Last Saturday August 1, 2015 baseball history was made. For the first time the reigning league MVP’s faced each other in a game. Well it’s sorta true. Thanks to the not so great idea of interleague play, it happened during the regular season for the first time. Confused?
It took place in Dodger Stadium as the Dodgers and Angels squared off. On the mound for the Dodgers was the 2014 NL MVP Clayton Kershaw.
In centerfield for the Angels was 2014 AL MVP, Mike Trout.
Now the adage goes that good pitching will beat good hitting and in this particular matchup it turned out to be true. Trout faced Kershaw three times: was caught looking in the first, grounded out weakly to third in the fourth and lined out to right in the seventh. He squared up on one ball in three at bats and hit it hard right at Yasiel Puig in right field.
Kershaw and the Dodgers prevailed as the southpaw went eight innings extending his scoreless innings streak to 37.
Well, the historical significance of this game got me to thinking, so I went a looking. What I had to find first was how many times pitchers were named MVP.
In the National League a pitcher has been named MVP 11 times, the first being Dazzy Vance of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1924 and the last of course Kershaw. The American League has had 13 hurlers earn the league’s MVP award with Washington Senator Walter Johnson being the first in 1913 and the Tigers Justin Verlander the last in 2011. Three pitchers won two MVP awards, Johnson in ’13’ and ’24’, the Giants Carl Hubbell in 1933 and ’36’ and Detroit’s Hal Newhouser earning the award in back to back years of 1944 and ’45’.
Dazzy Vance was 28-6 for the ’24’ Dodgers pitching 308 innings and leading the league in ERA 2.16, complete games 30 and strikeouts, 262. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was 10.5, best among pitchers. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1955.
Check out his lifetime record and then tell me why Luis Tiant is not in the Hall? But I digress.
Walter Johnson was the first pitcher to be named MVP in 1913. He was 36-7 with a league leading 1.14 ERA. He led the league in wins, ERA, shutouts (11), innings pitched (346), complete games (29) and strikeouts (243). His Wins Above Replacement, WAR was 16, highest in the modern era. He was a member of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of 1939.
Neither Vance nor Johnson got to face the other league’s MVP for that could only happen in the World Series. Although they both were MVP’s in 1924, Vance’s Dodgers did not win the pennant as the Senators beat the Giants in a seven game series. The first, last and only World Series won by a team calling our nations capital home.
In fact there have been only eight occasions in which the league MVP’s (one of course having to be a pitcher) had the opportunity to square off against each other. The first coming in the 1931 World Series when the St. Louis Cardinals; led by their MVP Frankie Frisch (The Fordham Flash) faced the Philadelphia A’s led by their MVP Lefty Grove.
Frankie Frisch more than held his own against Lefty Grove in the 31 World Series. He went 4-12 against Grove with a run scored and an RBI. The Cards won in seven games. Frisch was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947.
Lefty Grove was the 12th 300 game winner in baseball history and the sixth in the Modern Era (since 1900). He did it with the Red Sox in 1941, the only pitcher to record win number 300 in a Red Sox uniform. He went into the Hall of Fame in 1947 with his 1931 counterpart Frankie Frisch.
Three years later the Cardinal’s Gas House Gang returned to the World Series behind MVP pitcher Dizzy Dean. They were underdogs to the Tigers who had won 101 games and they were led by their MVP catcher Mickey Cochrane. The Cards came back from down 3 games to 2 to take the Series. Dizzy Dean threw a six hit shutout in game seven to crown the Cards champs. He silenced his AL counterpart in the Series as Cochrane mustered two hits in 12 at bats (.167), both singles.
Dizzy Dean won game 7 of the ’34” World Series 11-0. And he started the seven run third inning rally with a one out double. He came to bat again and added an RBI single his second time up in the inning.
Two years later MVP Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants faced MVP Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees. This marked the fourth time these two New York teams had faced each other in the World Series and the first time they had done so without Babe Ruth on the field. The Yankees had some rookie named Joe Somethingorother in centerfield.
Anyway, the Bombers dispensed of the Giants in six games and thus Carl Hubbell pitched in only two games going 1-1. Gehrig went 0-3 in game one but more than made up for it going 2-4 with two runs scored and two RBI in the series’ fourth game; including a home run.
The Iron Horse was a two time MVP who played in 34 games in seven World Series. He hit .361 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI. His OPS was 1.214 and the Yankees won six of those World Series. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in a special election in 1939.
The next two times that MVP’s faced off against each other came in the war years of 1942 and ’45’.
Cardinals pitcher Mort Cooper went 22-7 with a league leading 1.78 ERA and hurled 10 shutouts on his way to the NL MVP award in 1942. Meanwhile in the American League one of baseball’s most controversial MVP awards was voted to Yankee second baseman Joe Gordon. Gordon hit a career high .322 with 18 home runs and 103 RBI; a very solid season. He led the league in only two categories; strikeouts and hitting into double plays.
The guy who finished second in the voting won the American League Triple Crown hitting .356 with 36 home run and 137 RBI. He led the league in runs, total bases, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and WAR. Safe to say, Ted Williams dominated the league, but yet again I digress.
The 1942 MVP’s fell significantly short of MVP performances in the 1942 World Series. Cooper pitched 13 innings in two games going 0-1 with a 5.54 ERA. He surrendered 17 hits in his 13 innings of work. Gordon hit .095 with two hits in 21 at bats and he went 0-6 against Cooper striking out twice and never hitting the ball out of the infield.
Joe Gordon was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2009.
The last “war year” was 1945 and that year saw Tiger southpaw Hal Newhouser win his second MVP award in a row while in the National League; Cub first baseman Phil Cavaretta captured the coveted trophy. They faced off in the World Series.
