Before anyone starts: Justin Morneau did not get screwed. His runner-up finish to Dustin Pedroia for American League Most Valuable Player Award, announced this afternoon, might have even been generous.
That Joe Mauer took fourth, with two first-place votes, is more of a surprise. Scroll down this file for the complete order of finish.
But here’s the most intriguing part. None of the seven Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voters who awarded Morneau the top spot on their ballots are from the Twin Cities. And the two Mauer voters both work at the Kansas City Star — Royals beat writer Bob Dutton, a former BBWAA president, and general columnist Joe Posnanski. So Morneau and Mauer earned their places without “home cooking.”
That reinforced a sense I’ve had since fall 2006, when Morneau won the MVP Award, and pondered again last summer, when Mauer overtook Jason Varitek in the All-Star voting at catcher. The so-called “East Coast bias” that so many provincial Twin Cities fans carp about when they think a local favorite has been overlooked no longer applies to Morneau and Mauer, if it ever did. Their peers, and savvy baseball fans, know how good they are. In some ways, Morneau and Mauer seem better appreciated by outsiders than they are here.
(Disclosure: I’ve been a BBWAA member since 1989, first in Boston, then in New York, before moving to Minneapolis in 2002.)
Pedroia would have been my choice, too
This is not to say either player deserved the MVP this year. I would have picked Pedroia, with Morneau second.
Locally, LaVelle Neal of the Star Tribune cast one of the 16 first-place votes for Pedroia, while Phil Miller of the Pioneer Press chose Boston’s Kevin Youkilis, who finished third.
Neal listed Morneau second on his ballot and Mauer fifth; Miller had them third and eighth, respectively. (Two voters from each AL city choose 10 players. First-place votes are worth 10 points, second-place nine points, etc.)
I’m with Neal on this one, and here’s why:
Recall that in 2006, Morneau batted a major league-leading .362 from June 8 on to carry the Twins from 10-1/2 games back on Aug. 7 to the AL Central title. Every time the Twins needed a big hit or a home run, Morneau seemed to deliver. The choice was righteous.
But this year, Morneau hit only .243 with two homers in September. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in the 1-0, divisional tiebreaker loss to the White Sox. Playing all 163 games probably wore out Morneau, who still drove in 129 runs.
Meanwhile, Pedroia, who lost the AL batting title to Mauer by 2 points, and Youkilis excelled for a Red Sox team that traded a disruptive Manny Ramirez and played most of June and July without David Ortiz (injured left wrist).
Mauer’s vote total shows national respect he’s gained
The All-Star votes for Mauer, and his recent Gold Glove selection, further shows how much respect Mauer quietly earned for his hitting and his underappreciated work behind the plate. Posnanski, a bright guy and one of the best columnists in the country, thinks RBIs are a “wildly overrated statistic,” which he suspects made some voters undervalue Mauer.
“To me, you have a Gold Glove caliber catcher with a .413 on-base percentage, that’s just an incredibly rare player,” Posnanski said in an email to MinnPost.
“I could tell you about all the statistics I broke down to make my choice and the various people around baseball I talked with to offer their opinions, but the bottom line is I just think Mauer is a terrific defensive catcher, he’s one of the toughest outs in baseball, he led the league in hitting. That’s an incredible combination, unprecedented even. I just don’t think there’s anybody like him.”
Posnanski didn’t cite this, but Mauer also hit .365 in September with 19 RBI, two fewer than Morneau and his best monthly total all season.
That someone who doesn’t watch Mauer every day feels that way, says something. Morneau’s MVP finish reinforces the point. Morneau and Mauer are getting their due, and now it’s up to the Twins to put a stronger team around them.