In the first two parts of this series we reviewed the first 14 MVP awards in Yankees history. Here's the grand finale which includes a great big controversial cherry on top. All data courtesy of baseball reference.
Roger Maris in 1960: .283/.371/.581, 39 HR, 112 RBI, 160 OPS+, 7.5 WAR
Before the 1960 season the Yankees stole Maris away from the Kansas City Athletics, their unofficial farm team at the time, and he immediately acclimated himself to the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. Despite a heart-breaking loss to the Pirates in the World Series, he helped power the Yankees to another AL pennant by leading the league in RBI and slugging.
Who should have won: Offensively, Maris put up numbers nearly identical to his new teammate and Yankee fan favorite Mickey Mantle. The pair seemingly fed off of each other as they were, by far, the two best run producers in the league. The difference here is their work in the outfield. Maris had the best season of his career fielding-wise, winning a Gold Glove and leading the league in WAR.
Roger Maris in 1961: .269/.372/.620, 61 HR, 141 RBI, 167 OPS+, 6.9 WAR
In 1961 the Yankees exorcised the demons of the previous year with a staggering 109 wins and a dominant showing in the World Series. The story of the season, though, was Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and the chase for the single season home run record. Against all odds and the wishes of most baseball fans at the time, even Yankee fans, Maris set a new record that would take entirely too long to be appreciated.
Who should have won: The Mick put up one of the finest seasons of his career, setting a career high in home runs with 54 and leading the league in walks, slugging, OPS+, and WAR. A trio of Detroit Tigers (Norm Cash, Al Kaline, and Rocky Colavito) even exceeded Maris' WAR total by a fair margin. However, when you consider the enormity of his accomplishment in the face of all the unwarranted animosity and hatred that came along with it, Maris probably deserved this one too.
Mickey Mantle in 1962: .321/.486/.605, 30 HR, 89 RBI, 195 OPS+, 6.0 WAR
The second of back to back championships was much tougher as the Yankees narrowly edged the San Francisco Giants with a 1-0 victory in game seven. Although Mantle missed nearly 40 games due to injury he still proved to be a superstar when he did play, leading the league in walks, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS+.
Who should have won: Brooks Robinson combined one of his best offensive seasons with his usual spectacular glove work at third base to lead the league in position player WAR by a negligible margin over Mantle. When you factor in all the time he missed, it's safe to say that Mantle was more valuable and deserved his third and final MVP.
Elston Howard in 1963: .287/.342/.528, 28 HR, 85 RBI, 141 OPS+, 5.1 WAR
While they couldn't make it a championship three-peat in 1963, getting swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, the Yankees did complete an MVP four-peat for the second time over the span of just ten years. Elston Howard was the best player for the AL's best team as he set a career high in home runs and took home his first Gold Glove at catcher.
Who should have won: There were a handful of players probably more deserving than Howard in 1963, but a pair of young outfielders were a cut above the rest. The powerful Bob Allison had a career year for the Minnesota Twins, setting a career high in home runs and leading the league in runs scored and OPS+. In Boston, the Red Sox had a player on the verge of superstardom as Carl Yastrzemski won the batting crown, led the league in on-base percentage and earned his own Gold Glove.
Thurman Munson in 1976: .302/.337/.432, 17 HR, 105 RBI, 126 OPS+, 5.2 WAR
After the longest drought in team success since 1920, a motley crew "managed" by Billy Martin and captained by Munson barreled their way back into the World Series only to get shredded by The Big Red Machine. Munson's play on the field and presence in the clubhouse was exemplary, as it was for his entire brief career.
Who should have won: While Munson's leadership certainly earned him extra bonus points, he probably shouldn't have even sniffed this one. This was the year that Mark Fidrych took the league by storm, pitching his way to the Rookie of the Year award and a WAR total that nearly doubled Munson's. Still, there was no shortage of other players that outperformed the captain. Future Hall of Famers George Brett, Rod Carew and soon-to-be familiar face Reggie Jackson all had better years. On top of that, three of Munson's own teammates, Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers and Roy White all topped his WAR total. In fact, Nettles was probably most deserving of the award.
Don Mattingly in 1985: .324/.371/.567, 35 HR, 145 RBI, 156 OPS+, 6.4 WAR
Although they missed the playoffs by two games behind the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees were still a quality team with 97 wins. In the process, Donnie Baseball proved his stellar rookie year, in which he won the batting title, was no fluke. He led the majors in doubles, RBI, and total bases while winning the first of his nine career Gold Gloves.
Who should have won: Even though Mattingly confirmed his star status, there were better options for MVP. Wade Boggs and George Brett, Hall of Fame third basemen that were still very much in their prime, surpassed Mattingly's WAR by a significant margin. But, it was Mattingly's new teammate and leadoff man extraordinaire, Rickey Henderson, that stole his way to the top of the AL with nearly 10 WAR.
Alex Rodriguez in 2005: 321/.421/.610, 48 HR, 130 RBI, 173 OPS+, 9.4 WAR
The disaster that was the 2004 ALCS resulted in a 2005 playoff hangover for the Yankees, as the Angels handed them a first round exit. Still, they won the AL East crown for the eighth straight year and A-Rod set the pace for their high-powered offense. He led the league in runs, home runs, and OPS+ and also set the Yankee single season record for home runs by a right-handed batter.
Who should have won: After the season there was much debate about whether A-Rod or David Ortiz of the Red Sox deserved the award, but it really shouldn't have been particularly close. Ortiz had the edge in RBI with an impressive 148, but A-Rod outdid him in every other category, including WAR, where he was more than four wins better. A-Rod's closest competition was actually current Yankee second baseman Brian Roberts, who had a career year for the Orioles but was still more than two wins behind Rodriguez.
Alex Rodriguez in 2007: 314/.422/.645, 54 HR, 156 RBI, 176 OPS+, 9.4 WAR
This was another case of a solid 90+ win team whose season ended with an unsatisfying first round exit that became all too familiar for the Yankees in the 2000's. They wouldn't have even made it that far without A-Rod though. On top of breaking his own right-handed Yankee home run record, he led the majors in runs, home runs, RBI, and OPS+. The second of his ridiculous ten year contracts was built mostly on the strength of his performance in 2007.
Who should have won: Unlike 2005, there was no controversy over the MVP vote here. A-Rod was head and shoulders above the rest of the league, earning the award almost unanimously. Magglio Ordonez and future Yankee Curtis Granderson each had excellent seasons for the Detroit Tigers, but were still about two wins shy of A-Rod's WAR total. This will probably go down as his last truly dominant season as a major league player.
If the recent stories about A-Rod over the last four years or so are true then his last two MVP awards described above were achieved without the use of performance enhancing drugs. Yay!
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