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Yankees History: The weirdest Yankees to receive MVP votes

Ten players is a lot to list when picking an MVP ballot, but these Yankees maybe shouldn’t have made those lists.

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees - Game One

A Yankee sits atop the American League Most Valuable Player mountain. Aaron Judge was voted the 2022 winner of the award a couple months ago after an incredible season that saw him hit an AL-record 62 home runs and at points was almost single-handedly carrying a Yankees team that won 99 games. We’re obviously a little biased, but he very much deserved the award. The BBWAA voters agreed, and Judge got 28 out of a possible 30 first-place votes, and finished clearly ahead of second-placed Shohei Ohtani.

I mention “first-place votes” because as you may know, MVP ballots consist of voters listing their top 10 players in order, which leads to many players officially getting votes every year. In the 2022 AL race, 23 different players received votes, ranging from Judge all the way down to Chicago’s Dylan Cease and (then-) Oakland’s Sean Murphy, who each got one 10th-place vote.

Thanks to Baseball Reference, you can look back at all the voting results for every year and see all the other players who got one or two down-ballot votes in a given season. While obviously plenty of winners over time are objectively correct, there are plenty of other years where it’s debatable, or where the winner seems strange years later without the narrative context of the time. What can be even more strange is seeing which random players were thrown on the down-ballot spots. While as Yankee fans, it’s hard to ever get mad at a Bronx Bomber getting an MVP vote, we can also admit there are some players that probably shouldn’t have.

Let’s go back into the history books and look at some of those players and seasons.

Portrait of Bobby Richardson

Bobby Richardson - 1961/1965

Okay, look: I recognize Richardson might be the ultimate generational divide player. He had the reputation as a Gold Glove defender and a good contact hitter on a Yankees’ team that won a lot. I can understand how he ends up getting well-regarded by voters. He even finished second in MVP voting in 1962, which was by far his career year at the plate.

However, Richardson got votes in several other years, which were, well, less deserved. In both 1961 and ‘65, Richardson received down-ballot MVP votes despite being rated as a negative WAR player. Even if you want to stick to old school value and say that WAR can’t capture what he brought to the team, he OPSed .610 in ‘61 and .609 in ‘65. In ‘61, he was the leadoff hitter on that extremely memorable team. That plus his defensive reputation is probably how that happened, but even still, there were better options.

Elston Howard - 1967

This one is only partially a weird Yankee MVP vote-getter, as Howard was traded to the Red Sox in August of ‘67. With the CBS Era Yankees going absolutely nowhere that year, the Yankees sent him to a Boston team that was in the race in the AL. The Red Sox would end up coming out on top in pennant race before falling to the Cardinals in the World Series. As a catcher, Howard got plaudits for how he handed Boston’s pitching staff in that “Impossible Dream” season, which likely created a narrative that allowed him to receive some votes.

Here’s the thing though: with the Red Sox he had an 18 OPS+. Eighteen. Prior to that trade, he put up a 57 OPS+ in the Bronx and his total season number was 42. He got seven voting points too, so it’s not as if just one person threw him on the ballot in 10th place.

Johnny Mize - 1951

At the end of his career, Mize — a Hall of Famer — had a solid run with the Yankees, helping the team to five-peat from 1949-53. Most of his time in the Bronx was spent as a part-time player, including in 1951, when he got two MVP voting points and finished tied for 30th.

Now to be fair, Mize did play in 113 of 154 games, but he is only listed as having played the entirety of 22 of them. His 373 plate appearances would not get him the requisite 3.1 per game to qualify for stuff like the batting title. The good news is that he wouldn’t have won it anyway, as he hit just .259/.339/.398. That did equate to an above average 102 OPS+, but it seems like you need to be better than slightly above average if you’re only a part-time player.

Raúl Ibañez - 2012

Ibañez’s 2012 season is fondly remember and for good reason. He had several massive hits and home runs both in the stretch run of the regular season and in the playoffs. However clutch he may be been, he still put up just a slightly above average 103 OPS+. Add in that he was never really known for his defense, and even voting him 10th is a bit of a stretch.

Frankie Crosetti - 1944

Crosetti appeared in just 55 games in the 1944 season, having had to spent much of the season working on a shipyard in California during the World War II efforts. Once he returned, he hit just .239/.299/.355. Those numbers were not good even for that season, but it was somehow enough to get two votes in that year’s MVP ballot.