Assigning World Series MVPs for old Yankees teams

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The modern World Series MVP was not established until 1955, so who would have been the best candidates for the award had it existed?

The Yankees have won 27 World Series, but for over half of them, the World Series MVP award was not in existence. Thus, it is easy to wonder who would have been meritorious of this annual honors had the prize been around. I researched all 19 of these series to determine the most likely MVPs in each series. The winners were surprising at times, but such is the nature of short series wherein even Delmon Young can win an ALCS MVP.

1923 World Series

Yankees over Giants, 4-2
MVP: RF Babe Ruth, .368/.556/1.000, 7-for-19, 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 8 BB, 1.556 OPS

Now this result is not surprising. After John McGraw's Giants baffled Ruth with an assortment of slow pitches in their '21 and '22 World Series victories over Ruth's Yankees, the Bambino finally got the better of them. He hit two homers in the Yankees' Game 2 win to tie the series and stayed hot for the rest of the way. Pitcher "Bullet" Joe Bush also received some consideration for his 1.08 ERA over one start and two relief outings in the series, but Ruth was all over the place.

1927 World Series

Yankees over Pirates, 4-0
MVP: SS Mark Koenig, .500/.500/.611, 9-for-18, 2 2B, 5 R, 1.111 OPS

This was a trickier decision, as both Ruth and Lou Gehrig had higher OPS marks than Koenig, but the normally light-hitting shortstop was the tablesetter for many rallies over the Buccos in the four-game sweep. He easily had more hits than anyone in the series, superbly supplementing his excellent glovework with perhaps the best four-game hitting display of his career. Wunderkind pitcher Wilcy Moore made a strong case for MVP with a five-out save in relief of Waite Hoyt to clinch the 5-4 victory in the opener and a complete game victory in the finale, which ended on a wild pitch.

1928 World Series

Yankees over Cardinals, 4-0
Co-MVPs: 1B Lou Gehrig, .545/.706/1.727, 6-for-11, 2B, 4 HR, 6 BB, 2.433 OPS
RF Babe Ruth, .625/.647/1.375, 10-for-16, 3 2B. 3 HR, BB, 2.022 OPS

I mean, really. What am I supposed to do with this? Both Ruth and Gehrig annihilated Cardinals pitching in the four-game sweep, a stalemate between the two famed sluggers. Gehrig homered in each of the last three games, and Ruth tied his own World Series record with a three-homer game in the Game 4 finale. Ruth slugged two off Bill Sherdel and the last against veteran Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander, who embarrassed the Yankees in Game 7 of the disappointing '26 World Series. The Yankees needed only three pitchers to beat the Cardinals; Waite Hoyt pitched two complete games with a combined 1.50 ERA, and both George Pipgras and Tom Zachary went the distance as well. Hitting was the clear story of the '28 Fall Classic though, so the MVP goes to both Gehrig and Ruth, the most fearsome duo to ever team up in one batting order.

1932 World Series

Yankees over Cubs, 4-0
MVP: 1B Lou Gehrig, .529/.600/1.118, 9-for-17, 2B, 3 HR, 2 BB, 1.718 OPS

No sharing awards this time for the "Iron Horse." Despite Ruth's supposed "called shot" stealing headlines, Gehrig was the real star of this series. The Cubs were the best team in the NL with a league-leading 3.44 ERA and 111 ERA+, but they simply had no answer for Gehrig. He hit a two-run homer off Guy Bush in Game 1, battered Lon Warneke for three hits in Game 2, took Charlie Root deep twice in Game 3 (immediately after Ruth's famous homer, too), then finished the Yanks' third straight sweep off with a multi-hit game in Game 4. Three other teammates had OPS marks over 1.000, but Gehrig stood alone in series dominance.

1936 World Series

Yankees over Giants, 4-2
MVP: RF George Selkirk, .333/.429/.667, 8-for-24, 3B, 2 HR, 4 BB, 1.095 OPS

This award race was neck-and-neck between Selkirk and teammate Jake Powell, who was human scum. Tiebreaker goes to the more decent man, but in all seriousness, Selkirk had far more pressure on him anyway. Selkirk had gaudy numbers as a minor leaguer in Newark, and over the past couple seasons, he was given the unenviable task of taking Ruth's spot in right field. The Yankees even gave Selkirk Ruth's number three as well. No pressure, right? Nonetheless, he was hot in his first World Series, sparking the game-winning rally in Game 3's 2-1 win and scoring the go-ahead runs in Games 4 and 6 to defeat the Giants.

