Dustin Pedroia and Red Sox' History of MVPs
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In passing, one of the hosts mentioned that the Red Sox have had an MVP every decade since the 1930s.
I was intrigued enough to look into it a bit, and it turns out the Sox have had one every decade except the 1920s, starting with Tris Speaker in 1912. My research was done on the wonderful Wikipedia and the BaseballPage.com.
(I wouldn't even know what to do without the Internet.)
Let's take a look at the history of Red Sox MVP's while pondering if there will be another this year.
1912: Tris Speaker
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Known as the Grey Eagle, center fielder Tris Speaker had his MVP season in 1912. He played in 153 games, hitting .383 with 10 homers and slugging .567. Speaker also had 222 hits, 136 runs scored and a .534 OBP.
Speaker made his debut in 1907 and played with the Red Sox through 1915. After his average fell to .322, the Sox brass wanted to cut his pay from $15,000 to $9,000, but he refused.
Speaker was then traded to Cleveland for two players and $50,000. He angrily held out for $10,000 of the trade money. After finally receiving the money, he signed a contract with Cleveland for $40,000, the highest salary in baseball at the time.
I was startled to learn that batting .322 was cause for a huge pay cut; I guess there was more to the story than that, but that's another article.
1938: Jimmie "The Beast" Foxx
Jimmie Foxx, known as "The Beast" and "Double X," had his MVP season in 1938. Foxx was sold to the Red Sox in 1936 by A's owner Connie Mack when Mack was having difficulty paying his high-salary players amidst the Great Depression. After a contract dispute with Foxx, Mack sold him to Boston for $150,000.
Foxx had a monster season in 1938. In 565 at-bats, he had 197 hits for a .349 average, while mashing 50 home runs and 175 RBI. He also scored 139 runs, slugged .704 and had a .559 OBP.
Those are MVP numbers in any era.
Fox was the second member of the 500 home run club after Babe Ruth, and he was the youngest to reach 500 at 32 years old. That record held until it was broken by Alex Rodriguez in 2007. PED rumors aside, that's a long time for a record to stand in baseball.
Then again, being a lifelong Sox fan, I'll always put a mental asterisk next to any feat accomplished by A-Rod.
1946, 1949: Ted Williams
Ted "The Kid" Williams.
I really don't have to say anything else, do I?
I of course never got to see him play, but growing up in Massachusetts is nearly as good. You cannot help learning about "Teddy Ballgame," whether you want to or not (too bad for those who don't).
After several years as a Marine pilot, Williams returned to baseball in 1946. He was already a near-legend before leaving for the service after hitting .406 in 1941. That record still stands today and will probably hold for many more years, if it's ever broken at all.
In his first MVP year in 1946, Williams hit .342 with 38 home runs and 123 RBI. He also scored 142 runs, slugged .667 and had a .650 OBP.
In 1949, Williams' second MVP season, his numbers were even better. He hit .343 with 159 RBI and 43 home runs. Williams also scored 150 runs, slugged .650 and had a .633 OBP.
Teddy Ballgame had several comparable seasons all the way through 1960, but not another MVP season. He was called up to serve as a pilot in the Korean war, shortening his 1952 and 1953 seasons to a total of 43 games.
Williams refused a spot on a service baseball team, which would have kept him safely away from combat and instead was retrained as a combat pilot. He flew 39 combat missions and flew as wing to John Glenn for a time.
Many now believe he would have had more MVP seasons had he not had a poor relationship with the media. His poor rapport with the Boston media eventually turned some New England fans against him. That did not last long though, as he was one of the most respected and sought-after Boston sports figures for many years after his retirement.
The "Splendid Splinter" was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966. In his induction speech, Williams lamented that many players in the Negro Leagues were not allowed to play for major league teams. His was one of the first voices in support from an MLB player to end the color barrier in baseball.
Ted Williams passed away in July 2002.