Cavaretta had an MVP type World Series hitting .423 with a home run, 5 RBI while scoring 7 runs. He went 6-9 against Newhouser including the home run, three of his five RBI and scoring four of his runs.
Newhouser’s numbers were not that impressive for the World Series. He surrendered 14 runs and 25 hits in 20 2/3 innings of work. However he gave up seven of those runs and eight of those hits in 2 2/3 innings of the Series’ first game. He won game five giving the Tigers a one game edge and he was the winner in game seven giving the Tigers the title of World Champs.
Hal Newhouser is the only pitcher to win back to back MVP Awards, 1944 and ’45’. The Veterans Committee placed him in the Hall of Fame in 1992 and his number 16 is retired by the Tigers; in large measure due to the efforts of noted SABR member Kerry Keene.
It would be 11 years before MVP’s would face each other again and it would come in the 1956 World Series when American League MVP and Triple Crown winner Mickey Mantle’s Yankees faced the Brooklyn Dodgers and their MVP Don Newcomb. Newcomb also was the winner of the first ever Cy Young Award.
Created in 1956, the Cy Young Award was given to only one pitcher each year until 1967. Newcomb was 27-7 in 1956, following a 20-5 campaign in Brooklyn’s World Championship year of 1955.
Mantle hit .353 with 52 homers and 130 RBI becoming the seventh American League Triple Crown Winner.
The 1956 World Series gave us Don Larsen’s perfect game in game five which was followed, the next day, by one of the best pitching duels in World Series history. Dodger right hander Clem Labine locked horns with Bob Turley in a game which went 10 innings and was won by the Dodgers 1-0, on a Jackie Robinson single in the 10th. This set up game seven with Newcomb on the hill for Brooklyn.
Newcomb was pounded serving up five runs on five hits in three innings and the Yanks won 9-0 to take the game and the Series. In fact the Dodger ace had also been hammered in his previous start in game two giving up six run in 1 2/3 innings. His line for the Series was 0-1 while serving up 11 runs and 11 hits in 4 2/3 inning of work. Not exactly MVP caliber. However, he faced Mantle three times, walking him once and striking him out twice.
Seven years later it would again be the Dodgers and Yankees and by this time the Dodgers were in LA. MVP and Cy Young Award winner Sandy Koufax led the Dodgers while Yankee catcher Elston Howard wore the AL MVP crown.
This Series was dominated by Dodger pitching as LA swept the Yankees allowing them a total of four runs in four games and holding them to a team average of .171. In a Series which saw Mantle hit .133, Kubek hit .188, Pepitone hit .154 and Bobby Richardson hit .214; AL MVP Elston Howard went 5-15 (.333) including 3-8 (.375) against Koufax.
Sandy Koufax struck out a record 15 Yankees in game one of the ’63’ Series. He went 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA winning the Series MVP Award as well.
The most interesting MVP World Series matchup came in 1968, the last time it happened. What made it so interesting is the fact that the MVP’s were both pitchers.
Denny McClain, baseball’s last 30 game winner, went 31-6 in 1968 winning the AL Cy Young and MVP Awards.
And this guy…..
Bob Gibson registered a 1.12 ERA in 1968 leading St. Louis to their second straight World Series. Gibson and McClain are the only pitchers to garner both their leagues, Cy Young and MVP Awards in the same season.
“The Year of the Pitcher” is what 1968 came to be known and it led to the lowering of the mound. Carl Yastrzemski was the only AL player to hit .300 leading the junior circuit with a .301 average.
There was quite a buzz as Gibson and McClain faced off in game one of the World Series and that day belonged to Gibson as he shutout the Tigers 4-0. Seventeen Tigers went down on strikes a Gibson broke the World Series strikeout record set five years earlier by Sandy Koufax.
The two MVP’s went at each other in game four but not for long as McClain was gone after 2 2/3 having surrendered 4 runs and six hits as the Cardinals went on to thump Detroit 10-1. McClain batted once in each game against Gibson, striking out in game one and popping out to first in game four. Gibson stood in three times against McClain striking out and laying down a sacrifice bunt in game one and grounding out to short in game four.
They didn’t face each other again in the Series as Detroit came back from a three to one deficit to win it. And it was this guy who was the difference.
Mickey Lolich was the 1968 World Series MVP going 3-0 with three complete game wins and a 1.67 ERA.
With all the talk surrounding the phenomenal years of Bob Gibson and Denny McClain, the Tigers portly southpaw simply stole the show; putting an exclamation point on the Series and the season beating Gibson 4-1 in the seventh game.
So where does that leave us? Well, Kershaw and Trout’s faceoff last weekend was the ninth time an MVP pitcher faced an MVP batter following their MVP seasons. Eight of them occurred in the World Series and in those games, MVP hitters hit a collective .293 (17-58) with two home runs, six RBI and seven runs scored.
The best hitting performance was Cubs first baseman Phil Cavaretta beating up Detroit’s Hal Newhouser in the ’45’ Series going 6-9 (.667) with a homer, three ribbies and four runs scored.
Adding in Mike Trout taking the collar against Kershaw and the collective batting average dips to .279 but there is good news for both of them. For of the 16 previous MVP’s who squared off versus each other in the same season; 11 of them are in the Hall of Fame!
Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout, future Hall of Famers? A long way to go but they’re well on their way!
So what does it all mean? It means that once again Yogi, the three time MVP, was right!
“Pitching always beats batting — and vice-versa.”
And so it is on this day in Fenway history, August 7, 2015, the Red Sox 59th straight day in the cellar.