The Definition of Most Valuable Player

Jeff SummersCorrespondent INovember 23, 2011

Major League Baseball announced the winner of the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun won the award winning over the Los Angeles Dodgers Matt Kemp who finished a distant second. Braun’s teammate Prince Fielder was third in the voting and the Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton was fourth.

There has been a lot of debate surrounding what makes a Most Valuable Player. Should the award go to the player with the best overall statistics for the season or does the success of the team factor into the equation and more votes are given to those whose teams had success or made it to the playoffs.

This year the voters clearly favored a winning team over superior individual statistics. Kemp outpaced everyone statistically yet was only able to garner 10 of the possible 32 first place votes. It wasn’t the controversy over the voting that caught my eye but rather the responses by the individuals and what it says about today’s players.

“When I made the commitment to the city of Milwaukee, to the Milwaukee Brewers organization and to this fan base, my intent was to spend my whole career in Milwaukee and one day be mentioned alongside names like Robin Yount and Rollie Fingers. It’s a process to get there. I think I need to accomplish more to truly be in that conversation.”

– Ryan Braun

With Braun the comments were a tribute to the organization and his desire to be a part of history where he would be mentioned among the Brewer greats. It sounded like a player who was trying to validate the large contract he signed in April. There is no doubt that much of the Brewers success was a result of the year Braun had. Of course there is also something to be said about having someone like Prince Fielder hitting behind you in the order.

“Fifty/fifty, Y’all created a monster. I’m about to get back in the weight room super tough to be better than last year. Got to set your limits high, man. ‘Beast Mode.’ Forty/forty is tough, so 50/50 is even tougher. Like I said, anything can happen. I’m going to set my limits high and try to get to them. Set them at 50/50. Never been done. Yeah, I’m serious. If I don’t, it’ll look like I let you all down, and I don’t want to be a liar. I know you think I’m crazy, but take it to another level.”

– Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp had one of those years that most athletes can only dream about. His .324 batting average was third in the National League. He led the league in home runs with 39. He also finished first in runs batted in with 126, first in runs scored with 115, and first in total bases with 353. Individually there is not much more one player can do to be at the top of his game.

Unfortunately for Kemp, despite playing on a team that featured the 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw the Dodgers finished the year in third place in the five-team National League Western Divisional Conference behind the San Francisco Giants and the divisional champion Arizona Diamondbacks.

Kemp sounded somewhat frustrated with the way the voting went. He took the apparent snub personally and vowed to come back with even bigger numbers in 2012 so that there would be no doubt who the best player in the National League was regardless of where his team finished.

If you are a Dodgers fan you have to like Kemp’s fire especially since he just signed an 8-year contract with Los Angeles. Having a motivated Kemp in the center of your lineup should bode well for that team.

“The thing that makes me happier than my performance is that my team had success,” Upton said. “We have something to build on now for next year. The guys helped me all year long and if I had won the MVP it would have been because of my teammates.”

– Justin Upton

There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind who the most valuable player for the Arizona Diamondbacks was. Right-fielder Justin Upton had an amazing year hitting .289 with 31 home runs and 88 runs batted in while stealing 21 bases. Perhaps the most exciting part of his season was not the statistics but rather his durability. In 2011 Upton played in a career-best 159 games putting behind him the injuries that plagued him the previous two years.

“The most important thing was the number of games I was able to play in,” Upton said. “Being able to contribute every day to the team was my goal.” Reading through the quotes by Upton I was impressed with the way he carried himself.

These were not the words of a 24 year-old kid starting out his baseball career. These were the comments made by someone who is quickly becoming a leader. There were no quotes about how his numbers compared against his competition. You didn’t hear him justifying the salary of the contract extension that he signed before the season. What you heard was a humble kid who is beginning to understand what baseball is and how it will still be going on long after his career has finished.

The words Upton spoke could just as easily been given by his manager Kirk Gibson who like Upton always had the stigma of not living up to the lofty potential that everyone heaped upon his shoulders. They were throwback comments from an era where players understood that they were only as good as their weakest teammate.

At the end of last season and through the off-season we heard on countless occasions from General Manager Kevin Towers and Gibson that the Arizona Diamondbacks were not just changing players on the roster but that they were going to change the culture of the franchise.

Players who didn’t buy into the new culture would not be here long. There was talk of accountability and playing the game hard as a team. Individual accomplishments and accolades would mean very little. Instead they focused on team discipline and picking each other up at every game.

So when the NL MVP voting was announced and Upton talked about being there to contribute for his teammates every day or talking about how his success was a result of the great play by those around him we should not have been surprised.

This is what Towers, Gibson, and the whole Diamondbacks organization believes. It is great to see that Upton has bought into the philosophy and how he is motivated to be there for his teammates as they prepare for 2012.

There is unfinished business still to do. Yes the Diamondbacks had a wonderful season and turned around a franchise that had finished in the cellar the previous two years and they did make the playoffs but that wasn’t the goal. The goal wasn’t to get Ian Kennedy a Cy Young or Justin Upton an MVP or Kirk Gibson a Manager of the Year award. The goal was to be the last team standing hoisting a World Championship trophy in celebration.

That goal is unfulfilled and it is great to hear Upton talk about getting with his teammates and working this off-season so that they are ready when Spring Training arrives. That to me is the measure of a Most Valuable Player and if the Diamondbacks can continue to instill this type of culture throughout their roster then Major League Baseball may have to come up with a new award, Most Valuable Team. Oh wait, they already have that it’s called World Series Champion.