1958: Jackie Jensen
Jackie Jensen was sold, along Billy Martin, to the Yankees in 1950 with the intention of being a backup for Joe DiMaggio. Jensen played in only 180 over three years for the Yankees before being traded to the Washington Senators. He was then traded to the Red Sox in December of 1953.
Jensen was the AL MVP in 1958. He hit .286 with 35 home runs and 122 RBI, slugged .535 with a .473 OBP and scored scored 83 runs. Jensen's 122 RBI led the league, and he was second in walks with 99.
Citing an intense fear of flying and the extended time away from his family, Jensen retired in 1960. He nearly retired in 1953 when he was traded to Boston, but he reported to play when the Sox agreed to increase his salary by $1,000. Jensen returned to play in 1961, but his fear of flying and the panic attacks it caused became too big an obstacle, and he retired for good
Jensen was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2000. He was also inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1983 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1984.
Jackie Jensen passed away from a heart attack in 1982 at age 55.
1967: Carl Yastrzemski
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If this were for a New England newspaper, I would need to say no more.
Taking over Fenway left field in 1961 from a living legend should be difficult, and it was; Carl Yastrzemski not only did that, but he also became a legend himself, though it took a while.
Yaz played well the first six years of his career, winning a batting title, a Gold Glove and being named to three All-Star teams. Though he had good numbers, Boston fans wanted Williams' numbers. Yaz was frustrated and often booed by Fenway fans.
That all changed in 1967.
Obsessed with baseball, Yaz came to Spring Training in the best shape of his career thus far. Boston outfielder Joe lahoud once said Yaz, "lived, breathed, ate and slept baseball."
Yaz won the Triple Crown and the AL MVP. He hit .344 with 44 home runs, 121 RBI and slugged .622 with a .491 OBP. That monster season helped Boston to the World Series and forever endeared him to New England fans.
The Red Sox lost that Series to the Cardinals. The "Impossible Dream" wasn't to be, but Yastrzemski was no longer viewed as the kid who couldn't replace Ted Williams.
Though he never had such huge numbers again, Yaz was a productive player until he retired at the end of the 1983 season at the age of 44. Yaz was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 and is currently a roving instructor in the Red Sox organization.
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1975: Fred Lynn
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They just keep getting better.
Fred Lynn made his major league debut in September of 1974. He hit .419 in 15 games, a sign of things to come.
In 1975, Lynn was still a rookie after only playing those 15 games at the end of the 1974 season. All he did in 1975 was win a Gold Glove, Rookie of the Year and the AL MVP while helping the Red Sox to the World Series.
During his MVP season, Lynn hit .331 with 21 home runs and 105 RBI. He also slugged .566 with a .455 OBP and scored 103 runs.
The Red Sox had a pair of outstanding rookie outfielders in Lynn and fellow rookie Jim Rice. Dubbed the "Gold Dust Twins" they made for an exciting season in Boston, though they failed to capture a World Series.
Though Lynn was hampered by injuries and never was able to duplicate his 1975 season, he was still a highly-productive hitter and far above-average outfielder. Lynn was traded to the Angels after the 1980 season and went on to play with several teams until retiring in 1990.
1978: Jim Rice
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In 1978, the Red Sox had a MVP from the other "Gold Dust Twin," Jim Rice.
Rice came up in 1975 with Fred Lynn and played his entire career in Boston's left field. Most think of him as continuing the tradition of exceptional left fielders, following Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams.
Rice earned the 1978 MVP by hitting .315 with with 46 home runs and 139 RBI. He slugged .600, had a .408 OBP and scored 121 runs. An eight-time All-Star, Rice played in two World Series and led the league in home runs three times before retiring in 1989, playing his entire career with Boston.
In his 15th year of eligibility, Rice was selected to the Hall of Fame in 2009. There is speculation about what caused his delay; his relatively short career, along with a cool relationship with the media plus his numbers being compared to modern-day numbers are all said to have played a part in the delay.
