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Free Friday: The Pros and Cons of Unanimity
OK, look, I don’t want to say I told you so. But …
Yeah, on Thursday night — for the first time in baseball history — both the American League and National League MVPs won the award unanimously.
In the American League, Shohei Ohtani got all 30 votes — he became the first player in baseball history to TWICE win the award unanimously.
2023 and 2021: Shohei Ohtani, AL
2023: Ronald Acuña Jr., NL
2015: Bryce Harper, NL
2014: Mike Trout, AL
2009: Albert Pujols, NL
2002: Barry Bonds, NL
1997: Ken Griffey Jr., AL
1996: Ken Caminiti, NL
1994: Jeff Bagwell, NL
1993: Frank Thomas, AL
1988: Jose Canseco, AL
1980: Mike Schmidt, NL
1973: Reggie Jackson, AL
1968: Denny McLain, AL
1967: Orlando Cepeda, NL
1966: Frank Robinson, AL
1956: Mickey Mantle, AL
1953: Al Rosen, AL
1935: Hank Greenberg, AL
If you’re like me, some questions might have jumped out at you while looking at that list, such as:
Wait, Barry Bonds in 2001, when he hit 73 home runs, was not the unanimous MVP? (Nope. Sammy Sosa, who led the league in runs and RBIs, got two first-place votes).
Wait, George Brett in 1980 — when he almost hit .400 — was not the unanimous MVP? (Not even close. Reggie Jackson got five first-place votes, Goose Gossage got four, and, get this, the Yankees’ Rick Cerone got a vote, as did Brett’s teammate Willie Wilson. Wacky!).
Wait, Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, when he won the triple crown and almost singlehandedly carried the Impossible Dream Red Sox to the pennant, didn’t … well, actually, you know this story. He fell one vote short of unanimity; a voter selected Cesar Tovar. I wrote about this at length in The Baseball 100.
Wait, Willie Mays NEVER WON THE AWARD UNANIMOUSLY? (Not even close. In 1954, he lost seven votes to Ted Kluszewski and another to Giants shortstop Al Dark, who you will see in a minute liked to break up unanimous MVP voting. Mays’ only other MVP came in 1965, when he didn’t even get the plurality of first-place votes — he got only nine out of 20, the other 11 going to Sandy Koufax and Maury Wills).
Wait, Stan Musial in 1948 — when he had that crazy .376/.450/.702 season and led the league in pretty much every category other than home runs — was not the unanimous MVP? (A couple of Boston Braves guys, pitcher Johnny Sain and, yes, Al Dark, took six votes away).
We’ll come back to these questions in a minute. For now, the point is that Shohei is the only two-time unanimous MVP, and he won both in years when his team was pretty terrible. The award has definitely changed.
Closest to him in the voting was Texas’ Corey Seager with 24 second-place votes. The other second-place votes went to Marcus Semien (5) and, interestingly, Kyle Tucker (1).
In the National League, the unanimity of thought was utterly staggering. Ronald Acuña Jr. got all 30 first-place votes, and Mookie Betts got all 30 second-place votes, and just two guys — Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson — split all 60 third- and fourth-place votes. Top four spots, four guys. Twenty-three other guys got votes five through 10, from (Ozzie) Albies to (Logan) Webb,* alphabetically.
*Ha! I didn’t call him Brandon Webb this time, like I did yesterday.
Thus endeth the most predictable and homogenous baseball awards we’ve ever seen. Both MVPs won unanimously. Both Rookies of the Year won unanimously. Gerrit Cole became the second American League pitcher in a row to win the Cy Young unanimously, and the third in four years. And the one award winner who did not sweep all the first-place votes, Blake Snell, still took 28 of 30.
I’ve talked some about this already; there seems little question to me that the predictability and near-unanimity of the awards have grown over the last few years — same is true of Hall of Fame voting — and I keep thinking that’s not a great thing. It seems to me that when everybody starts voting the same way and thinking the same way, baseball loses some of its flavor, some of its crackling energy, some of its fun. As certainty grows, perhaps, arrogance grows, and we start believing that we have this game all figured out. We don’t
I say this full-well knowing that I might have voted for the same six guys as everybody else*. But the point is I don’t want everyone to think like me, and I don’t want to think like everyone else. There aren’t supposed to be RIGHT and WRONG answers on these things, like baseball is a spelling bee or a round of “Jeopardy.” I could make absolutely viable arguments for someone else in both MVP races and both Cy Young races. I wouldn’t, because I don’t necessarily believe in those arguments. But I bet someone else does.
*I might have voted for Atlanta’s Spencer Strider as NL Cy Young, but I don’t know.
And that’s my big issue here: I find it hard to believe that 30 different voters from all over the country with all different backgrounds and connections to the game all came to the exact same conclusion in all of these races. My suspicion, and I totally get this, is that many people have decided that it’s just easier to go with the crowd rather than face the backlash that will surely come from voting differently.
Maybe, for example, a voter believed that Mookie Betts was more valuable than Ronald Acuña Jr. because of his defensive flexibility and the way he filled so many of the Dodgers’ weaknesses. Utterly reasonable argument. But they also know a vote for Betts might be the only one, and that would leave them exposed to a torrent of social media complaints and maybe a few aggregator stories mocking them, and who needs that? Hey, the players are so close, anyway, and it’s not like Betts is going to win … so what difference does it make, right?
