Most valuable losers

When Chase Utley hit his second home run in Game 5 of the World Series, giving him five against the Yankees, the discussion began about who had been named Series MVP from the losing team. Since the award was first given (in 1955 to Johnny Podres), only one player had ever earned the honor but not a championship ring: the Yankees’ Bobby Richardson in the 1960 Fall Classic.

Of course, that’s the year that Bill Mazeroski ended the Series at Forbes Field with the only Game 7 walk-off homer in history. Mazeroski’s numbers in the seven games were decent: .320 batting average, two homers, five RBIs, two doubles, four runs. But Richardson’s topped that: .367, one homer, 12 RBIs, two doubles, two triples, eight runs. In fact, Maz’s somewhat pedestrian numbers were the best across the board on a Pittsburgh team that lost the Series in pretty much every category other than games won.

The Bombers outhit the Bucs, .338 to .256; outscored them 55-27; outhomered them 10-4; outslugged them 27 extra-base hits to 15; outpitched them 3.54-7.11 in ERA; and outWHIPped them 1.18 to 1.76. The Pirates won their four games by scores of 6-4 (Game 1), 3-2 (Game 4), 5-2 (Game 5), and 10-9 (Game 7). The Yankees’ winning scores were 16-3 (Game 2), 10-0 (Game 3) and 12-0 (Game 6).

Mazeroski’s five RBIs led the Pirates alongside Bill Virdon, but his five came with just a .241 average on seven hits. For New York, Richardson wasn’t a one-man show, and if anyone in the press box kept track of the voting that year, I’d have to think that Mickey Mantle lost by one vote. Mantle hit .400 with three homers, 11 RBIs, a double, eight runs and eight walks. One way or another, the MVP of the 1960 World Series was going to a Yankee.

The Pirates’ best candidate for MVP would have to be right-hander Vern Law, who started and won Games 1 and 4 and allowed one run in five innings after starting Game 7. In 18 1/3 innings, he allowed seven earned runs for a 3.44 ERA. The only other mark below 4.00 for Pittsburgh was Harvey Haddix’s 2.45 (two earned runs in 7 1/3) that he accumulated by starting and winning Game 5 (6 1/3 innings, both runs) and pitching the ninth to win Game 7. (He came in with runners on first and second and no outs, gave up a single to Mantle that allowed Richardson to score and move Dale Long to third, then blew the save and allowed Long to score the tying run on a groundout to first by Yogi Berra.)

The most dominant pitcher in the Series was Whitey Ford, who won Games 3 and 6 by pitching 18 scoreless innings, allowing just 11 hits and two walks and striking out eight — certainly MVP-worthy numbers. It makes you wonder why Casey Stengel, whose Yankees won the AL by eight games over the Orioles, pitched Ford for two innings in relief in the season finale on Oct. 2 and didn’t use Ford until Game 3 on Oct. 8. Ford’s last start had been on Sept. 28, five days before Game 1 of the Series on Oct. 3. For the season, Ford was 12-9 with a 3.08 ERA and an 85-65 K:BB ratio in 192 2/3 innings. Stengel’s Game 1 and 2 starters were Art Ditmar (15-9, 3.06, 65-56 in 200 IP) and Bob Turley (9-3, 3.27, 87-87 in 173 1/3 IP). Had Ford started Games 1 and 4 and been available had it gone to seven, it may have been a different story.

In this year’s Series, I think any chance Utley had of winning the award hinged on the Phillies forcing Game 7 — especially if Utley played into a Game 6 victory in even the smallest sense. I think even to consider a player from the losing team, the Series has to go seven games. The most common simple way to evaluate whether a player is the valuable to his team may be to consider the team’s fortunes were that player removed from the lineup. Take away Utley’s solo homers in the third and sixth innings of Game 1, and it’s scoreless into the eighth — maybe Cliff Lee changes his approach in some situations in a scoreless game as opposed to having a 1-0 and 2-0 lead. And in Game 5, Utley’s three-run shot in the first inning kept the crowd at its fever pitch from the start and pretty much gave Lee the freedom to pitch his game. (And, of course, Lee’s performance in the Series would’ve earned him consideration for MVP as well, especially since he almost certainly would’ve had some role in a Game 7.)