Rice is employed by the Red Sox as an instructional hitting coach and is also a commentator for the Sox pregame and postgame shows on NESN.
1986: Roger Clemens
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Roger Clemens was the AL MVP in 1986. For all his troubles now with PED and congressional hearings, it's hard to remember the early days of his career.
In 1984, the young Clemens was a 24-game winner and helped the Red Sox reach the World Series. He was the only pitcher to win a MVP since Vida Blue in 1971. The fact that a pitcher won the award angered some, but was seen by most as fair choice.
Clemens' numbers in 1986 were 24 wins against four losses in 33 starts. He also recorded 238 K's in 254 innings while giving up 70 earned runs for an ERA of 2.480.
Clemens also won the AL Cy Young award in 1986, as well as two more before the end of his Boston career. Boston's GM said, at the time, that Clemens was in the "twilight of his career" and opted not to re-sign him after the 1996 season. The Rocket went on to win both the Triple Crown and Cy Young awards in 1997 and 1998 as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Whether this resurgence was due to PED or just a change of scenery, that's a topic for someone else.
Clemens played for the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and the Astros before finishing up with a partial season for the Yankees in 2007.
We all know what happened next, and it's a shame Clemens allowed such a thing to sully what certainly could have been a Hall of Fame career.
1995: Mo Vaughn
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The "Hit Dog" Mo Vaughn was the AL MVP in 1995. His big bat and big personality were well known throughout baseball by 1995, and he was as feared a hitter as there was at the time.
In 1995, Vaughn hit .300 with 39 home runs and 126 RBI, as well as slugging .575 and scoring 98 runs. Ironically, his numbers were even better in 1996.
Vaughn played for Boston from 1991-1998, after which he left as a free agent to sign with the Angels. His career got off to a bad start as he fell down the steps to the visitor's dugout in his first game. He still hit more than 30 home runs and 100 RBI in 1999 and 2000, but missed the entire 2001.
Vaughn was traded the the Mets in 2002, still thought of as a productive power hitter. Weight problems and a slow start made his first season with the Mets less than expected, though. A month into 2003, Vaughn suffered a knee injury that ended his career.
His years in Boston were his best, and many still remember his clutch hits and walk-off home runs during his Sox career. Vaughn did not receive the minimum vote to stay on the Hall Of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility, and he was dropped from the ballot altogether.
Vaughn is now best known for his real estate business in New York, which—among other projects—works to rehab distressed areas to help provide low-income housing.
2008: Dustin Pedroia
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Last (for now) and certainly not least—except possibly in height—is Dustin Pedroia.
Too small, too slow, too loud, it doesn't matter to Pedey. Whatever he may lack in stature, he makes up for in hard work and tenacity.
A slow start during his rookie year in 2007 didn't bother him either; whatever he may lack, it's not confidence.
Fans were wondering why the Sox stuck with the rookie through his tough first few weeks. When asked about it later in his career, Pedroia said something along the lines of, "Yes, I started slow, then what happened? Laser Show."
Pedroia went on to win Rookie of the Year after that slow first month.
His numbers continued to improve, and he won a Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and the MVP in 2008. Pedroia hit .326 with 17 home runs and 83 RBI, and he also slugged .493 with a .413 OBP. He may not have the classic power numbers for a MVP, but his hustle and defense were surely factors in his winning the award.
Pedroia's inability to do anything at less than full speed has made him a favorite on a Red Sox roster loaded with stars. That says something about a guy too small and too slow to play baseball.
Who Could Be Next?
Ellsbury and Pedroia, is one of them an MVP?
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There is talk of three possible AL MVP players on the Red Sox roster this year.
Will it be this year that they add another name to the MVP list?
Will it be one of these three this year or someone from the minor leagues five years from now?
No one knows, but given the history, there will probably be another Sox player named MVP before the decade is gone.