How not to vote for NL MVP

I’m glad Albert Pujols won the NL MVP award, because he richly deserved it.  He was far and away the best player in the National League this past season.  While perusing the vote totals, I noticed that Pujols received 18 of 32 possible first-place votes, and was listed no worse than fourth on every other ballot – except one.  Someone’s ballot had Pujols at seventh.  Who, I wondered, thought there were six better players than Pujols in the National League this year?

Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, that’s who.

Here is his ballot:

1. Ryan Howard, Philadelphia
2. C.C. Sabathia, Milwaukee
3. Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles
4. Carlos Delgado, New York
5. Aramis Ramirez, Chicago
6. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee
7. Albert Pujols, St. Louis
8. Ryan Ludwick, St. Louis
9. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
10. David Wright, New York

After goggling at that list, I then read his explanation.

[Howard] almost single-handedly carried the Phillies to the playoffs by batting .352 with 11 homers and 32 RBI in September. I like to weight my voting to teams in the playoff hunt because I think that puts more pressure on players and separates the men from the boys. There’s little pressure on players having big years if their teams aren’t playing for anything at the end.

With the Cardinals finishing fourth, I voted Pujols seventh on my ballot. I don’t consider MVP to be “the most outstanding player” award and therefore don’t just go by who had the best stats. I like to credit players for lifting their teams to the post-season or at least keeping them in the race until the very end.

I understand that the Cardinals would not have been even close to the wild-card berth without Pujols, but I still like players who elevate their game in crunch time and lift their teams to new heights. And I thought Ryan Ludwick had just as much to do with keeping the Cards in the hunt as Pujols did. St. Louis did stay in the wild card race until mid-September, but mainly because the Brewers and Mets were gagging at the time.

It’s a subjective vote and every writer has his own preferences. That’s why I voted for Sabathia second and Ramirez third because even though they played in the league only half a season they were primarily responsible for putting their teams in the playoffs…

…This is an inexact science. With 10 names on the ballot, you could move guys around and drive yourself nuts putting them in the spot you feel is best. But that’s the way I voted. In sheer offensive numbers, Pujols certainly is tough to beat, which is why it’s understandable that he got so much support.

Where to begin?

My first question to Haudricourt would be…well, my first question would be whether or not he had been taking some new medication, I think.  I would then ask him things like:

1)  How do you put three first baseman ahead of Pujols on your ballot?

2)  How do you justify putting Carlos Delgado (one of the aforementioned first basemen) ahead of Pujols, when his team didn’t make the playoffs either?  Also, how do you justify putting Delgado on the ballot at all, given that he wasn’t one of the four best players on his own (non-playoff) team?  Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Johan Santana were all better and more important to the Mets than was Delgado.  He’s the fifth-best player on a team that didn’t make postseason play, and you ranked him sixth in the entire league.

3)  How do you justify voting Ryan Howard first?  Speaking of voting for someone who wasn’t the best player on his own team, Howard was the third-best infielder on the Phillies last year.  Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins didn’t make your ballot (Utley in particular strikes me as a dubious omission), but you ranked Howard first overall.  Now, I will say you weren’t the only writer buffaloed by Howard’s outstanding month of September, so in that you are in line with a lot of the other voters.  I’m not sure how you can say a great final month completely outweighs the rest of his season, though.  He had an OPS of 791 in August, which last I checked is the month before September.  Of course, that was better than his June (726 OPS) or his April (645 OPS).  Were you aware that the August-September “playoff push” stat line for Pujols was significantly better than Howard’s in that time period (and, incidentally, a lot better than Delgado’s)?

4)  Explain this line – “St. Louis did stay in the wild card race until mid-September, but mainly because the Brewers and Mets were gagging at the time” – how do you then justify putting five players from those two teams on your ballot, including three of them ahead of Pujols?  And wasn’t this gagging also helping Howard’s Phllies?

5)  Do you really think Ryan Ludwick “had as much to do with keeping the Cards in the hunt” as did Pujols?  Seriously?

6)  Did you know that Manny Ramirez’s offensive explosion in August and September, great as it was, wasn’t really much different than that of Pujols?  (For the record, Ramirez had an OPS of 1232 in those two months, Pujols 1186.)  Now, Manny did have to play his home games at Dodger Stadium, but on the other hand Pujols is the best defensive first baseman in the league, while Ramirez is arguably the worst defender at any position in the majors.  Then there is the fact that Ramirez’s MVP case in the National League for the period before August is {empty set}.  Pujols, of course, was raking in the NL all season long.

