by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
June 20, 2010
PNC Park was filled to capacity Saturday night as the 50-year anniversary of
Pittsburgh's 1960 World Series Champions was celebrated in a pregame ceremony.
The PA announcer certainly engaged in some excusable hyperbole during the
ceremony, trying to convince us that backup outfielder Joe Christopher was an
integral part of that 1960 team and rather matt-of-factly grading the Bill
Mazeroski Game Seven homer as the most memorable moment in MLB history.
What isn't excusable, looking back at the 1960 season, was the MVP voting
that year. National League MVP winner Dick Groat probably wasn't the
worst MVP selection in history, but the NL voting top-to-bottom may well have
You can find the
voting results for the 1960 MVP Award on Baseball-Reference.com.
Dick Groat was a shortstop who hit .325 on a pennant-winning ballclub.
That alone was pretty impressive in 1960. But that alone is exactly what Groat provided. He had a .371 OBP, a .394 SLG, 50 RBI, and 85 runs scored,
which is a pretty low total considering that he batted second in a productive
lineup. Perhaps his failure to steal a base that year while being caught
twice is indicative of other shortcomings as a baserunner.
While Groat was widely regarded as an above-average defensive shortstop, he
did not win a Gold Glove Award in his career. In 1960, the Gold Glove was
awarded to Ernie Banks, who was widely regarded as just an average defensive
shortstop. And if people form 1960 were impressed with a shortstop who led
the league in batting, you would think that they would also be impressed with a
Gold Glove shortstop who led the league with 41 homers. But alas, Banks
played for a team with a .390 winning percentage and had a down year offensively
compared to his two previous MVP seasons in 1958 and 1959, so he only finished
fourth in the voting.
Indeed, MVP voters like to dole out MVP Awards to pennant-winning players
whenever possible. For this reason, an amazing five Pirates were top 12 in
voting, including four among the top eight and each of the top two. Voters
were apparently unwilling to accept that the 1960 Pirates were truly a team
effort and that no one player was widely more valuable than another.
Still, in their attempt to identify that Most Valuable Player, they made some
laughable choices. Bob Friend had a superior season to Vern Law in every
regard except win-loss record. Law finished sixth in voting while Friend
had no friends amongst the voters, failing to garner a single vote. Bill
Mazeroski, Groat's double play partner who is widely regarded as the best
defensive second baseman of all-time, won a Gold Glove and had one of his best offensive seasons in
1960, but could not muster a single MVP vote. Perhaps most egregiously, Don Hoak
ranked second in MVP voting and was the only player besides Groat to receive
multiple first place votes (he got five).
Hoak did have a pretty solid season at the plate, finishing with a 120 OPS+.
But I'm not sure that "pretty solid" should equate to first place MVP votes.
The only major stat categories in which Hoak even ranked among the top 10 in his
league (an 8-team league, no less) were runs scored (7th) and on-base percentage
(9th). If Groat's defense wasn't good enough to make his MVP votes
deserved, then Hoak's certainly wasn't, as his .948 fielding percentage was
below average for NL third basemen that year. Of course, while not quite
as rare as good offensive shortstops, good offensive third basemen were far more
rare in 1960 than they were today.
So the big question becomes, why did Eddie Mathews finish tenth in NL MVP
voting that year?
The Milwaukee Braves were the runners-up to the Pirates in 1960, so Braves
players theoretically should have been the second-most desirable ones to vote
for. While Hoak still had the edge in that regard, The DeMat Gun trounced
him in everything else. Mathews finished second in the league in OPS,
walks, runs scored, and RBI. He finished third in home runs and OBP.
He ranked first in adjusted batting runs and runs
created. We know from Miguel Tejada that MVP voters take into account
late-season performance. In that case, surely Mathews' 23 homers, 79 RBI,
and .289 batting average in the second half should boost his candidacy.
If offense from a third baseman was so scarce in 1960 so as to give Don Hoak
MVP consideration, then Mathews' 1960 season ranks as one of the best seasons of
all-time. Of course, that line of thinking has its flaws as well, since
Ken Boyer had a worse season offensively than Mathews while playing for a worse
team than Mathews did, yet ranked sixth in the voting. Boyer did at least
win a Gold Glove that season.
Now, there are those of you out there who believe that much of Mathews'
success should be attributed to his hitting third in front of one Hank Aaron
(you know who you are). Well, if Mathews was getting so many great pitches
to hit in that scenario, it's hard to figure how he walked 111 times and how he
enjoyed three of his best seasons ever before Aaron had established himself as
one of the game's top players. It's also hard to figure why Aaron, who had
a comparable offensive season to Mathews, finished behind Mathews in the voting
if his superiority was the reason for Mathews' snub.
If I had a vote for the 1960 NL MVP Award, it would go to Mathews. But
if he lost that vote to Banks, Aaron, Boyer, Willie Mays, or Frank Robinson (who
finished an absurd 20th in the voting), I would have probably been just fine
with it. But the fact that the vote came down to Hoak versus Groat and
that the very best players that year were basically afterthoughts in the voting
process likely makes this year the worst ever for Most Valuable Player voting.
So let's celebrate the 50th anniversary of that.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.