Who do you like for American League Most Valuable Player, Alex Rodriguez or David Ortiz?
I’m wondering if your answer says more about you than it does about the relative value of the league’s two big sluggers, just as I suspect any non-local rooting interest you have in the A.L. playoffs — Evil Empire Yankees? Underdogs becoming Evil Empire Jr. Red Sox? Scrappy, maddening White Sox? Ignored Left Coast Angels? — says a lot about you. More about both leagues’ playoffs Tuesday, when they start.
With apologies to Travis Hafner of Cleveland, there are two candidates for A.L. MVP.
There’s Ortiz, the Red Sox designated hitter. Gregarious, overweight, cuddly, with silly facial hair. The acknowledged leader of Boston’s frat party of a team. He’s the friend in need, the guy who comes through for you when the chips are down, when you need bail at 3 a.m. or a big hit in the 11th inning. He’s clutch, bro, to phrase it like he would.
Then there’s Rodriguez, the Yankees third baseman. Well-groomed, well-spoken, terrific at his job. Maybe the best there is, but in a kind of bloodless, corporate way. No need for last-minute heroics here. By the late innings, he has already done his work, cleaned up his desk and started planning for that big meeting next week.
He’s cool — in the Marshall McLuhan sense, as opposed to the Arthur Fonzarelli sense — but he’s not Joe DiMaggio cool, not aloof. It’s not that he can’t be bothered with the likes of you. He’s polite, respectful. It’s just that he doesn’t really have anything to say, or if he does he chooses to keep it to himself because he doesn’t want to offend anybody, mess up that deodorant spokesman gig.
Even their nicknames show the difference. Ortiz is “Big Papi.” It’s not only descriptive, it’s the kind of name that gets bestowed fondly upon a fellow by teammates.
Rodriguez is “A-Rod.” That’s it. Not Alex the Ax or the Miami Masher. Just a shortening of his name, the kind of thing that turns Earl the Squirrel’s Chop Shop into Esqo Automotive. The nickname also “de-ethnifies” him. No leading impromptu clubhouse dance sessions to blaring salsa music for A-RodCo. More like Kenny G. on the headphones, bro.
All of this makes me a little uncomfortable because, while I think Ortiz is going to get the award, Rodriguez is my choice for MVP.
Ortiz will get it because he’s so clutch, bro. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a half-dozen times in the last week that Ortiz has “single-handedly” won 15 games for the Sox, or 12, or 20. The number varies but the concept is the same. How many has Rodriguez won?
Ortiz has been undeniably better in the clutch, as his superior numbers with runners in scoring position and “close and late” situations attest. But nobody single-handedly wins games.
If you hit a game-winning homer in the ninth inning, you didn’t single-handedly win, even if you drove in all the runs for the whole game. If it’s a low-scoring game, the pitchers did their share. If it’s a high-scoring one, someone must have been on base for you to drive home.
A three-run homer in the first inning contributes just as much to a win as a three-run homer in the ninth. The reason Ortiz had to win all those close games in the late innings, I might argue, is because, unlike Rodriguez, he didn’t do enough in the early innings to give the Sox a comfortable lead.
It’s kind of a dumb argument, but only because it parallels an equally dumb one about late innings. Runs are runs, offense is offense, and A-RodCo provides a little more of it than Ortiz does, and he also plays a position.
There are those who say a designated hitter shouldn’t win the MVP because he only plays half the game. I don’t feel that strong about it, but I do think a D.H. has to be way better than a fielder on offense to win it over him, unless that fielder is a Dr. Strangeglove type.
A-RodCo’s had a down year with the leather, the numbers suggest, but not enough to make up the difference.
It won’t bother me at all to see Ortiz win the MVP because he’s such a likable character and he certainly had an MVP-type season. Also, I’ve enjoyed his run of success in Boston because somewhere in my computer files is an e-mail I sent in the winter of 2002-03 to my boss, a fellow Giants fan, saying the Giants should sign Ortiz, then just released by the Minnesota Twins and in no great demand, to play first base. I like feeling smart.
The other awards, in brief:
National League MVP: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Pujols and Derrek Lee of the Chicago Cubs are ridiculously close, even down to both of them being good defensive first basemen, for what that’s worth, though Lee is better than just good.
Lee was just a shade better with the bat, probably, but they’re close enough that I’m going to give it to Pujols, mostly because the Cardinals are the best team in the league.
Now, I know, I argue incessantly that it shouldn’t matter in the MVP voting how a player’s team did, that only considering players on playoff teams makes the award meaningless, and rewards or punishes those vying for an individual award for what their teammates did.
