted Williams not winning the MVP Award in 1942 and 1974... games back. The stupidity of Alex Rodriguez '03 and Andre Dawson '87 aside, Williams' clubs finished a combined *21 GAMES* behind the Yankees in those seasons. 1947 was actually a third place finish. Therefore, most of the 1st place votes (18 of 22) went to players on a team that won the division by 12 games... not to a triple crown winner on a third place club. In 1942, three Red Sox finished top 6 in the voting on a team that finished 9 games out.
Posted by: Kevin at September 19, 2006 7:45 AM
I'm not one to think the MVP needs to come from a first-place team. Why limit the field to 25 players?
Had Williams and Gordon swapped teams in 1942, I have no doubt that the Yankees would have finished atop the standings. Same thing with Williams and DiMaggio in 1947.
Posted by: Rich Lederer at September 19, 2006 8:16 AM
You might note that all those years(41,42,47,48,51)the award went to a player whose team won the league. Also, Mickey Cochrane won in '34 against Gehrig(yep, Detroit won the league). At least there is consistency.
Posted by: Jim OBie at September 19, 2006 9:14 AM
Yes, that is a good point, Jim. However, note that the N.L. MVP wasn't held to the same standard in those years. In 1947, 1948, and 1951, the MVP came from a team that did not win the pennant. Furthermore, Hal Newhouser won the A.L. MVP in 1944 despite the fact that he pitched for the second-place Tigers. Is it a coincidence that Williams was flying fighter planes in WWII that year?
Posted by: Rich Lederer at September 19, 2006 9:27 AM
It's a moot point about Williams and what he could have accomplished(along with a number of other very good players). He certainly is a legend and was the best player that I saw in the '40s.
Posted by: Jim OBie at September 19, 2006 10:08 AM
I've read that quote about the 1947 MVP vote from the Biographical Encyclopedia a couple times, and it has never made sense to me. If it's true that even a 10th place vote from the guy who left Williams off the balot would have given the MVP to Williams, then he was robbed. I can understand how or why a voter might rationally believe that Williams deserved to be voted second or third that year. But I don't see how any voter could rationally conclude that Williams wasn't in the top 10.
Posted by: Andrew at September 19, 2006 11:34 AM
Williams lost out to DiMaggio by one point in the MVP voting in 1947. Joe had 202 points and Ted had 201. Hard to believe but Williams only garnered three of the 23 first place votes. According to B-R.com, DiMaggio had eight and Joe Page seven.
Posted by: Rich Lederer at September 19, 2006 11:50 AM
Ted Williams wasn't flying fighter planes in 1944 - he spent WW2 as an instructor stateside, flying North American SNJ trainers. He did convert to Vought F4U Corsair fighters in 1945, and may have seen combat if the war had continued longer. I believe that he was in Hawaii on his way to a combat squadron when the war ended.
Williams, of course, did see combat in Korea, flying Grumman F9F Panthers with VMF-311.
Posted by: robert at September 19, 2006 12:35 PM
One other interesting thing about the 1947 vote - while Williams was indeed left completely off one ballot, DiMaggio was left off three!
Having said that, the weirdest thing about the 1947 ballot was clearly the two writers who gave FIRST place MVP votes to Athletics shortstop Eddie Joost, who hit .206 with 13 home runs, led the league in strikeouts, and committed 38 errors...
Posted by: robert at September 19, 2006 12:49 PM
Ted Williams simlpy was and is the best hitter that ever played in the major leagues. When you think that he missed 5 yrs at the peak of his career, he would have owned every hitting record that is important to winning baseball games except for Joe's 56 games.
Posted by: a levine at September 20, 2006 1:09 PM