1937 World Series

Yankees over Giants, 4-1
MVP: SP Lefty Gomez, 2-0, 2 CG, 18 IP, 1.50 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 2 BB, 8 K

The Yankees beat the Giants for the second straight year, and ace "Goofy" Gomez would likely have taken home series MVP honors. Both Tony Lazzeri and Gehrig OPS'd over 1.000 in this series, but realistically, I can't envision voters giving them the award over Gomez, who was arguably the best pitcher in baseball in '37. He began the series at Yankee Stadium with a six-hitter in an 8-1 Yankees victory, then closed it out on three days' rest with another complete game in a 4-2 clincher at the Polo Grounds. Gomez was known for his comedic personality throughout his career, but he was always tough on the mound in World Series play with a career 2.86 ERA in seven Fall Classic starts from '32-'39. The '37 series was his pinnacle as a pitcher.

1938 World Series

Yankees over Cubs, 4-0
MVP: SP Red Ruffing, 2-0, 2 CG, 18 IP, 1.50 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, 2 BB, 11 K

Like they did in '32, the Yankees ran roughshod over the Cubbies in a four-game sweep. The somewhat-unlikely trio of Joe Gordon, Bill Dickey, and Frankie Crosetti were the big hitters of the series, but nearly identical numbers would likely lead to a split vote. Besides, the greatest righthanded pitcher in Yankees history nearly duplicated Gomez's World Series numbers from the year before. He allowed nine hits, but didn't walk anyone in a complete game 9-1 victory in the Wrigley Field opener, and three days later, he finished off the sweep by going the distance again in a 8-3 Yankees win. The last out of the series was fittingly a Billy Herman comebacker to Ruffing, who threw to Gehrig for the final putout in the first baseman's outstanding World Series career. The Yankees became the first team in the history of baseball to "three-peat."

1939 World Series

Yankees over Reds, 4-0
MVP: RF Charlie Keller, .438/.471/1.118, 7-for-16, 2B, 3B, 3 HR, BB, 1.658 OPS

This award would have been no contest. "Kong" Keller wreaked havoc on Cincinnati pitching throughout the '39 series, collecting 19 total bases in the sweep. He scored the winning run of Game 1 after tripling in the ninth on a single by Dickey, drove in a run with a double in the 4-0 Game 2 shutout, took Gene Thompson deep twice in Game 3 for four RBI, then capped it with another homer and a leadoff single in a game-tying ninth inning in Game 4. He scored the run that led to catcher Ernie Lombardi's infamous "Snooze" in the tenth, as well. There was no stopping Keller in this series, the Yankees' second straight sweep and fourth title in a row.

1941 World Series

Yankees over Dodgers, 4-1
MVP: 2B Joe Gordon, .500/.667/.929, 7-for-14, 2B, 3B, HR, 7 BB, 1.595 OPS

"Flash" Gordon had to share the spotlight in the previous few series, but the '41 Fall Classic belonged to him. He was perfect at the plate through Game 3, drove in two of the Yankees' three runs in a 3-2 opening victory, slugged a two-run double in a 7-4 win in Game 4, and he singled in the deciding run of Game 5, eventually a 3-1 win. Keller had another superb series in '41 with a .976 OPS and a few crucial hits, but the Dodgers just couldn't keep Gordon off the basepaths.

1943 World Series

Yankees over Cardinals, 4-1
MVP: SP Spud Chandler, 2-0, 2 CG, SHO, 18 IP, 0.50 ERA, 1.111 WHIP, 3 BB, 10 K

It had to be Chandler for the oft-forgotten '43 champions. He became the only Yankee pitcher to ever win the MVP with a dominant season while the talent pool continued to deplete as many stars like Joe DiMaggio were off to war. The defending champion Cardinals, who beat the Yanks in '42, still had one of the greatest hitters to ever play baseball though, Stan Musial, but Chandler held "Stan the Man" to a 1-for-7 with a walk in his two starts. Chandler won Game 1 by a score of 4-2, keeping the game tied at two after the fifth until his offense scored the decisive runs in the seventh. The Yankees won two of the next three games and had a chance to close out the Cardinals in Game 5 with Chandler back on the mound. He twirled a 2-0 shutout and won on the strength of a two-run homer by his catcher, Dickey. He allowed just one earned run in the whole series; the Cardinals had no answer for Chandler.

