So, in honor of a mere ten (10!) days until the first game of 2011, and in special recognition of our very own Joey Votto, here are the ten Reds that won MVP awards in Cincinnati. This post will be much like the No-hitter post in that it will be a little more long-winded and narrative for the first few – afterall – the BRM carries its own fame, in part because it boasted four MVPs – and 4 MVP awards.Â and if you don’t know every knowable fact about Joey Votto, you are either dead to me, or Colin Cowherd (also dead to me, actually).
Ernie Lombardi, 1938, 10/16 first place votes, 68% share: As you can tell from the artistic rendering, Ernie was not known for being the most handsome man on the diamond, earning him nicknames like “Schnozz” and “the Cyrano of the Iron Mask” (this nickname may not register with younger generations who aren’t, you know, devoted readers of Edmond Rostand’s dramatic works).Â But Lombardi did a little of everything in 1938 – he hit well, with a .342/.391/.524, which which placed him 3rd in the NL for OPS. That included 19 home runsÂ – good for 7th in the league. (I know what you’re thinking – moar walks!) Even more notable were his defensive catching skills. In 1938, Lombardi caught 31 base stealers, good for 51.7%, and best in the league. This was no fluke, as Lombardi was known for his strong arm, and routinely posted high caught stealing %s.Â Lombardi also caught both of Johnny Vander Meer’s no-hitters that year.
Unfortunately, Lombardi is also remembered for his 1939 incident in Game 4 of the World Series against the New York Yankees. The Reds are already losing the series 0-3; they were winning this game when the Yankees tied it in the 9th. The Reds couldn’t score in the bottom half of the inning – and in the top of the 10th, Joe DiMaggio comes to the plate with two men on. From what I can tell, DiMaggio singles – the first baserunner scoresÂ – Reds RF Ival Goodman makes an error on the play in right, so the second baserunner, Charlie, sometimes called “King Kong” Keller, hurtles home, and knocks the ball out of Lombardi’s glove – and knocks Lombardi out too. While Lombardi was unconscious,Â Charlie Keller (sometimes called “King Kong”) crashed into him on a play at the plate. Lombardi passed out (which he later attributed a combination of heat and dizziness), and DiMaggio (the hitter)Â raced around the bases and scored. And even though the Reds didn’t score in the bottom of the 10th, the media really abused Lombardi – subjecting to Buckner-esque derision – which really, wasn’t his fault, poor dude.
Bucky Walters,Â 1939, 18/24 first place votes, 90% share: This year was a little interesting, as far as the ballot goes – the top seven vote getters were all Reds or Cardinals. In addition to Walters who won, Paul Derringer and Frank McCormick came in 3rd and 4th, while Johnny Mize, Curt Davis, and Jimmy Brown from St. Louis rounded out the top seven. That year the Reds won the division with 97 games, while the Cardinals came in 2nd with 91 wins – the rest of the pack were all at least 12 games behind the Reds. Walters did probably deserve the honors, winning the NL triple crown – as well as WAR, probably due to the fact that he through over 300 innings. Interestingly, Â Walters also had an unusually good Â year (for him) at the plate in 1939 – OPSing .790, but over only 140 PA. Bucky Walters lead the league Â again in 1940 in wins, ERA, and IP, but came third in the MVP race, losing to his teammate Frank McCormick.
Frank McCormick, 1940, 16/24 first place votes, 82% share: The Reds won the NL pennant again in 1940, and thus had 3 players in at least semi-serious consideration for MVP. As much as it pains me to say, looking back now, at the numbers, only, I’m not sure precisely why McCormick beat out Johnny Mize for the MVP – and it wasn’t particularly close either. Mize led McCormick in almost every offensive category – better AVG, better OBP, better SLG, more RBI. McCormick did lead Mize in hits – and led the league in hits in 1938, 39, and 40 – an impressive feat, to be sure. And although Mize had in 43 HR to McCormick’s 19 (!!), McCormick did lead the league in doubles. Of course, the Reds also won more games than the cardinals that year, and it seems that McCormick had an excellent defensive reputation, while Mize led in errors as a first baseman in both ’38 and ’39. Intra-team vote poaching is no explanation either, as the #3 and #4 in the voting were both Reds – pitchers Bucky Walters, and Paul Derringer. Perhaps, it just seems disappointing that even though Mize had an amazing span from 1937 to 1942, when he left for the war, he never won the MVP. Of course, he is in the Hall of Fame now (McCormick is not), Â so I’m sure he wouldn’t complain too much.
Frank Robinson, 1961, 15/16 first place votes, 98% share: The only kind of funny thing about Frank Robinson winning the MVP in 1961, is that he missed being the unanimous MVP by 1 vote – which was cast for teammate and pitcher Joey Jay. Now, Jay did have an excellent year – one of the best pitchers in the NL – but no one else thought he deserved to be MVP – he ended up finishing 5th behind Orlando Cepeda, Vada Pinson, and Roberto Clemente. 1962 was actually a more interesting race – Robinson finished only 4th in that voting, even though he improved in almost every category from his 1961 numbers. Indeed, even thought Robinson OPSed 1.045 that year (before anyone was looking specifically at OPS, but the point still stands), he finished up short behind Maury Wills for the second-place Dodgers, who stole 104 bases that year, Willie Mays and the pennant winning Giants, and Tommy Davis of the Dodgers who led in both RBI and hits. (Wills just barely edged out Mays that year 209 points to 202 – splitting the first place votes 8-7).