When one person out of 397 didn’t vote Derek Jeter into the Hall of Fame, Jeter mentioned it IN HIS HALL OF FAME SPEECH*. (“Thank you to the baseball writers — all but one.”) Sure, he said it mostly as a joke-and-applause line, but it bugged me a little just the same. I mean, nine people didn’t vote for Henry Aaron, 16 didn’t vote for Johnny Bench, 23 didn’t vote for Willie Mays or Stan Musial, 36 didn’t vote for Jackie Robinson, 43 didn’t vote for Mickey Mantle, 64 didn’t vote for Bob Gibson, Joe DiMaggio didn’t get in until his FOURTH ballot — and even then, 28 people didn’t vote for him.
None of those players mentioned the deficit in their Hall of Fame speeches. I’m sure some of them, maybe even most of them, were privately annoyed, but there was an understanding that each of the voters brought whatever biases, philosophies and influences they carried around about baseball and life, and the magic of getting elected to the Hall of Fame involved winning over 75% of those wildly divergent viewpoints.
You know how hard it is to get 75% of the vote on ANYTHING?
Now, 99.7% approval was enough to insert a jab in the Hall of Fame speech? Now, the awards are all unanimous or near-unanimous? Now, we just expect complete agreement on something as interesting and complex and mysterious as baseball? That doesn’t sit well with me at all.
*Yes, I imagine that Mariano Rivera getting 100% of the vote a year earlier had something to do with Jeter coming up with this line.
Happy Friday! Our Friday posts are free so everyone can enjoy them. Just a reminder that Joe Blogs is a reader-supported newsletter, and I’d love and appreciate your support.
Owners Approve A’s Move to Vegas
Speaking of unanimous votes — all 30 owners on Thursday voted to allow the Oakland Athletics to move to Las Vegas. Apparently, not one of the owners, not a single one, has even the slightest problem with owner John Fisher’s dunderheaded bungling or the inconvenient truth that nothing is fully lined up in Las Vegas — not even the funding for a new stadium — or the fact that even in a best-case scenario, nobody knows where the A’s would play from 2025 through ’28, or the cruelty of yanking away a team that has been in Oakland for more than 50 years or the countless roadblocks MLB itself put up through the years to prevent the team from moving somewhere else in the Bay Area or being sold to parties who were devoted to keeping the team in Oakland.
Nope. None of it mattered. Unanimous vote. Thirty for thirty.
Look at this: Last week, the mayor of Oakland said the city had set aside $928 million for a new stadium and development. Almost a billion dollars. OK, the Nevada bill guarantees $380 million for a stadium — that would be LESS, wouldn’t it? — and even that money, as noted, is being challenged by a Nevada teachers’ union and political advocates who believe, I don’t know, that the money might be better spent on education.
Fishie, you’re doing a heck of a job.
Also, the plan is to build perhaps the game’s smallest stadium in the 40th-biggest television market in America, just behind Greenville-Spartanburg and just ahead of Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo. That’s the actual plan.
Also, here’s the latest rendering of the stadium. Can you spot the trouble?
Yeah, that’s right, they have it as an outdoor stadium with a “partially retractable roof.” In Las Vegas. The average high temperatures in June, July and August in Las Vegas are: 102° … 107° … 104°.* Partially retractable roof, sure.
*I just learned you can make the degree sign° by hitting option/shift 8 on your Mac keyboard! Degree away!
Also, Nevada governor Joe Lombardo said the relocation will “bring thousands of new jobs to our state,” a line so absurd that I’m not sure there are enough Pinocchios in the world to fact-check it.
Point is, this is a complete mess, and there’s nothing in John Fisher’s history that suggests he’s going to land the plane without everything exploding, and all 30 owners are just fine with it. Sure. Why not?
ESPN is reporting that the Cleveland Browns are planning to work out 38-year-old quarterback Joe Flacco because, you know, at this point, why not? Matt Ryan hasn’t retired, he’s out there. Brett Rypien is out there. Mark Rypien is out there. Tom Brady, you know Tom Brady is out there.
For the record, Flacco is two years older than Colin Kaepernick, who, yes, is out there.
WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL Update!
— So, the first phase of the WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL tour is done — 18 cities, lots of fun — and as of right now, the plan is to pick it up again at the beginning of March with definite stops in Florida, Arizona, Ohio, California and a couple around Kansas City. Stuff will likely be added. We’ll give you a break from the details for a while.
— I’m proud to tell you that WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL is going into its FIFTH printing. So wild.
— It’s the gift-giving season, and The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and Milwaukee Sentinel have already named WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL as a must-get gift, which, you know, I’d like to think it is. I know a lot of you have asked if there’s any way to get a personalized bookplate or special holiday card signed by me to include with your book this holiday season. I’m looking into seeing if there’s a way to pull that off … you know, while still dedicating the time to write my next book…
WHY WE LOVE FOOTBALL Update!
— No real updates on this book, actually. I’m just working away on it, day and night. I finally feel like I’ve got the structure of the book down, and I’m having a blast as I begin the writing. The hope is it will come out in the fall of 2024.
Hey, if you feel like it, I’d love if you’d share this post with your friends!
JoeBlogs Week in Review
Wednesday: More Manager Musings.