AL MVP Race Becomes a War of Words

Casey Graziani

David Ortiz’s AL leading home run and RBI totals (48 dingers and 128 RBIs as of September 17) and his customary clutch performance (countless game-winning RBIs and walk off hits) make him a more than worthy 2006 MVP candidate. A week and a half ago, this article would have been a puff piece extolling Big Papi; but that was before he ran his mouth off.

Apparently, Papi isn’t the most tactful of speakers when he isn’t flashing a big lovable grin on his face. On September 10, he discussed with the media how his MVP candidacy shouldn’t be diminished by his team’s failure to reach the playoffs. His comments made it appear as if he thinks that individual numbers are more important than the overall success of his team. The usually genial Papi attacked prominent MVP candidate Derek Jeter by pointing to the strength of the Yankees lineup as a reason for Jeter’s stellar season. That was followed by eleven poorly chosen words: “Come hit in this lineup; see how good you can be.” Putting down your teammates, that’s not the MVP-type team leadership voters are looking for. Papi did try some damage control following the event, but it’s clear that for now he should just let his bat make the noise.

Papi’s remarks about the strength of his lineup are ungrounded. Yes, top to bottom, it isn’t as strong as that of the Yankees. But seriously Papi, you hit in front Manny Ramirez, who is arguably one of the best hitters in the game. The two of you present possibly the best 3-4 tandem since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Most of your success can be attributed to being able to hit in front of Manny and get pitches to hit: go hit in a lineup without Manny and see how well you can hit. Derek Jeter responded to Papi’s remarks more in the style of a captain and team player, stating that his primary concern is the Yankees playoff bid.

The funny thing is that Papi actually had a point. Derek Jeter does hit in a tremendous lineup, and I don’t think he rightfully deserves the MVP because of it (note the precedent I set with Carlos Beltran last week). Though I do sympathize with the argument that “Jeter’s years of solid play deserve recognition”, I don’t buy into the idea of handing out MVP awards for multi-seasonal achievement. It’s called the Hall of Fame, and lots of deserving players get in, including those who have never won anything.

That’s why, for the first time in twenty years, I think this year’s AL MVP honors will go to a starting pitcher: Twins ace Johan Santana. With a wild card berth (and quite possibly a division title unless the White Sox pull off a miracle) in the Twins’ sights, Santana has been rock solid, posting an 18-5 record with 237 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.77. The Twins are 26-6 in the games Santana starts. Leading by example with his grace and poise, he is indispensable to his team’s success. Pitching has become an increasingly valuable commodity in the American League, and it’s about time to honor what really wins games (and championships).

Papi on the other hand cost himself the MVP award, and ultimately tarnished his own image. His concern over the MVP race should pale in comparison to his commitment to his team’s playoff hopes. MVP accolades represent more than stats: it’s about being the difference maker in whether a team drives forward into the playoffs. That’s exactly why the 2006 AL MVP award will go to Johan Santana.

Parsh, if you’re reading this…hi.