Josh Hamilton and the 10 Biggest Home Field Heroes to Win the MVP
Josh Hamilton won the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player award this week, and it would be difficult to argue against the selection.
Hamilton led the Texas Rangers to an incredibly rare playoff appearance and in the process continued one of the great comeback stories in sports.
He hit 32 home runs with 100 RBI and 95 runs scored in only 133 games and won the batting and OPS titles as he threatened to win the Triple Crown.
The other candidates—such as Robinson Cano of the Yankees, Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays and Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers—all had an Achilles heel of some sort, whether playing on stacked teams or playing on teams that weren't in playoff contention, so Hamilton was the right pick.
There is a frustrating aspect of Hamilton's story that has come to a head with his winning the MVP award, and that is the absolute refusal of any members of the sports media to acknowledge the fact that his numbers are incredibly inflated by playing in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
In Hamilton's case, it didn't make much difference; even considering the inflation, he was a good MVP candidate. Nevertheless, there have been years in which an inadequate player has won the MVP award based on numbers whose credibility was questionable because of his home field.
Let's have a look at the Top 10 Home Field Heroes to Win the MVP Award.
But First, More on Hamilton
The need to ignore Hamilton's Rangers Ballpark inflation is just the latest example of sports media ignoring the obvious. We've been here before with the Rangers.
Today, it's "Josh Hamilton is the new Mickey Mantle" and "Vlad Guerrero is swinging the bat like he's 25 again."
These are added to "Alex Rodriguez might have just had the greatest offensive season by a shortstop ever" or "Michael Young is one of the great pure hitting infielders ever" or "Gary Matthews, Jr. has finally arrived" or "Milton Bradley is finally having the season we all thought he could" or "Ian Kinsler is the best-hitting second baseman in baseball" or "Rod Barajas just came out of nowhere."
Just take a look at the numbers: 22 of Hamilton's 32 home runs, and 64 of his 100 RBI, came at home. He hit .390 with a 1.148 OPS at home, while hitting .327 with an .894 OPS on the road. He also had 20 more hits, 17 more runs scored and 10 more doubles at home vs. on the road in just 11 more plate appearances.
Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer and Robinson Cano were more balanced or flat-out better on the road for their teams. I think it is just kind of odd that we tend to ignore these things when we're extolling the value of these players.
But I digress...
NOT a Home Field Hero: 1997 NL MVP Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies
Playing for the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field at the height of that stadium's inflation effect on hitters, one would think Larry Walker's 1997 NL MVP belonged on this list.
Yes, Walker did have more hits, runs and RBI at home (116/92, 82/61 and 68/62, respectively), but Walker was actually fantastic both at home and on the road in 1997.
He hit .346 on the road with a .443 OBP and a .733 slugging percentage and had 29 of his 49 home runs on the road. He took more walks on the road, and he had only 19 more total bases at home (214 vs. 195).
But check this out: His OPS was actually higher on the road than at home, 1.176 vs. 1.169.
He may be the only player in Coors Field history for whom this is true (I haven't checked).
1951 NL MVP: Roy Campanella, Brooklyn Dodgers
Roy Campanella was a great player, and I take nothing away from him.
But in 1951, he hit 21 of his 33 home runs, scored 52 of his 90 runs and had 88 of his 164 hits at home. He also hit .367 at home, compared to just .287 on the road, and had 167 of his 298 total bases at home.
1958 NL MVP: Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs
In one of the great seasons by a major league shortstop, Ernie Banks hit 47 home runs with 129 RBI while hitting .313 and scoring 120 runs.
That season never happens without Wrigley Field.
Banks hit an astonishing 30 home runs at home in 1958, while scoring 70 of his 120 runs and driving in 75 of his 54 RBI there. He hit .340 at home and only .287 on the road.
Meanwhile, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were both dominantly better than Banks.
Honorable Mention: Banks did essentially the same thing in 1959, when he won his second NL MVP in a row.
1975 AL MVP: Fred Lynn, Boston Red Sox
In 1975, Boston Red Sox rookie Fred Lynn lit the world on fire, hitting 21 home runs and 105 RBI with a .330 batting average and leading the Red Sox to the playoffs.
For his effort, Lynn was rewarded with the AL Rookie of the Year award as well as the Most Valuable Player award.
What the voters overlooked, though, was that Lynn was Fenway fabulous but significantly less great on the road. He hit 29 of 47 doubles and 98 of 175 hits at home (but truth be told, 12 of his 21 home runs came on the road).
