Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More thoughts about Mauer, catchers and the MVP

It is an unofficial part of the BBWAA's voting process for the awards, at least the major ones — somebody who casts a vote that leaves the rest of the baseball world puzzled writes a piece explaining/defending the vote.

Let us hope that Kezio Konishi writes such a piece — and that it's readable by those of us who don't read Japanese.

Konishi writes for Kyodo News in Japan, and he covers the Mariners — or perhaps what he covers is Ichiro Suzuki. In the rotation system the BBWAA uses to determine who votes for the awards, he was one of the two votes allotted to the Seattle chapter — and he cast his vote for Miguel Cabrera.

Now, I said this Tuesday: I'm not upset that Mauer didn't win a unanimous vote. He missed all of April, and if someone insists that a full season of Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira is worth more to his team than five months of Mauer, I won't agree but I'm not going to write the guy off as hopeless.

But Cabrera? His bulk power numbers aren't much better than Mauer's ( 34 HR MC, 28 JM; 103 RBI MC, 98 JM); there's a difference in defensive value between a quality catcher and an OK first baseman; and, of course, Mauer didn't get stone drunk with the division title on the line.

This was just a stupid vote.

Konishi, you got some 'splaning to do.


Mauer is the sixth catcher to win an MVP award; it's the eighth to go to a catcher, Yogi Berra having won three of them.

The list: Mickey Cochrane, 1934; Berra in 1951, 1954 and 1955; Elston Howard in 1963; Thurman Munson in 1976; Ivan Rodriguez in 1999; and now Mauer.

Interesting list. Cochrane and Berra are in the Hall of Fame, of course; Rodriguez, still active, figures to join them. Those three are among the handful of players with a claim to the title of greatest catcher ever.

Howard and Munson aren't on that level. Howard might have been, but he was stuck behind Berra for about a third of his career — Howard's rookie season was Berra's third MVP year. He was the Yankees' first black player (Casey Stengel supposedly grumbled: "They finally get me one, and they get me the only one who can't run") and the first black to win the AL MVP Award.

I suspect that had Howard come up with another team, he'd be a Hall of Famer.

Munson is another matter. He died at age 32 — he was piloting a small plane in midseason 1979 and crashed — but, as Bill James has noted, his career was in a downhill spiral. He was having back problems — one of the banes of catchers — and his power had largely dried up. He'd have played longer had he lived — but the quality of that play was not going to be up to the standard he had set. And that quality wasn't truly as high as that of Berra, Cochrane, Rodriguez or Howard.

And now Mauer.


Which raises the point that the Yankees' many dynasties have been largely built on great outfielders (Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Jackson) and great catchers (Schang, Dickey, Berra, Howard, Munson, Posada).

A quick ranking of Yankees catchers:

1) Berra.

2) Bill Dickey. A .313 lifetime average, albeit in a hitting-rich era. Quietly platooned for years. Credited with teaching Berra to catch.

3) Jorge Posada. Never a great glove behind the dish and getting worse with age, but a quality switch-hitter. Should have gotten more MVP consideration in 2003; he finished third (behind Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado).

4) Howard. Could rank ahead of Posada, but Jorge has had more good years and more playing time.

5) Wally Schang. Why this man isn't in Cooperstown in a befuddlement. Caught for the A's in the final years of the $100,000 infield dynasty; two pennants there. Traded to Boston for the last season of that dynasty; total of three pennants, two World Series wins. Traded to the Yankees for the start of the first Ruth dynasty; three more pennants and another World Series win — that's six and two. Moved on again to the Browns, who didn't win, and then back to the A's where he backed up Cochrane for another pennant and World Series title. All told, seven pennants, three World Series titles.

And a productive switch-hitter to boot with a lifetime OBP of .393.

6) Munson.

Pretty rich crop there, made all the more impressive by the fact that of the bunch only Schang spent a significant part of his career elsewhere.

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