Justin Upton has slipped a bit recently, but for most of this season he has been in the running not just for the 2011 National League MVP, but for becoming one of the youngest MVPs ever. The rightfielder, who turned 24 a couple of weeks ago, has led the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks to a now-comfortable first place and an almost-certain unexpected playoff appearance.
To be sure, Upton's numbers aren't good enough compared to the other contenders—Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Cliff Lee, Albert Pujols, Troy Tulowitzki—and the award will likely go elsewhere, but for much of the year he has been in the conversation.
Three of the last six MLB MVPs, too, have been younger than 26, but Joey Votto, Joe Mauer and Dustin Pedroia were each still two years too old to make this list. And they were still five years older than the youngest MVP ever, who started his bust-out season at the nascent age of 21. Who was it?
Cruise through these, the 15 youngest MVPs, to find out.
Paul Waner had already made a splash his rookie year in 1926, when he batted .336 and led the league in triples with 22. There was no Rookie of the Year back then though (it started in 1947).
He led the league in three-baggers again in 1927—and also hits, total bases, RBI and batting average—and took home the MVP trophy following that sophomore campaign with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 24-year old led the Pirates to the World Series (his only appearance) that year, where they fell to the New York Yankees.
Waner would play a long career, 20 seasons, and when all was said and done, he'd finish with over 3,000 hits, 600 doubles and a lifetime .333 batting average. The Hall of Famer is 10th and 11th in triples and doubles, respectively, all-time.
Birthdate: Apr. 16, 1903
MVP: 1927 (Age 24)
Video: For more on Paul Waner, check out Paul and Lloyd Waner, Baseball Hall of Famers.
Don Mattingly led the league in hits (207), doubles (44) and batting average (.343) in his first full year in the majors: 1984. He was not eligible for the Rookie of the Year award having played in 91 games the season before, but placed fifth in MVP voting.
But, it's OK, Donnie Baseball won the MVP the following year. He had more hits, and led the league in doubles and RBI in 1985. It was his most powerful year: 35 homers and 145 RBI, both career highs.
Mattingly, on the other hand, would never make it to a World Series as a player.
Birthdate: Apr. 20, 1961
MVP: 1985 (Age 24)
The Hal Newhouser era was helped by the fact that some of the heaviest hitters in baseball—DiMaggio, Williams and more—were off to World War II.
Still, you can't deny Newhouser's dominance over those left playing the national pastime. The lefty went off the three years 1944-1946 with an 81-27 record and ERAs no higher than 2.22. And he was one of the best pitchers of the game for seven years through 1950—recording 151 wins over that short period.
He led the league in strikeouts in '44 and '45—both his MVP years—and led the Detroit Tigers to the World Series title in 1945.
In 1945, Newhouser won the pitching triple crown, leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA (and complete games and shutouts).
Birthdate: May 20, 1921
MVP: 1945 (Age 23/24)
Video: Here's a quick tribute to Hal Newhouser from the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Lou Gehrig, the Iron Horse, was also an RBI machine. He knocked 175 RBI in 1927, the fourth most in a single season. Four years later, he'd push 184 runners across the plate for the second-highest season total ever.
Gehrig led the league in RBI five times, broke the century barrier 13 years in a row and had over 140 RBI eight times. He batted over .340 eight times in 11 years, including over .360 four of those times. What a monster.
He was finished at age 35 with 1,995 RBI—but would most certainly be the all-time leader had ALS not brought his career and life to a crippling halt. Hank Aaron, who played until he was 42, has just 300 more.
Gehrig would win two MVPs: this one in 1927, and another nine years later in '36.
This season is just insane:
Birthdate: Jun. 19, 1903
MVP: 1927 (Age 23/24)
Video: Here's a classic, must-see Lou Gehrig tribute: The Pride of the Yankees.
It was all about slugging with the Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, and the late-80's Oakland A's. Did you know Canseco's nickname is "The Chemist?" Those are two things that make you go "hmm."
Anyway slug is what Canseco did in 1988—two years after pocketing the A.L. Rookie of the Year award—leading the majors in home runs, RBI and slugging percentage (.569). He also batted just over .300, one of only two times in his career, and the only time over a full season.
Canseco helped take the A's to the World Series in 1988, where they lost to the L.A. Dodgers, but Oakland and Canseco redeemed themselves in 1989 when they took the crown from their arch-rivals, the San Francisco Giants.
