Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why Did Bobby Richardson Win The WS MVP in 1960?

Given the lack of newsworthy items yesterday, one of the hotter topics of conversation in the baseball blogosphere was whether or not Chase Utley should win the World Series MVP even if the Phillies lose. I linked to Dan Levy's post at the Sporting Blog last night but wanted to take a closer look at the idea today.

We're only 5 games into the Fall Classic and Utley has already smacked 5 home runs - 2 in each of the Phillies wins. He's hitting .333/.429/1.222 in front of Ryan Howard, whose OPS isn't much higher than Utley's OBP. There's little question that Utley's has had the best World Series so far. Cliff Lee singlehandedly won Game 1 but was mediocre in Game 5. A-Rod has had 6 huge, tide-turning RBIs but a meager batting line otherwise. Mariano Rivera's most important innings have yet to be pitched. Utley's showing comes with no asterisk.

As Levy points out, the only other player to win the World Series MVP from a losing team was also a second baseman - Bobby Richardson of the 1960 Yankees. In the first 11 years that the World Series MVP was awarded, Richardson was the only position player to win the award. It was an unlikely honor perfectly fit for one of the most improbable World Series ever played.

The Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27 in that 7 game series. They out-hit them 91-60, out-homered them 10-4 and had a team ERA twice as low (3.54 to 7.11). But nonetheless, the Yanks lost on Bill Mazeroski's walkoff home run, still the only one in a Game 7 in World Series history.

Richardson's performance was pretty spectacular. He had a batting line of .367/.387/.667 which included a grand slam, 2 triples and 12 runs batted in. But he wasn't even the best offensive player on his own team. Mickey Mantle hit .400/.545/.800 with three homers and drove in 11 runs. By all accounts, Richardson was an excellent defensive second baseman, but Mantle was a legendary defender in center field and a much more recognizable figure at the time.

Richardson was in only his second year as the Yankees' primary 2B and Mantle had just made his 10th consecutive All-Star team. For regular season awards like Gold Gloves and MVPs, voters usually lean towards established stars over one year flukes (see: Zobrist, Ben), but that doesn't seem to be the case with World Series MVPs. In recent years, for example, writers have chose guys like David Eckstein (2006), Troy Glaus (2002) and Scott Brosius (1998); scrappy underdogs (slightly above average baseball players) who saved their best for the big stage.

The timing of the RBIs in the 1960 Series was a major contributing factor to the result of the voting. All but one of Richardson's 12 RBIs came in Yankees' victories. It's hard to stand out offensively when your team wins 3 games by an average of nearly 12 runs, but that's exactly what Richardson did when he drive in 6 runs in a 10-0 victory in Game 3. By comparison, Mantle blended in by knocking in five in the 16-3 domination in Game 2 and two on top of Richardson's 6 in Game 3. He added 2 more in Game 5, which the Yankees won 12-0 and two more in Game 7, which they ultimately lost.

But the reason that Richardson won the MVP over a more worthy teammate isn't the reason that it's still cited today. That's happened plenty of times (Eckstein in '06, Manny in '04, Livan Hernandez in '97, Darrell Porter in 1982, Bucky Dent '78 to name a few) It's because he won it on the losing team.

There is some precedent for giving the MVP to a player on the losing team of a postseason series. There were Mike Scott for the Astros in the '86 NLCS and Jeffrey Leonard for the Giants in '87 for example. It's happened once in the NBA Finals, once in the Super Bowl and five times in the Stanley Cup Finals. It just hasn't happened in the World Series since 1960.

It should have in 2002 when Barry Bonds had an OPS of 1.994, more than 1.100 higher than the winner, Troy Glaus. The fact that he was Barry Bonds certainly didn't help, but Glaus did drive in the tying and go-ahead runs on a double off of Rob Nen to force a Game 7.

But back to Richardson. Perhaps there is a simpler explanation as to why he is the only World Series MVP out of 53 to come from a losing team. The writers thought they were picking a guy from the winning team.

According to Mike Emeigh over at Baseball Think Factory (post #39), World Series MVP ballots had to be turned in before the beginning of the 8th inning of Game 7. Well, at the end of the 7th inning, the Yankees were leading 5-4. They had turned a 0-4 deficit into a 5-4 lead in the 5th & 6th innings and appeared to be in line for the victory.

But they didn't win. The Yanks expanded their lead to 7-4 in the top of the 8th, but gave up 5 runs to the Pirates in the bottom half. It might not have happened if a grounder that hit shortstop Tony Kubek squarely in the throat took a more predictable hop and ended up as a double play. However, the Pirates rallied to take the lead 9-7. The Yanks plated two in the 9th inning to barely stay alive, with Richardson scoring the 8th run.

It was their last breath, however, as the first batter Ralph Terry faced in the bottom of the 9th was Bill Mazeroski.

As another poster at BBTF (#43) argued, it doesn't really matter that the 1960 World Series MVP vote might (or might not) have been skewed by a procedural issue. The precedent for the writers select a an MVP from the losing team exists and it's unlikely that the people voting on this year's award know or care about that.

Does Chase Utley deserve to win the MVP at this point? Yes, in terms of value to his team, he probably does, although WPA thinks otherwise. But there are still games left to be played and there are a couple of Yankees who, if they factor directly into a victory, have a good chance to take it from Utley. But if push comes to shove, I'll give Utley the MVP in exchange for the Yankees' title. Deal?


  1. Meh, I read most of this stuff on Jeg_elsker_ Yankees blog yesterday. Luckily, I can read Norwegian.

    But seriously. I really enjoy when you guys bring in the "in-depth" history posts. And this was an excellent one.

  2. Hahaha, thanks a lot, Mode.

    They can be pretty challenging - I probably clicked through a few hundred web pages looking for info - but it's a cool feeling to dig up something really interesting like the bit about the ballots being due before the game was over.

    Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Never even considered that angle on the timing of the votes, or the tendency for non-star WS MVPs. Nice post.