If there's one baseball conversation that's guaranteed to induce conflicted feelings, it's the MVP conversation.
On one hand, come on. Who really gives a flying broken bat? It's just a bunch of sportswriters casting votes, elevating themselves into a realm of importance that's self-created and media-sustained. If a player leads his league in home runs, for example, no number of votes is going to take away that accomplishment. And if a player has a superb season by most reasonable standards, well, that superb season stands, whether he wins the Most Valuable Player Award or not.
On the other hand, few conversations among baseball aficionados can be more stimulating than those about the MVP Award and who most deserves it.
This year is a case in point, potentially offering some of the most intellectually ferocious give-and-take the anticipation of the MVP Award has stirred in years.
In the National League, the three leading MVP candidates are considered to be Buster Posey of the Giants, Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and Ryan Braun of the Brewers. OK, personal feelings aside (Posey, slam dunk, if the word "valuable" isn't exclusively defined by the usual numbers), certainly a lively debate could be had over the various merits of each of the NL MVP top contenders.
In the American League, a truly classic argument can be had over Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers vs. Mike Trout of the Angels. OK, once again, personal feelings aside (in good conscience, can you really pick against a Triple Crown winner? Methinks not), fans have two MVP contenders so strong, casting giant shadows over all other AL players, perhaps the only way out is a draw and have Cabrera and Trout share the award. That's right, co-MVPs. Not to get all lawyerly on you, but there is precedent. See 1979 NL co-MVPs Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell.
All this contentious MVP talk might have some older fans remembering one of the greatest of such arguments, 50 years ago, when Maury Wills of the Dodgers won the NL MVP Award over Willie Mays of the Giants, 209 votes to 202. Surely older Giants fans remember it, and likely are still bitter over it. It still resonates, all these years later.
Wills' very good season was elevated to MVP-caliber by virtue of his astounding 104 stolen bases, breaking the single-season record of 94 that was set by Ty Cobb 47 years earlier. Oh, and here's something. Second to Wills in NL stolen bases in 1962? Dodgers teammate Willie Davis, with 32.
Not to minimize Wills' achievement (and, by the way, he won a Gold Glove at shortstop that season, too), but Mays' overall production, or "value," if you will, in 1962 was so much more ... breathtaking. His 49 homers led the league, his 141 RBIs were second, his .304 batting average was 11th, his .384 on-base percentage seventh, his .615 slugging percentage third, his 382 total bases first and his 36 doubles second.
Simply for the sake of friendly argument (albeit a 50-year-old one), it should be stated that Wills didn't rank in the top 12 in any of the just-mentioned categories. And, for the record, Mays, too, won a Gold Glove that season — in center field, of course, and led the NL-champion Giants with 18 steals.
But here's the thing that makes the 1962 MVP discussion as lively today as it was back in the day. It wasn't just Wills vs. Mays. Tommy Davis and Frank Robinson attracted 175 and 164 MVP votes, respectively.