Birthdate: Jul. 2, 1964
MVP: 1988 (Age 23/24)
Video: Here's the young MVP-to-be taking it deep, really deep.
Roger Clemens didn't exactly burst onto the scene his first two years, going 9-4 and 7-5, but he was already striking out 7.5 per nine innings over that period.
Then, in 1986, the Rocket blasted off, beginning an almost three-decade long domination of the mound. We all know how he lasted that long at such a high-level, but the truth is, Clemens had the talent and skill before any Vitamin-B shots.
In a year infamous to Boston Red Sox fans, Clemens would snag both his first Cy Young (of seven) and only MVP. He led the league in wins, winning percentage and ERA, and whiffed over 200 on top of that, missing the pitching triple crown by seven strikeouts.
He and the Red Sox lost the World Series to the New York Mets in 1986, but Clemens would eventually get two rings with the Yankees in 1999 and 2000.
Birthdate: Aug. 4, 1962
MVP: 1986 (Age 23/24)
Video: Clemens broke the single-game strikeout record in 1986, becoming the first pitcher to fan 20. Here's Bob Costas recounting the event.
Fred Lynn did it in his rookie year—taking home both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, and the Boston Red Sox to the World Series in 1975. They lost of course, in seven games. It would be Lynn’s only World Series appearance—in the first of a 17-year career.
Lynn is only one of two players to win both the MVP and ROY awards in the same season. The other player, Ichiro Suzuki, had played for years in Japan before debuting in the U.S. in 2001.
Lynn’s numbers were not super-stellar, but the competition was thin in '75. John Mayberry placed second in MVP voting followed by Lynn's teammate Jim Rice, who was also a rookie.
It was a solid season enough, though, with league leaderships in runs, doubles and OPS.
Birthdate: Feb. 3, 1952
MVP: 1975 (Age 23)
Video: Check out this mid-‘70s clip featuring the MVP pimping Botany 500 suits. Rookie Jim Rice is in there, too.
Hank Aaron ranked top three in MVP voting four years in a row, including the year he won it, 1957. It's surprisingly his only MVP. He would finish third three more times before hanging it up.
Aaron would appear in just one more postseason, the following year, 1958, and not make it again. He retired after the 1976 season. He is still the career all-time leader in total bases and RBI and ranks a dubious second in home runs. He's got the third most hits, too, behind Pete Rose and Ty Cobb, and finished with a respectable lifetime average of .305 over a good 20+ full seasons.
Hammerin' Hank was a one-man wrecking machine in 1957, leading the league in runs, home runs, RBI and total bases.
Birthdate: Feb. 5, 1934
MVP: 1957 (Age 23)
Video: Hank Aaron hits home run to clinch the 1957 pennant for the Milwaukee Braves.
Who? Jeff Burroughs, look at him, is on this list, all .261 lifetime average of him. This photo is from the infamously rowdy 10-cent beer night in the same year of his MVP: 1974.
Burroughs is the most unlikely winner on this list or any MVP list, young or not.
But in 1974 he had his career-high .301 average and eked out a league leadership in RBI. It was enough to beat three thrice-champion Oakland A's in the voting—Joe Rudi, Sal Bando and Reggie Jackson—who placed second, third and fourth. Catfish Hunter, another Athletic, came in sixth.
So, it seems, the 23 year-old one-hit wonder, Jeff Burroughs, won the award thanks to a split vote.
Birthdate: Mar. 7, 1951
MVP: 1974 (Age 23)
Say Hey, it's Willie Mays breaking the 22-year old MVP barrier.
After winning the Rookie of the Year in 1951, Mays was drafted into the Army midway through the 1952 season. He served all of 1953, too.
Mays came back strong in 1954, a second rookie year of sorts—and a far superior one. The dynamic Mays led the league in batting average, slugging average, OPS and triples.
And the New York Giants won their final World Series.
Mays would finish in the top six in MVP voting nine of the next 10 years, then win another in 1965. He’s tied for the most All-Star appearances in baseball history with a ridiculous 24, has the most Gold Gloves for an outfielder (12), is fourth all-time in WAR (154.7), third in total bases (6,066) and fourth in home runs (660).
Birthdate: May 6, 1931
MVP: 1954 (Age 22/23)
Video: Willie Mays made his famous catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.
