Those Beloved Red Sox. It seems so long ago that the Red Sox were so briefly in and out of the Playoffs, and so much has already changed about the team, that I'm not sure what to say at this point. I can recall several winters during the 1970s when the anticipation of a new Red Sox campaign kept me warm until February. Something about last season, however, passed me by, and even though the Sox won the Division by a comfortable margin, I had trouble getting excited. I could attribute a lot of it to the bitter aftertaste of the strike, for certain. Also, I found it hard to get psyched about the prospect of facing the Indians, because it seemed (despite my hopeful midseason fantasies) virtually impossible for us to beat them in the Playoffs. I recall feeling the same way about the 88 and 90 playoffs against the A's.
There was another element, too, however. The rapidity and magnitude of player movement across teams in the past couple of years has become so overwhelming that I really feel it is hard to establish a strong sense of loyalty to a team any more. I take my mother as a good barometer: a life-long baseball fan who listens to virtually every game, she is nevertheless not as intricately informed as are we rotisserie nuts. And last season she was asking me on a weekly basis, "who's this new guy on the Red Sox I never heard of?" That list from last season alone is staggeringly long. I forget the figure, but I think the Red Sox had over 45 different players on their major league roster at some point during the season, not even counting September. And almost none of them had been with the team before last year. To her, the 1995 "champion" Red Sox consisted of Clemens, Vaughn, Valentin, Greenwell, and a huge gang of transient hired guns (granted, she knew who Canseco was). And that's what they were.
Now, how many players are likely to retain their jobs with this year's team? The aforementioned group, plus Naehring. Maybe Tinsley and O'Leary will still make the outfield (guys who were no-names before last season), and I expect Wakefield will stay in the rotation if he doesn't fall apart. But gone are Hanson and hired-gun Aguilera, Alicea's job is questionable, the bullpen consists of hobo's such as Belinda and Stanton, there's a new catcher (again), and new 4th and 5th starters (again). I know Duquette is a soul-mate to many of us, because he seems to scout talent and grab players with the spirit of a Rotisserie owner. But how much does it feel like "our team" won when half the players on the year-end roster weren't there at the beginning of the season, and 10-15 players who contributed to the season's performance are long gone by October?
Anyway, I suppose we can look forward to another highly competitive campaign in 96. The Orioles have beefed themselves up well, with Alomar and Surhoff and possibly Tony Phillips, plus Myers in the bullpen (replacing Jones: interchangeable parts). But they still lack pitching depth after Mussina (no thanks, David Wells). The Yankees managed to substitute David Cone for Jack McDowell and Kenny Rogers for the injured Jimmy Key, and they're bringing in Tino Martinez to replace Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter to replace Tony Fernandez, and Tim Raines to replace Darryl Strawberry/Luis Polonia. Are those improvements? I don't know, but the Yankees seriously underachieved last season, so they should be in the race. The Blue Jays are hurting, having lost Molitor, White, Alomar, Leiter, and Cone, gaining only Nixon, Hanson, and Quantrill. But they have a slew of highly touted rookies, so you never know. Detroit, on the other hand, simply sucks.
M(o) V(aughn's) P(rize). Now, on this MVP issue, here are my various opinions. You're allowed to disagree, as long as you realize that I'm right and you're wrong.
For starters, the most valuable player in the American League was and remains Ken Griffey, Jr. So we've obviously got to define our terms a little more specifically.
Those who decry the term "most valuable" and would prefer "Player of the Year" are kidding themselves if they think it would make the choice any more obvious. Who says Mo Vaughn was the "MVP" but Albert Belle would have been the "Player of the Year"? Why, because Belle hit 50 home runs and Vaughn hit 39? Well, Belle sure didn't drive in any extra runs with those 11 extra homers, not to mention doubles, since they each had 126 RBIs. Why should homers count any more if they don't drive in extra runs? Hey, I'd be just as inclined to give the MVP to a guy who had 50 sacrifice flies in a year.
The issue points out how difficult it is to separate a player's performance from his team's. On the one hand, you can say that Belle should have driven in a ton more runs, with all those amazing teammates to get on base; Mo's opportunities should have been proportionately less. On the other hand, maybe a lot of those Indians runners came home before Belle got to the plate. This implies that a player's performance with runners on base should be one of the key considerations (I don't have the figures in front of me, but Belle has to be lower than Vaughn). Still, I wouldn't downplay the importance of homers and doubles when there's no one on base, either. Then, of course, there are the infamous statistics on performance in the "clutch," and our beloved Mo is truly dismal in these categories.
Anyway, it's patently obvious that Vaughn was more "valuable" to the Red Sox than Belle was to the Indians. And I'm really ignoring the whole "community service"/"nice guy in the dugout" issue, which garnered most of the attention during the post-vote discussions. But the question remains, should Belle be "penalized" for the quality of his teammates? Who would be better in a neutral environment?
I think the right way to ask the question is thus: If you were starting a team from scratch, and you knew in advance that a given player was going to provide precisely the same performance next year as he did last year, which player would you pick first? Looked at this way, I think it's still a very close choice. But when you add it all up, I'm afraid my vote has to go to Neither of the Above: I give the MVP to Edgar Martinez. Come on: his batting average and OBP were miles above the others, his power production was right in the same league, and he drove in 113 runs, too. And talk about value to his team: they lost Griffey for half the season, and still came back to win the West, largely on Edgar's shoulders. Forget the fact that he doesn't play the field (neither does Belle, really). Seriously, would you rather start the year with a guy who's going to hit 50 home runs and drive in 126, or one who's going to have a .475 OBP and drive in 113?
The Other League. By the way, while everyone was debating over Vaughn-vs-Belle, there was little discussion of the true injustice in MVP voting this year. Barry Larkin's win was hailed as a "daring" choice for the writers, since he's an "all-around" player. And granted, he probably deserved it more than Dante Bichette, who hits in a Little League park. But is there really any remote doubt that Greg Maddux is really the most valuable player in the National League? If you were starting an NL team, would you hesitate for a millisecond to choose Maddux's 1995 season over Larkin's, or anyone else's? Am I the only one worked up about this?
Slugging. Back to the AL sluggers. You know, of course, that Belle had an awesome power year, and his .690 Slugging Average bears that out. You probably also know that Mark McGwire had a phenomenal year himself, with 217 Total Bases in a mere 317 AB (.684 Slugging). Martinez was third in Slugging at .628.
But do you know who had the fourth highest Slugging Average in the American League in 1995? Who was the fourth most frequent basher among all the league's premier power hitters? Nope, not Thomas (.606). Not Griffey (.480). Nope, not Buhner (.566), Salmon (.594), or Palmeiro (.583). Not Juan Gonzalez (.594). Not Manny Ramirez (.558) or Eddie Murray (.516) or Jim Thome (.558). A hint: he's on the Red Sox. But he's not Vaughn (.576) or Canseco (.556). Give up? It's none other than Dwayne Hosey, he of 42 TB in 68 AB, for a robust .618 Slugging Average! Are you impressed yet?
(Quick, who was fifth? Dean Palmer, at 73/119, .613)
Comments? Questions? Impassioned, hyperbolic
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