The big factor for Lynn was the batting average, though. With the nation celebrating the Next Great Hitter, it was easy to overlook the fact that he hit .368 at home and only .294 on the road.
1978 AL MVP: Jim Rice, Boston Red Sox
Maybe one of the most overrated hitters of all time, Rice won the 1978 AL MVP with 46 home runs, 139 RBI, 213 hits, 121 runs scored and a .315 batting average.
Of course, his home/road splits were 28/18 for home runs, 121/92 for hits, 69/52 for runs, 75/64 for RBI, and 4/11 for double plays. He hit nearly 100 points higher at home (.361 vs. .269), and not that anyone was paying attention, but he also had a .416 OBP at home and just .325 on the road.
Let's be clear: Josh Hamilton was still a good player on the road in 2010. The same cannot be said for Jim Rice in 1978.
1982 NL MVP: Dale Murphy, Atlanta Braves
As much as people want to compare Josh Hamilton to Mickey Mantle (a simply laughable proposition), Dale Murphy is a far better comparison.
In 1982, Murphy won the NL MVP with 36 home runs, 23 stolen bases, 109 RBI, 113 runs scored and a .281 batting average.
Of course, 24 of those 36 home runs came at home, and he hit .310 at home vs. .252 on the road.
While this isn't something people paid attention to in the 1980s, he had a home OPS of .988 compared to a road OPS of .784. An OPS in the nines at home compared to the sevens on the road is the calling card of the Home Field Hero.
Strangely, though, Murphy had 19 steals on the road compared to just four at home. Odd.
1984 NL MVP: Ryne Sandberg, Chicago Cubs
In 1984, Ryne Sandberg won the NL MVP as he helped lead the Chicago Cubs to a rare postseason appearance. He had 36 doubles, 19 triples, 19 home runs and 32 stolen bases.
On the season, Sandberg hit .332 wtih 104 hits, 13 triples and 11 home runs at Wrigley Field, compared to just .297 with 96 hits, six triples and eight home runs on the road.
Still a fine season, but without his hometown advantage, he likely doesn't take home the hardware.
1987 NL MVP: Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs
My favorite player of all time, so I don't really want to talk about this.
But I am nothing if not objective, so: 27 of his 49 home runs, 71 of his 137 RBI and 97 of his 178 hits came at Wrigley Field. He also hit .332 at home with a 1.041 OPS at home, while hitting .246 with a .768 OPS (and an appalling .288 on-base percentage) on the road.
And the Cubs finished in last place.
I'm sorry Andre. I'm so sorry.
2005 AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
In 2005, A-Rod had 48 home runs, 130 RBI and a .321 batting average to go with a 1.031 OPS.
It was a great season that pushed him ahead of David Ortiz of the Red Sox, who hit 27 of his 47 home runs on the road on his way to leading the BoSox to 95 wins and a wild card appearance.
Rodriguez's Yankees also made the playoffs, as he hit 26 of his 48 home runs at home. Rodriguez also batted .351 at home but just .291 on the road and had a 1.113 OPS at home with a .951 OPS on the road.
2008 AL MVP: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
In 2008, Dustin Pedroia wowed baseball with his performance in September as he led the Red Sox back to the playoffs.
Pedroia hit .326 on the year with 17 home runs, 54 doubles, 213 hits and 118 runs scored. He also stole 20 bases and got caught only once.
Pedroia's numbers, though, were significantly inflated by Fenway Park. He hit 35 doubles at home (compared to just 19 on the road) and stole 14 bases at Fenway, compared to just six on the road. He also hit .344 at home compared to just .309 on the road.
1932 NL MVP: Chuck Klein, Philadelphia Phillies
Look, when it comes to players winning the MVP for unbalanced home vs. road performance, there is Chuck Klein and there is everyone else.
In 1932, Klein led the league in home runs, hits, runs scored, stolen bases, total bases and games played.
And how did he do it? By playing in the Baker Bowl.
At home in 1932, Chuck Klein hit 29 home runs with 97 RBI, 92 runs scored and 270 total bases.
On the road in '32, Klein hit nine home runs with 40 RBI, 60 runs scored and 150 total bases.
He hit .423 at home and just .266 on the road. His OPS at home was 1.263, while on the road it was .821.
An astonishing 143 of his 236 hits came at home, leaving just 83 on the road.
The idea of Chuck Klein, Great Hitter, is at the end of the day a myth, as demonstrated by his appalling 1932 home/road splits.
Frankly, those numbers make us feel a whole lot better about Josh Hamilton in 2010.