Hal Newhouser strikes again, the prequel. Before his 1945 MVP campaign at the age of 23/24, Newhouser did it a year earlier.
The Hall of Famer came up to the big leagues in 1939 at the tender age of 17 and really hadn’t shown anything. He was 34-52, sported ERAs like 4.86 and 4.79 and had control issues, leading the league in walks in 1943.
By 1944, the veteran of sorts got his act together and pitched like another person for the next seven years. He won an astounding 29 games and led the league in K's that first year and won his first MVP.
Newhouser is the only player to appear on this list twice with the back-to-back '44 and '45 MVP award wins, but he's not the youngest MVP winner; There are still four younger.
Birthdate: May 20, 1921
MVP: 1944 (Age 22/23)
Video: Hal Newhouser’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech.
Cal Ripken, had no idea what the future would hold when, as a 23-year old in his second full season, he and the Baltimore Orioles won it all. Here he is enjoying some bubbly with teammate, 3,000-hit, 500-homer man, Eddie Murray.
A month later, Ripken would be named one of the youngest MVPs ever. He had already won the Rookie of the Year the previous season and now sported league leaderships in runs, hits and doubles. Ripken was redefining the shortstop position from his very first days.
The future would hold replacing one of the most cherished records in baseball—Gehrig’s 2,130 straight games—with one just as treasured: Ripken’s ungodly 2,632.
It would also hold another MVP, in 1991.
Ripken played his entire 21-year career with the Orioles, but never made it to the World Series again.
Birthdate: Aug. 24, 1960
MVP: 1983 (Age 22/23)
Video: Eventual World Champion Baltimore Orioles playoff roster and starting lineup introductions. The starting lineup begins at 2:52. A fully-coiffed Ripken is at 3:39.
Stan Musial won three MVPs, his first at the spittin' age of 22. The other two came in 1946, the year following Musial’s return from the War, and in 1948.
Musial put the baseball world on notice in 1943 with a season for the ages. Ironically, he only had 81 RBI, but led the league in nine offensive categories, including hits, doubles, triples, total bases and all the averages (AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS).
Between 1943 and 1955, Stan—The Man—Musial had 55 league leaderships in major offensive categories in one of the most dominant tears in the history of the game, including hits (6x), runs (5x), doubles (8x), triples (5x), average (6x), OBP (5x), slugging (6x), OPS (6x) and total bases (6x).
Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Yankees in the 1942 World Series but would lose to the Bronx Bombers in 1943.
In 1944 Musial earned his third and final ring when the Cards beat their cross-town rivals, the St. Louis Browns.
Birthdate: Nov. 21, 1920
MVP: 1943 (Age 22)
Video: Who nicknamed Stan Musial “The Man?” The answer here, in this Stan Musial Hall of Fame bio clip.
Squeaky-clean 22-year old catcher Johnny Bench went off in 1970 with 45 home runs and 148 RBI, and led the Cincinnati Reds to the National League Pennant. He batted below .300, but considering the position—158 games behind the plate—it was a phenomenal year, and one of the best ever for a catcher.
He was Rookie of the Year just two seasons earlier and would later win another MVP.
In 1970, Bench and the Reds would lose to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, and again they lost the championship in Bench’s other MVP year—1972—to the Oakland A’s.
But there would be redemption for Bench and the Big Red Machine. They’d win back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976.
Birthdate: Dec. 7, 1947
MVP: 1970 (Age 22)
Video: Here’s a pretty solid highlight reel of Johnny Bench. He was great in the field, too.
Vida Blue is the youngest MVP in baseball history, having started his 1971 MVP season at the age of 21. The youngster was untouchable.
In his first true full season Blue struck out 301! and posted a skinny 1.82 ERA, led the league in shutouts and WHIP and walked away with both the Cy Young and MVP.
It would be the lefty’s best season—though he did win 20 two more times (and 18 twice). He never struck out more than 200 again.
Blue had double-digits in wins 10 times, but he also had double-digit losses nine times.
Blue’s A’s were bounced from the playoffs by the Baltimore Orioles in 1971, but he and Oakland would go on to win three straight World Series in '72, '73 and '74.
Birthdate: July 28, 1949
MVP: 1971 (Age 21/22)
Video: Vida Blue on What’s My Line? Do they figure it out? Did you?
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