Major League Baseball has embarrassed itself once again.
Tuesday, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America awarded Miguel Tejada of the Oakland Athletics the American League MVP award while shortstop Alex Rodriguez finished a distant second. Is it acceptable to punish a player who had the best offensive season a shortstop has ever had just because his team is composed of major league underachievers?
The fact that Tejada won the MVP overwhelmingly, with 21 first-place votes to Rodriguez’s five, makes me wonder whether these writers are afraid to give the award to a player, Rodriguez, who many fans and critics alike believe represents what is wrong with baseball.
So many fans gripe about the fact that one man can earn $21 million in a year to play 162 baseball games. This year’s race was heavily biased towards Tejada, a fan favorite who came from relative obscurity (he hit .267 during the 2001 season) to put up MVP-caliber numbers this year (he hit .308 in 2002).
I am not arguing that Tejada should not have been a candidate. Indeed he should have. However, his season, stats, and contribution to his team’s performance cannot compare to Rodriguez’s.
No writer who votes for the MVP can deny the strength of Rodriguez’s numbers. He finished the 2002 season leading all American League players in home runs and RBIs, was second in runs scored, third in slugging percentage, eighth in on-base percentage and ninth in walks. Tejada, who is in the top 10 in only four American League offensive categories, cannot even touch these stats. Need I also mention that A-Rod won the Gold Glove at shortstop this year over Tejada?
The most unfortunate part of Rodriguez’s case, however, is that his overwhelmingly large salary — $252 million over 10 years — has limited the Rangers’ ability to field a competitive team.
Naturally, one player in a baseball game cannot influence its outcome like a quarterback in football or a point guard in basketball. Although Rodriguez is arguably the best player in the game besides Bonds, the natural bias is that he should not win the award because his team has a losing record. But by that logic, Ernie Banks, Andre Dawson and Cal Ripken would still be without an MVP trophy.
I think a good indication of measuring the “value” of each player is to examine what sort of team is built around him. If we examine the A’s, we see a young, energetic team, built around a pitching staff that is arguably the best in baseball, including AL Cy Young winner Barry Zito; Mark Mulder, a 19-game winner; and Tim Hudson, who won 15 games and had an ERA under 3. The A’s batting was not that bad either, finishing in the middle of the American League with a .261 batting average.
The Rangers, on the other hand, finished with a team ERA over five, good for next to last in the American League this year. At .268, their batting average might be better than the A’s, but not by much. Tejada, then, should be seen as a product of his environment. He did not have to carry the pressure of a whole season on his back. He had a supporting cast to help him.
Rodriguez was the glue that held the Rangers together, a team which in all certainty could have easily lost 100 games. Voters should not have overlooked, as well, the leadership he provided in the clubhouse, defusing firecrackers like Carl Everett who has been known to spit on his fair share of umpires, as well as the eloquent John Rocker.
Rodriguez had to carry this team by himself, and was single-handedly the reason why the Rangers weren’t a bigger embarrassment than they were. The bottom line is that Tejada was not more valuable to the A’s than Rodriguez was to the Rangers: the A’s most likely, behind their pitching, would have made it to the playoffs with another shortstop.
Without Rodriguez’s contributions, it is frightening to think where the Rangers would have ended up.