At least Pujols did win the award.  Still, imagine if it had been very close, and this guy’s seventh-place vote for Pujols had been the difference…

The decisive game in the World Series that was almost shortened by rain…no, not the one between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay

Bud Selig is getting praised or pilloried for his decision to suspend Game 5 of the World Series last night.  I think most rational observers agree that it was ultimately the right decision; it’s just a question of when the decision should have been made in the first place.  Selig isn’t the first commissioner to be in a position to make a decision about whether or not to end a World Series-clinching game due to weather conditions, though…

In 1925, the Washington Senators (officially the Nationals, but almost everyone called them the Senators) repeated as AL champs and played the NL champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.  Washington was looking to repeat its Series victory of the year before, when it beat the New York Giants in seven games, the seventh game being a dramatic 12-inning affair.  The Senators would take a three-games-to-one lead in the Series, but the Pirates rallied to take the next two contests and force a deciding game 7 at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.

Game 7 was scheduled for October 14, but it got rained out.  The commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, had no desire for Game 7 to be rained out two days in a row, and ordered the game to be played the following day (and without any pressure from Fox TV!), even though the field was already a mess from the rains of the day before.  On the 15th it continued to rain, but they played on anyway, following a pregame pep talk to both teams from Landis, telling the squads that he didn’t want to disappoint the capacity crowd already there and that the game would be finished if “humanly possible.”

It didn’t begin well for the Pirates.  Pittsburgh’s starting pitcher, Vic Aldridge, had a nightmarish performance in the top of the first.  Sam Rice led off with a single, and after a flyout, Aldridge threw a wild pitch advancing Rice to second.  Aldridge was struggling to gain footing on the muddy pitching mound, and proceeded to walk the next three batters, throwing another wild pitch in the process.  After another single, he was replaced by Johnny Morrison, but eventually four runs would score in the inning.

The great Walter Johnson started for Washington, but he was battling a leg problem and the same muddy conditions that had affected Aldridge.  The Pirates scored three runs in the bottom of the third to close within one run, but the Senators answered with two runs in the top of the fourth, the runs scoring on a two-out double by Joe “Moon” Harris.  The Pirates answered back with a run in the fifth on consecutive doubles by Max Carey and Kiki Cuyler.  (Carey had four hits in the game, but more impressively for Joe Buck, he also stole a base, despite the rain and muddy conditions.)

It had been drizzling when the game started, but began to rain harder in the third inning and by the fifth it was a torrential downpour.  By the end of the sixth inning, the outfield was enveloped in fog, and the field was such a disaster Ring Lardner would refer to it in his column the following day as resembling “nothing so much as chicken a La King.”

It was at this point that Landis almost made a disastrous decision.  He decided to call the game, with the victory (and world title) going to Washington.  However, he was talked out of calling the game by an old baseball man, someone who knew better than to have a game deciding the World Series ended in such a manner, someone who understood the game had to be completed in its entirety, someone who told the commissioner that “you can’t do it — once you’ve started in the rain, you’ve got to finish it.”

Landis was talked out of ending the game early by Clark Griffth.  Clark Griffith, the owner of…the Washington Senators.

The first batter in the bottom of the seventh, Eddie Moore, lifted a short pop fly to left field.  Washington shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh (who had been named the American League MVP before the start of the series) slipped on the wet grass while going after the ball, lost his bearings, and dropped it.  Carey then blooped a double down the left field line, scoring Moore.  At least, umpire Brick Owens ruled it a double.  Nobody in a Senators uniform agreed with him, but the conditions weren’t exactly favorable for the umpires either.  Pie Traynor then tripled in Carey (but was thrown out trying for an inside-the-park homer).  The score was tied at 6.

Peckinpaugh homered in the eighth to put Washington back in the lead, 7-6.  In the bottom of the inning, there were two outs and a man on second when pinch-hitter Carson Bigbee hit a fly ball to right field.  In the rain, gloom, and fog, though, Rice never saw it, and it dropped for another double, tying the score.  After a walk (Johnson, incredibly, was still pitching, bad leg, atrocious conditions and all), Peckinpaugh made yet another error (his eighth of the Series; the rest of his teammates combined made one).

With the bases now loaded, Cuyler and Johnson engaged in a tremendous battle.  With a 2-2 count, Cuyler took a pitch that Johnson and catcher Muddy Ruel both thought was strike three.  Home plate umpire Bill “Moon” McCormick thought differently, though.  (I believe this was the first World Series to feature both an umpire and a player nicknamed “Moon”.)   With a full count Cuyler hit an opposite-field liner over first base that landed near the line and disappeared into the fog (and possibly under a tarpaulin).  It was eventually ruled a ground-rule double, scoring two runs.  Washington outfielder Goose Goslin claimed that the ball had actually been foul by two feet, but that none of the umpires could actually see the flight of the ball.

The Pirates held on to win the game 9-7, becoming the first team to win a World Series after trailing three games to one.

Books that discuss this game (and that I used as references) include Baseball’s Big Train, a biography of Walter Johnson by Henry Thomas, and Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders.