I live in a nice part of Chicago.
Every year since 1946, University of Chicago scholars, including such eminences as
If you're wondering when I'll come around to baseball, you clearly haven't spent much time reading or talking about Most Valuable Player awards lately. However much mock sophistry esteemed professors can summon once a year on the subject of Jewish holiday foods, it's nothing compared to the quite real sophistry that baseball fans and pundits can summon when the subject of a plaque adorned with
This is delightful, one of the best things about baseball, precisely because it's so absurd and because so much air and ink and so many electrons are spent on something that means so little to anyone. Which is why one should be thrilled by the new
Until now, anyone who wanted to get into a good argument over an MVP award had to key in on the American League, and even that one isn't all that interesting.
MVP debates, in their pure form, are about what different people consider important. I tend to side against the red-faced bellowers (and their more respectable fellow travelers) and with those who think the best player in the league should get the thing. This is mainly because the plain text of the actual
With Ramirez, though, the case actually becomes interesting. If you go by a good all-encompassing statistic like
This sounds right, even if you go by entirely conventional statistics. Ramirez is a competent shortstop who's leading the league in batting average and has popped 57 extra base hits with a month left in the year. Pujols is an excellent first baseman who's leading in on-base average, slugging average, runs and home runs. Utley isn't leading in anything except being hit by pitches, but he's sixth in OPS and is probably the best-fielding second baseman in the league. There's not that much to distinguish one from another.
That leaves us with intangibles. Pujols is the widely revered anchor of a Cardinals team that entered Thursday, somewhat shockingly, tied for the best record in the league. He hits home runs on demand for sick children. Utley is as tough a player as there is in the sport, probably the most important player on the defending world champions. And while Ramirez is the best player on a Marlins club that despite a recent slide is still far closer to a playoff spot than it has much right being, he was also just accused by a teammate, openly and in front of reporters, of caring less about winning than about his new $70 million contract.
Here is an argument almost worth having. If you have three players of essentially equal value, and the one who's probably most important to his team is openly accused of malingering by his partner on the keystone, should that knock him right out of contention? Even going by a strict, literal reading of the ballot, it might. If I had a vote and had to send it in today, though, I'd probably still cast it for Ramirez.
One shouldn't be all that concerned with Uggla's opinion of just how injured Ramirez is, and just how hard he should be trying to play through it. Shortstops who don't care don't generally hit like
What one should -- or at least can, as one probably shouldn't -- be concerned with is Ramirez's strength of offense and defense. Per WAR it's slightly lower than his rivals', but not much so, which leaves the question of which of them is most irreplaceable. That goes to the Marlin.
If the Cardinals lost Pujols, they could still find a first baseman who could really hit. The Phillies would have a harder time replacing Utley, but not as hard a time as the Marlins would have replacing Ramirez; if a second baseman who can hit for a .970 OPS is hard to find, a shortstop is that much harder. That's logic, and I'm sticking to it.
What I don't expect is that voters will agree. Since 2000 baseball writers have voted on 18 MVP awards. By my count half of them -- the four that went to
This isn't a bad record, and it shows that for all the articles you'll read about the semantics of the word
Line those last two factors up and, assuming everyone plays more or less as they have to date through the end of the year, Ramirez will probably lose out on the tiebreaker and Pujols will probably lose out because he's always the best in the league and you can't just give the award to the same guy every year unless he's routinely running up on-base averages above .500. That would leave Utley as your 2009 MVP, something no one should really be too upset about.
What really counts, though, is that there's every possibility of something as fantastical and absurd as a latke-hamantash debate involving
Then imagine the red-faced hooting that will go on! St. Louis partisans would argue for their man, and rightly so; Philadelphia partisans would do things I don't like to think about, and some loud contingent would call everyone else insane and point to the plain text of the ballot.
A great cry would go up in the land, and enormous passions would be raised for next to no reason at all. I like the idea; I'm almost rooting for it.