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Sports Extra / MARK McGWIRE SETS HOME-RUN RECORD |
THE BIG QUESTION

How Valuable Does It Make McGwire?

Award: He has the homer record, but MVP could well go to Sosa, Alou or Vaughn.

September 09, 1998|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In this pumped-up, blast-away, watch-out-in-the-third-deck, record-crashing baseball season, is it really any shock that Mark McGwire could possibly--probably?--hit 70 home runs and still finish third in the voting for the National League's most valuable player?

"It really could happen," said Steve Garvey, who won his own MVP award in 1974, posting impressive, but wholly un-McGwire-like or un-Sammy Sosa-like numbers.

For the pennant-winning Dodgers, Garvey batted .312, hit 21 home runs--one more than Sosa racked up in June--and drove in 111 runs.

That same season, the St. Louis Cardinals' Lou Brock set the major league stolen-base record with 118, but the Cards finished second. The Philadelphia Phillies' Mike Schmidt hit a league-leading 36 homers and drove in 116 runs, but the Phillies were a sub-.500 team. Cincinnati Red catcher Johnny Bench led the league with 129 RBIs and hit 33 home runs, but the Reds finished four games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.

The point was, and maybe still is, that Garvey was a key part of a winning team, something McGwire supporters cannot boast this season, no matter how many homers he hits or how far he hits them.

"My interpretation of MVP is the individual player who makes the the most significant contribution to his team's success," Garvey said. "The one downside to a team sport player, you can have a great year and your team finishes last. It can drag you down.

"I think the award is all relative to the team's success. Or you have to have such significant numbers that really distance yourself from others. These guys are pretty comparable, McGwire and Sosa, and then you have to take a look at [Moises] Alou, because if his team wins the division and you look at his contribution."

Roger Maris was the American League MVP in 1961, the year he broke Babe Ruth's record by smacking 61 home runs. He and Mickey Mantle led the Yankees to 109 victories that season.

This souped-up season, Sosa, who is right on McGwire's home run heels and well ahead of him in the RBI count, also has carried the Chicago Cubs into prime contention for the NL wild-card playoff spot.

Alou, a World Series winner with the Florida Marlins last season, isn't going to hit 60 homers, but he will hit 40, and probably will drive in 130 runs, for the Houston Astros, who may win 100 games this season.

Greg Vaughn probably won't jump ahead of McGwire on anybody's MVP ballot, but he is going to hit more than 50 homers, and has been the straw stirring the NL West-leading San Diego Padres all season.

Tom Lasorda, the Dodgers' interim general manager, follows similar logic to make a more direct point.

"I'd have to say Sosa," Lasorda said when asked who he'd favor to win the MVP award. "As much as I'd like to say McGwire, I think the difference is that Sosa's helping his team into the playoffs and McGwire isn't.

"It's no fault of McGwire's that they're not in the playoffs, but it's good play of Sosa that has allowed the Cubs to get into [contention for] the playoffs. And 140 RBIs? That's the most valuable player--not who has the best year."

For example, Lasorda points to Kirk Gibson in 1988. Gibson hit 25 home runs and drove in 76 runs--several other players had better numbers--and still won the MVP going away.

"There were guys who hit higher than he did, but he did more for our team than you could ever imagine," Lasorda said.

San Francisco Giant Manager Dusty Baker said that McGwire's crazy numbers for a sub-.500 team could confuse the entire voting process.

"I think this is going to be probably one of the toughest MVP votes," Baker said. "Do you go for the personal accolades or do you go for what a guy means to a team, which goes hand in hand, or do you go with what a guy's team is doing? Then you have to consider what kind of supporting cast these guys have, also which can determine who the MVP is.

"I think the guy nobody's mentioned is Moises Alou. He's had an incredible year. And you've got [Astro second baseman] Craig Biggio. And you've got Greg Vaughn in San Diego. You've got a bunch of real bona fide MVPs.

"Yeah, McGwire, he might not be the MVP. It'd be a shame. But I'm glad I'm not voting."

Oh, and there's one more opinion you might like to hear on this matter before closing: from McGwire himself.

"Sammy's having a magical year," McGwire said recently. "A way better year than I'm having. His team is right there in the wild-card race, he's driven in quite a few more runs than I have, he's hit for a higher average. You tip your hat to him."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MVP or Not MVP: Making Different Cases

Some notable players who had big seasons and failed to win the MVP award:

FALLING SHORT

1931

Lou Gehrig (2nd in voting): .341, 46 HRs, 184 RBIs.

Winner: Lefty Grove 31-4, 2.06 ERA.

*

1937

Hank Greenberg (3rd): .337, 40 HRs, 183 RBIs.

Winner: Charlie Gehringer .371, 14 HRs, 96 RBIs

*

1941

Ted Williams (2nd): .406, 37 HRs, 120 RBIs.

Winner: Joe DiMaggio .357, 30 HRs, 125 RBIs

*

1957

Ted Williams (2nd): .388, 38 HRs, 87 RBIs.

Winner: Mickey Mantle .365, 34 HRs, 94 RBIs

*

1961

Mickey Mantle (2nd): .317, 54 HRs, 128 RBIs.

Winner: Roger Maris: .269, 61 HRs, 142 RBIs

*

1995: Albert Belle (2nd): .317, 50 HRs, 126 RBIs.

Winner: Mo Vaughn .300, 39 HRs, 126 RBIs

COMING OUT ON TOP

Some notable players who won the MVP award while playing on bad teams :

1958: ERNIE BANKS, Chicago Cubs (72-82, 6th place), .313, 47 HRs, 129 RBIs

1959: ERNIE BANKS, Chicago Cubs (74-80, 5th place), .305, 45 HRs, 143 RBIs

1987: ANDRE DAWSON, Chicago Cubs (76-85, 6th place), .287, 49 HRs, 137 RBIs

1989: ROBIN YOUNT, Milwaukee Brewers (81-81, 4th place), .318, 21 HRs, 103 RBIs

1991: CAL RIPKEN JR., Baltimore Orioles (67-95, 6th place), .323, 34 HRs, 114 RBIs

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