But I’ve always said that if it’s a tossup between two guys and one of them is on a playoff team, I’m OK with letting that be the coin flip. It also doesn’t escape me that Pujols has had MVP-type seasons pretty much every year in the big leagues, and he’s always lost out to Barry Bonds. As long as it’s this close, he deserves a break.
I don’t think much of the Andruw Jones for MVP talk, which is based entirely on his home run total, and the idea that he single-handedly carried the Atlanta Braves for a long stretch of the season. See above.
American League Cy Young Award: Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins
It’s not close. Hands down, best pitcher in the league.
National League Cy Young Award: Roger Clemens, Houston Astros
Yeah, another one. I have no idea if he’ll win it because he only won 13 games and the voters are obsessed with the not-very-meaningful statistic of wins. These are the same people who, hilariously, dismiss those who don’t put much stock in wins as being obsessed with statistics.
But that low win total might be balanced out by the fact that he’s Roger Clemens, and he did have a preposterously low, dead-ball era-like earned-run average, half a run lower than everyone else, while pitching in a hitter’s park. On the road, forget it. He was Bugs Bunny.
If Clemens doesn’t win the award, it’ll be because Wins Are Important, which means your candidates are Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals, Clemens’ main rival all year and a 21-game winner, though he faded in September; Dontrelle Willis of the Florida Marlins, who finished strong and won 22; and Clemens’ teammate Roy Oswalt.
Fellow Astro Andy Pettitte actually pitched better than Oswalt, but if Clemens loses because wins matter, then Oswalt’s 20 wins trump Pettitte’s 17. Same for 15-game-winner Pedro Martinez of the New York Mets, who somehow, despite being Pedro Martinez and playing in New York, managed to quietly have a terrific year.
The argument for Carpenter, Willis or Oswalt — who I think is not really a candidate — other than all those wins and their general effectiveness, is that they were workhorses, piling up more than 240 innings while Clemens only threw 211 and a third.
Willis and Carpenter were both terrific, and if I had to bet on a winner I’d take Carpenter. But Clemens gets my vote.
American League Manager of the Year: Joe Torre, New York Yankees
It pains me to give props to another Yankee, but let’s be honest, if the Yankees were anybody but the Yankees, Torre would run away with this award.
This was supposed to be the year the Yankees finally gave up the ghost in the A.L. East, remember? How were they supposed to win with that joke of a pitching staff? And what about the chaos surrounding Jason Giambi, the extreme decline of Bernie Williams or the continuing existence of Ruben Sierra as a member of the 25-man roster?
Not to mention the increasing restlessness of George Steinbrenner, already denied a World Series title for an embarrassing four straight years.
Torre calmly led the Yanks to another division championship, their eighth straight, and by the way, how come it always goes unchallenged when people, such as John Smoltz last week, say the Atlanta Braves’ run of 14 straight division titles will never be matched? The Yankees, hello, are more than halfway there. Six more isn’t a slam-dunk, but it’s hardly unthinkable.
Anyway, it appears this award will go to either Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox or Eric Wedge of the Cleveland Indians. I’d feel better about those guys if the White Sox had played better than the Colorado Rockies in the second half, or if the Indians hadn’t finished their late-season charge by losing six of their last seven. Even three wins in those seven games would have gotten them into a one-game playoff for the wild card.
National League Manager of the Year: Bobby Cox, Atlanta Braves
Same reason. This was going to be the year, again, when the Braves didn’t win the East, and again, it wasn’t. With the roster turning over so much, this may have been Cox’s best managing job ever, which is also something that seems to get said every year.
The other candidate is Tony La Russa of the St. Louis Cardinals, the only team that won 100 games. There were some bumps in the road, mostly in the form of injuries, but La Russa started the season with the best team and guided them to the best finish. A good job, but not the equal to what Cox did.
American League Rookie of the Year: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
It was a pretty good rookie crop in the A.L., and Hernandez only pitched 84 and a third innings over 12 starts. But except for back-to-back bad games in mid-September, he was dynamite.
None of the others — Jonny Gomes was the best of a crop that also included Huston Street, Robinson Cano, Tadahito Iguchi, Scott Kazmir, Joe Blanton and Gustavo Chacin — did enough in their greater playing time to overcome Hernandez’s superior performance. I think the voters will give this award to Cano.
National League Rookie of the Year: Zach Duke, Pittsburgh Pirates
For almost the exact same reason. Duke started 14 games and threw a third of an inning more than Hernandez. He wasn’t quite as dominant overall but didn’t have a bad stretch.
Both Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and Jeff Francoeur of the Braves have better cases than any of the other American League candidates, and I won’t cry when Howard wins this award, but Duke was more of a phenom.
Coming Tuesday: Playoff preview.
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