Johnny Bench, 1970, 1972,Â Pete Rose – 1973,Â Joe Morgan – 1975, 1976,Â George Foster – 1977: What can you say about the Big Red Machine? (Incidentally, if you don’t own The Machine by Joe Posnanski … you should, ok? Just order it now.) Reds won MVPs for more years in the 70s than they didn’t. It’s probably more useful to go over each year’s MVP race. In 1970, Bench is the clear leader – with 22 out of 24 first place votes. He crazy power, and a lineup in front of him that could set up RBIs for him like nobody’s business. ’70 was the closest Tony Perez ever got to the MVP in the true BRM years – and although he was voted third, it wasn’t even very close. Although his counting stats weren’t quite as gaudy as Bench’s, he walked a little more, and got a few more hits – it’s just that he didn’t have a fearsome reputation at a prime defensive position to match it. Rose, and even Bobby Tolan got a few token votes that year too. In 1971, due to the team’s poor showing, none of the Reds got even cursory looks from the MVP voters, really.
In 1972, Bench wins again – but it’s not nearly as clear – that year Bench’s counting stats weren’t quite so gaudy – although he did walk 100 times – outdone only by teammate Joe Morgan, who placed third in the voting. Pete also got a few more votes thrown his way. Rose, of course, wins the MVP in ’73 – thanks in part to his 3rd batting title, although the voting is fairly close with the Pirates’ Willie Stargell – a very different hitter from Rose, of course. Morgan, in ’73, is still in fourth place – and Perez and Bench are both in the top 10. Again, in 1974, the Reds placed second in the West to the Dodgers, and didn’t have the MVP standout as in previous years. Bench got favorable consideration for a solid offensive year behind the plate yet again, Joe Morgan was in the top 10 for the third year in a row, and it’s also the first year Davey Concepion gets a few MVP votes.
’75 and ’76 of course, are the most remembered years of the BRM – and Joe Morgan won the MVP both of those years. While I may have mocked Joe Morgan’s broadcasting career with the rest of my fellow internet nerds in the last half-decade, I also joined them in adulating his playing career. I’m with Bill James, Morgan was the best second baseman ever. (WHO IS THIS SCHMOGERS SCHMORNSBY YOU SPEAK OF? LALALALALALA I’M NOT LISTENING.) In ’75, the Reds just killed the rest of the West – finishing with 108 wins, 20 over the second place Dodgers. Joe Morgan basically does everything right in 75 Â - he hits for average, he walks a gazillion times, he steals bases, he plays great second base defense. Arguably his power is among the top players in the league – but he fixes that in 1976. In 1976, Morgan does everything just as well, except he hits for 10 more home runs – good enough to give him the lead in slugging as well as OBP. It’s George Foster who places second in 1976, poaching the 5 first place votes that Morgan didn’t get. Â I’m not really sure why you would vote Foster over Morgan in 76 – Foster had 2 more HR and 10 more RBI – not exactly enough to make up for the batting average, OBP, stolen bases, and defensive differences – but I mean, I guess that’s why I’m not in the BBWAA. George Foster would get his award the next year. In ’77, it was Foster with the gaudy counting stats – 52 HR (more than any other NLer between Mays in 65 and Fielder in 91), and 149 RBI, which was enough to earn him the MVP – even though the Reds missed the playoffs with a mediocre 88-74 record. And just like that, the glory days of the Big Red Machine were over. Foster placed well in MVP voting again in ’78, but the Reds were once again second to the Dodgers, and in ’79, got swept in the National League Championship Series by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Barry Larkin, 1995, 11/27 first place votes, 72% share: What’s kind of awesome about Barry’s 1995 MVP is that he didn’t lead the league in anything. In fact, he never led the league in any of the major categories in his entire career. So even though, as a Reds fan, I think Larkin should go into the hall (Trammell, too) – it is crazy that he literally scores 0 on the black ink test. Larkin did, of course, have a very good offensive year, and steal 51 bases, to go along with his gold glove – and there wasn’t a lot of competition. Larkin beat out Dante Bichette, who put up some great offensive numbers, but almost exclusively due to the Coors effect, Greg Maddux, who won the CYA, and Mike Piazza, who, well, Piazza probably had a pretty good MVP case that year.
Joey Votto,Â 2010, 31/32 first place votess, 99% share: Due to the higher number of votes for MVP now than there used to be, out of all the Reds winners, Joey had the highest share of any of them – losing only one vote to Albert Pujols. It’s both hard and easy to begrudge that one vote to Pujols – because well, he already has a closet fully of trophies, and should probably build another one, but he did have a season that was alllllmost as good as Joey’s and being unanimous doesn’t really mean anything. As I mentioned earlier, there’s not really a lot to say about Votto that hasn’t been said both very frequently and very recently. Uh…. my favorite Votto nickname is ‘Votto von Bismarck’?
Oh, and who’s going to be the next Reds MVP? My money’s on this guy.