Thursday, November 17, 2005

Hard Hits: The MVP Double Standard

This past week, writers who cover Major League Baseball handed out the MVP awards. The AL winner was Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez while the NL recipient was Cardinal first baseman Albert Pujols. While both were very deserving, this writer can't help but wonder what the criteria actually is for selecting the respective league's best players.

I always thought MVP meant 'most valuable' to your team. Ask most rational Yankee fans who the team's most indispensable player was and Mariano Rivera's name will come up often. Without the game's best closer, the Bronx Bombers don't come close to making the postseason for the 11th straight year. In fact, they probably would have finished around .500 which tells you something about how much they depended on Rivera.

Of course, most traditionalists will say that a pitcher who comes in to record three outs can't be as valuable as an everyday position player like A-rod. But without Rivera saving the Yankees' bacon time and time again, none of the gaudy offensive numbers Rodriguez put up wouldn't have mattered. Neither would the offensive support from Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui or Jason Giambi.

It doesn't take away from what A-rod accomplished in 2005. He was every bit the superstar the Yanks thought they had acquired for Alfonso Soriano a year earlier. His 48 homers ranked first in the AL just ahead of runner-up David Ortiz' 47. He also finished fourth in RBI's with 130, 18 behind league Leader Ortiz.

Both A-rod and Big Papi were clutch players for their respective ball clubs. While A-rod's numbers were respectable with runners in scoring position, they didn't measure up to Papi's. Nobody was more dangerous late in ballgames than Boston's slugging designated hitter. I don't have to supply the numbers. By now, you've seen the comparison overkilled on Sportscenter 24/7.

What some voters decided was the ultimate factor in choosing Rodriguez for his second MVP in three years was that he played in the field everyday. While I agree that Rodriguez' defense at third was solid if not spectacular, is that really what determined who won?

Explain to me how these same writers picked Pujols over Gold Glove centerfielder Andruw Jones. I have a ton of respect for what Pujols has accomplished in his career. He's been one of the best hitters I've ever seen. The NLCS Game Five two out ninth inning three-run home run off Houston closer Brad Lidge was as big a playoff homer as you'll see. Even if his team didn't comeback to win the series, it will be remembered.

The St. Louis first baseman finished second in hitting (.335), third in dingers (41)-10 behind major league leader Jones (51) and tied for second in RBI's (117). Jones also led the NL in that category with 128.

No doubt about it a remarkable season for the 25-year-old Pujols, who over his first four years watched Barry Bonds take MVP honors. They don't have much in common except for one thing. Both are paid top dollar for what they do at the plate. Bonds didn't win those awards for his athletic prowess in left field. Long ago when he had good legs, Bonds was a Gold Glove calibre outfielder. If defense were factored into his recent MVP seasons, no way he wins. Ditto for Pujols because while he can play first, it's not what he's known for. That might explain the 14 errors he had.

Try telling this to the purists who argued that no DH should ever win MVP. Atlanta's Jones is the best outfielder in the game year in and year out. This season, with the Braves younger than ever before and with a rash of injuries, not only was the 28-year-old Jones brilliant in the field but at the plate as well. He carried the Braves most of the season. But for whatever reason, his defense was ignored. Center field is one of the toughest positions to play. The spotlight is on that player to make the plays. Just ask Yankee fans their reaction when they watched an aging Bernie Williams try to track down fly balls in the gap. That's how many runs Jones saves with his defense. It has to make Atlanta pitchers more comfortable with throwing strikes.

So, I ask again if Ortiz lost to A-rod by 24 points because of defense, then why did Jones lose by 17 points to Pujols when he was the much better fielder?

It must be a senior circuit thing.


Hitting Back:

-Now that Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig finally got it right with a three strikes and you're out steroid policy, we're all supposed to pat him on the back? I am not buying it. If Selig was so serious about the game's integrity, then something should have been done back in '98 when Roger Maris' 61 homers was obliterated by larger than life Popeye look alike Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

-I love hearing all these Mets fans call up WFAN in New York complaining about how all Omar Minaya got for Mike Cameron was Xavier Nady. Were they really expecting Manny Ramirez in return for an outfielder who might not be the same after that collision with Carlos Beltran? As John McEnroe says, "You can't be serious!"

-If I'm Boston, I don't take Cameron in a package not just for that reason. But he's overpriced and not as good as re-signing Johnny Damon, who has been a rock star at Fenway. A darn good player too.

-Was there ever any doubt that Hideki Matsui would be back in Pinstripes? I'm still not seeing Brian Giles play center at The Stadium.

-When Stephon Marbury says he's changed his game after scoring a season low four points and sat out the end of another Knicks loss at the Lakers, it may as well mean, 'I can't play for Coach Brown.'

-When does Quentin Richardson start playing D? At least that cardboard cutout of him moves while McEnroe hits tennis balls while lecturing him to play defense during a commercial.

-It only took the Nets eight games to start playing D.

-When does Eddy Curry stay out of foul trouble?

-That new look Jets offense under offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger is really making Gang Green fans forget Paul Hackett. But I thought Justin McCareins was an impact player.

-The Giants need a big performance from Eli Manning this Sunday against the Eagles. He must come up big or Big Blue's season could go down in flames.

-Do you get the feeling TO has compromising pics of ESPN employees?

-What was worse for New Jersey college sports? Rutgers football players stomping on the Louisville Cardinals logo last week only to be routed 56-5 or Seton Hall losing to Duke by 53 Wednesday night?

-Rafael Palmeiro still wants us to know that he unknowingly took steroids. I unknowingly wrote this column.

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