So Utley fits the definition of a player most valuable to his team, but with just a six-game Series, it’s hard to seriously consider someone from the losing side. For one thing, the Phillies never found themselves one win away from the title. And though they won Game 1 on the road, once the Yankees took Game 2, it was clear the momentum had shifted and remained on the Yankees’ side through Game 4 and their 3-1 Series lead. The Phillies got it back to an extent in Game 5, but only for the first seven innings. After Utley’s second home run of the game to lead off that inning and Raul Ibanez’s shot three batters later, the Yankees fought back with three runs in the eighth and another in the ninth and had the tying run at the plate in the form of Mark Teixeira before falling, 8-6. In my mind, any shot the Phillies had of forcing Game 7 hinged on their jumping out to a moderately comfortable lead (in Yankee Stadium against these Bombers, that would have to be at least three runs) with Pedro Martinez starting Game 6 for them. It didn’t happen — Hideki Matsui’s two-run homer in the second put the Yankees ahead for good, and though the Phillies got one back in the third, Matsui essentially put the game away (and earned his MVP) in the bottom of the third with a two-run single.

Since the MVP was introduced in 1955, a total of 59 players have won the award in the 55 Series that have been played. Those numbers account for three Dodgers — Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager — and two Diamondbacks — Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson — sharing the award in 1981 and 2001, respectively; they also account for the absence of a Fall Classic in 1994. Out of those 59 players, 23 have been starting pitchers, or 40 percent. Of those 55 Series, 23 have gone seven games, and in seven-game Series, the MVP has been a starting pitcher 14 times, or 58 percent. (Three relief pitchers have won — Rollie Fingers in 1974, John Wetteland in 1996 and Mariano Rivera in 1999 — but none of those Series went seven games.) So when the Series goes the distance, giving starting pitchers a chance to have an effect on three games instead of just two, they seem to have a greater chance of winning the MVP award.

Here’s the list MVPs from World Series that went seven games:

Year Player Pos Team
1955 Johnny Podres SP BRK
1956 Don Larsen SP NYY
1957 Lew Burdette SP MIL
1958 Bob Turley SP NYY
1960 Richardson 2B NYY
1962 Ralph Terry SP NYY
1964 Bob Gibson SP STL
1965 Sandy Koufax SP LAD
1967 Bob Gibson SP STL
1968 Mickey Lolich SP DET
1971 Roberto Clemente OF PIT
1972 Gene Tenace C OAK
1973 Reggie Jackson OF OAK
1975 Pete Rose 3B CIN
1979 Willie Stargell 1B PIT
1982 Darrell Porter C STL
1985 Bret Saberhagen SP KC
1986 Ray Knight 3B NYM
1987 Frank Viola SP MIN
1991 Jack Morris SP MIN
1997 Livan Hernandez SP FLA
2001 Randy Johnson &
Curt Schilling
SP ARI
2002 Troy Glaus 3B ANA

But I think the other obvious choice for an MVP on a losing team was another slugger, and one who played in the last seven-game Series, in 2002. Glaus won the award for hitting .385 (I’m using batting average because it’s likely that most — if not all — of the voters in the press looked at that instead of OPS) with three home runs, eight RBIs, three doubles and six runs scored. He doubled in the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth of Game 6, when the Angels were down to their final six outs of the season. He then went 0-for-2 with two walks and two strikeouts in Game 7.

Yet the most valuable player of that Series had to have been Barry Bonds. He hit .471 with four homers, six RBIs, eight runs and two doubles. Six of his eight hits were for extra bases (1.294 slugging percentage) and he was walked 13 times (vs. three strikeouts) for a .700 on-base percentage and a 1.994 OPS. He reached base via hit or walk in every game, and Game 4 was the only one in which he did not get a base hit. He went 0-for-1 with three walks, all intentional, and did not score in the game. The first two free passes worked; the Giants were held scoreless in those innings. But in the fifth, with the Angels leading 3-2 after two runs had scored in the frame, Mike Scioscia ordered John Lackey to walk Bonds with one out and Rich Aurilia on second. Benito Santiago then singled in Aurilia to tie the game. Anaheim got out of the inning, but San Francisco won, 4-3, with an unearned run in the eighth, an inning in which Bonds did not come to bat. (Bonds had batted in the seventh against Francisco Rodriguez and grounded out to first on a 2-2 count.)

That Series was at the height of Bonds’ influence on how the game was played, evidenced by all of those walks — he had an impact simply by forcing the opposing manager to take the bat out of his hands. Clearly, no one was more valuable. Had the Series ended in six games, he would’ve won the MVP (he went 1-for-3 with a walk, no runs or RBIs, in Game 7), and he probably should have anyway. No pitcher on either team was worthy.

We’re overdue for a seven-game Series. There have been seven played since the last one went the distance, easily the longest drought in history. Compare that to 1955-1965, when eight of 11 Fall Classics went the distance. And maybe our next seven-game season finale will come with another MVP debate. Imagine the postgame trophy presentation on Fox if the winner played for the losing side.

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