1947 World Series

Yankees over Dodgers, 4-3
MVP: LF Johnny Lindell, .500/.625/.778, 9-for-18, 3 2B, 3B, 5 BB, 1.403 OPS

I've written about Lindell's heroics in the '47 Fall Classic before, and I still believe he was the hero of the series despite succumbing to injury in Game 6:

In his second World Series, Lindell played the best baseball of his life. He drove a go-ahead two-run double in the opener at Yankee Stadium to give the Yankees a 2-1 fifth inning lead that held up, and he hit a sacrifice fly while reaching base three times with a walk, a double, and a triple in a 10-3 blowout win in Game 2. He notched four more hits and two walks in a one-run losses at Ebbets Field in Games 3 and 4, and after a rare hitless outing in Game 5, he rebounded with two hits in two at-bats in Game 6 until calamity struck. Lindell broke a rib on the basepaths and had to watch from the bench as the Yankees eventually took the series in seven games. Had the World Series MVP existed in those days, Lindell may very well have won it for his .500/.625/.778 triple slash in that series, even if he was unable to finish the Classic himself.

With no clear deserving winner despite respectable, yet up-and-down performances from starter Spec Shea and reliever Joe Page, Lindell gets the prize.

1949 World Series

Yankees over Dodgers, 4-1
MVP: P Allie Reynolds, 1-0, CG, SHO, SV, 12 1/3 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.486 WHIP, 4 BB, 14 K

By '49, there was a precursor to the World Series MVP, known as the Babe Ruth Award, given by New York BBWAA writers to the best postseason performer. They gave their award to reliever Page, but while Page had a fine series, Reynolds was more important. Don Newcombe stymied the powerful offense through eight scoreless innings, but Reynolds hung tough with "Newk" by pitching nine scoreless innings of his own. Brooklyn had just two hits against him: a one-out Spider Jorgensen double in the first and a one-out single by Pee Wee Reese in the eighth inning. Tommy Henrich belted the first walk-off homer in World Series history to give Reynolds and the Yankees a 1-0 win in the opener.

Those two hits were the only ones against Reynolds in the whole series; he later returned to the mound in Game 4. The Yankees held a 2-1 series lead but Eddie Lopat threatened to give away their 6-0 lead as the Dodgers battered him for seven singles and four runs in the sixth. Reynolds relieved with the tying run on first and the go-ahead run at the plate in Jorgensen. Reynolds struck him out to end the inning with the score at 6-4, then retired the next nine Brooklyn hitters in order to clinch the victory and send Brooklyn to a 3-1 series deficit. Page's 2 1/3 scoreless relief innings in Game 5 clinched the series, but Reynolds put up better numbers across the board than Page in the series while having a bigger impact on the same number of victories. Reynolds was the deserving Babe Ruth Award and World Series MVP winner.

1950 World Series

Yankees over Phillies, 4-0
MVP: CF Joe DiMaggio, .308/.471/.615, 4-for-13, 2B, HR, 3 BB, 1.086 OPS

It took Joltin' Joe long enough to get on this list, but the '50 World Series MVP should have gone to him. He hit better overall than anyone else in the series. Although fellow outfielder Gene Woodling had more hits with six, they were all singles. Second baseman Jerry Coleman won the Babe Ruth Award by hitting a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the 1-0 Game 1 win and a walk-off RBI single in the ninth inning of Game 3, but he was otherwise quiet for the rest of the series, ending with a .732 OPS. It can be tricky to compare performances in the extremely small sample of four games, but DiMaggio was just better. He hit a go-ahead 10th inning solo homer against Hall of Famer Robin Roberts to help the Yankees win Game 2 in 10 innings, 2-1, and he notched an RBI double to help the Yankees open the scoring in the deciding Game 4. If they wanted to give Coleman and DiMaggio equal co-MVP credit, it would be fine, but DiMaggio deserved to at least earn some merit.

1951 World Series

Yankees over Giants, 4-2
MVP: SP Eddie Lopat, 2-0, 2 CG, 18 IP, 0.50 ERA, 0.722 WHIP, 3 BB, 4 K

The crafty southpaw born Edmund Walter Lopatynski made mincemeat of Bobby Thomson and his miracle Giants in '51, stopping their World Series dreams dead in their tracks after the "Shot Heard 'Round the World." The Giants took Game 1, 5-1, but any momentum they might have had from the opener and the playoff victory over the Dodgers was extinguished by the junkballing lefty. Lopat threw a five-hitter in 3-1 Game 2 victory at Yankee Stadium. The Giants rebounded to win Game 3, but the Yankees took the next game to even the series with Lopat returning to the hill at the Polo Grounds for Game 5 on three days' rest. Again, he threw a five-hitter, this time in a 13-1 blowout, pushing the Giants to the brink of elimination. Vic Raschi, Johnny Sain, and Bob Kuzava finished the Giants off in the finale, and the Yankees were champions for the third straight year. The Giants managed just one unearned run against Lopat in the series, but for some reason the New York BBWAA writers gave shortstop Phil Rizzuto (.320/.393/.440) the Babe Ruth Award. Silly.

1952 World Series

Yankees over Dodgers, 4-3
MVP: CF Mickey Mantle, .345/.406/.655, 10-for-29, 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 3 BB, 1.061 OPS

The 20-year-old phenom Mantle was already on bad legs due to an injury in the '51 World Series, but he showed no ill signs of pain in his performance the next year. The Babe Ruth Award went to slugging first baseman Johnny Mize, but he only made 18 plate appearances to the Mick's 32. Sure, his .400/.500/1.067 triple slash was better, but it was in fewer games, and he only made contributions to two of the four hard-fought victories over the Dodgers. Mantle flew all over the field, notching three hits and two runs scored in the Yankees' first victory in Game 2, then provided Reynolds with a much-needed insurance run on a Game 4 triple in which he scored on an error to make it 2-0 in the ninth.

Reynolds finished the four-hit shutout to tie the series at 2-2, but the Yankees lost the next day and needed to win both Games 6 and 7 on the road at Ebbets Field to take the series. Mantle came up big with a Game 6 solo homer off Billy Loes to make it 3-1, Yankees. Duke Snider homered the next inning against Raschi, but Mantle's longball made the score hold up at 3-2. In Game 7, the Dodgers tied it up in the fifth inning, and Mantle struck right back with a one-out sixth inning homer to deep right, putting the Yankees in front, 3-2. He added an insurance run on an RBI single the next inning to make it 4-2, and Kuzava finished the Dodgers off with 2 2/3 scoreless frames. Mize hit three homers in the series, but Mantle's two were more important, and he played a significant role in each victory.

1953 World Series

Yankees over Dodgers, 4-2
MVP: 2B Billy Martin, .500/.520/.958, 12-for-24, 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, BB, 1.478 OPS

The Babe Ruth Award writers and I finally came to a consensus on the MVP of the Yankees' record fifth World Series triumph in a row. Only three players in history have ever had more hits in one World Series, and they each had seven games to do it; Martin finished with 12 hits in six games. He went 5-for-7 in the first two games, surprising starter Carl Erskine in the first inning of Game 1 with a two-out three-run triple to give the Yankees an early 4-0 lead. Although it vanished, a Joe Collins homer gave the Yankees a 6-5 lead in the seventh, and Martin singled in a three-run eighth inning rally to make the final score of the opener 9-5, Yankees. Martin then stunned Preacher Roe in Game 2 with a rare solo homer, tying the game at two in the seventh until a two-run homer by Mantle secured the victory.

Consecutive losses in the next two games did not deter the Yankees, even though their 2-0 lead had vanished. The 11-7 final score in Game 5 was a lot worse than it seems. The Yankee led 9-1 at one point, and Martin even hit a second series homer in the shellacking. Much like Hideki Matsui 56 years later though, it was the deciding Game 6 at Yankee Stadium that confirmed Martin as star of the series. Whitey Ford pitched a gem, and reliever Reynolds entered the ninth inning with a 3-1 lead and induced a flyout from Gil Hodges to move the Yankees to two outs from their fifth straight title. However, Reynolds walked Duke Snider and gave up a crushing game-tying two-run homer to Carl Furillo. Reynolds struck the next two batters out, but the Yankees needed a hero to end the game before the Dodgers could think they were truly back in the series. Hank Bauer drew a leadoff walk from Clem Labine, and after Yogi Berra lined out to right, Mantle reached on an infield single to third, moving Bauer into scoring position. Martin was the next batter, and he ended the series with a single up the middle to score Bauer with the winning run. There really was no doubt that Martin was "the hero of heroes," as broadcaster Mel Allen said after the series concluded.

***

Those are the men that should have joined Dan Larsen ('56), Bob Turley ('58), Bobby Richardson ('60), Whitey Ford ('61), Ralph Terry ('62), Reggie Jackson ('77), Bucky Dent ('78), John Wetteland ('96), Scott Brosius ('98), Mariano Rivera ('99), Derek Jeter ('00), and Hideki Matsui ('09) on the Yankees' World Series MVP hit parade. The World Series MVP can certainly be an arbitrary award, but it's nice to recognize the deserving players from the days before the actual award's existence.

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