Photo Finish In an American League MVP race almost too close to call, one candidate stands out with an accomplishment unmatched in the majors in 61 years

October 10, 1999

For 131 of the Boston Red Sox' 162 games this season, their ace
righthander, Pedro Martinez, could be found in the dugout,
usually wearing sneakers instead of spikes, his tongue flying
about as fiercely as one of his mischievous fastballs. He had as
much chance of getting into the game as a beer vendor. One night
his teammates got so tired of Martinez's lounge act that they
taped him to a dugout pole and then slapped a strip of adhesive
over his mouth. "We're trying to focus, so we want him out of
the dugout most of the time," says Boston third baseman John
Valentin. "Sometimes it's good when he cuts up like that. But
there are times when you want to go, 'Get the f--- out of here.'"

Elsewhere on those four of every five nights in which the idle
Martinez was auditioning for the Catskills, Texas Rangers
catcher Ivan Rodriguez might have been taking another foul ball
off his cup, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and
Cleveland Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar were probably
gobbling up grounders and zipping around the bases, and
Cleveland rightfielder Manny Ramirez was continuing to drive
more people home than Greyhound. Of course, on the 31 occasions
Martinez did ascend the mound, he slung the ball with an
astonishing efficiency that, when measured against his
contemporaries, has never before been seen in the game. His 2.07
ERA was 2.79 better than that of his league, an unprecedented gap.

The Most Valuable Player award has always seemed to be an
invention by Rorschach, but never more so than this year in the
American League. (Because Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves is
such a clear-cut choice in the National League, no ink blots
need be consulted there this year.) The 28 baseball writers (two
from each city in the American League) who submitted their
ballots before the playoffs began this week had no fewer than
seven worthy candidates to consider for their personalized
interpretation of most valuable. None of those could-be MVPs
represented more of a beguiling blot of confusion than Martinez,
who was either such an all-powerful force for the Red Sox that
he helped them win games even in his sneakers or a Milton Berle
with too much time on his hands.

The pitcher-versus-player debate has unfolded many times with
mixed results (chart, right), most notably when the Los Angeles
Dodgers' Sandy Koufax lost to the San Francisco Giants' Willie
Mays in 1965, the Yankees' Ron Guidry lost to the Red Sox' Jim
Rice in '78 and the Red Sox's Roger Clemens won over the
Yankees' Don Mattingly in '86. (Clemens is the only starting
pitcher to finish first or second in either league's MVP
balloting since '78.) Never before, though, has the value of a
starting pitcher been measured against so many players toting
MVP credentials.

"No matter how you fill out your ballot, you'll get a call from
a city saying, 'How could you vote our guy sixth?'" said Peter
Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun, a member of the electorate, last
week. "It's fascinating. I think the guy who will win is the guy
who gets the most votes in the top five."

Here's who won't win: anyone whose team isn't playing this week,
no matter how impressive his numbers. So Oakland A's first
baseman Jason Giambi, Toronto Blue Jays' rightfielder Shawn
Green and Seattle Mariners' centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr.,
thanks for playing and drive home safely. Also, here's who
shouldn't win: a starting pitcher for a second-place team who
has pitched fewer innings than the Indians' Dave Burba. Sorry,
Pedro.

"Pedro Martinez affects games the day before he pitches and the
day after he pitches," says Tony Massarotti of the Boston
Herald, who cast his first-place vote for Martinez. "[Manager]
Jimy Williams can use his bullpen more before Pedro pitches
because he's going to get seven or eight innings, guaranteed
[from Martinez]. And the day after Pedro pitches, Williams has a
fresh bullpen."

It's a nice theory, though it would carry more weight if
Martinez had pitched at least seven innings in more starts than
the Baltimore Orioles' 12-game loser Scott Erickson (each went
seven or more 21 times) and had finished better than tied for
eighth in the league in innings worked. If a starting pitcher is
going to be more valuable than an every-day player, he'd better
carry an extraordinary load. No starting pitcher has won the MVP
award without chucking at least 253 innings. Martinez threw 213
1/3.

True, Martinez (23-4) struck out more than eight times as many
batters (313) as he walked (37). He allowed no home runs in the
293 at bats against him with runners on. He gave up two earned
runs or fewer in all but five of his starts. He's many wonderful
things. A workhorse isn't among them.

In 1985 the New York Mets' Dwight Gooden put up numbers (24-4,
1.53) similar to Martinez's '99 figures, plus he chewed up 276
2/3 innings, all for a second-place Mets team that took the
National League East-winning St. Louis Cardinals to the last
weekend of the season. Yet Gooden finished fourth in the MVP
balloting. (Cardinals outfielder Willie McGee, the league
batting champion at .353, won the award.) Martinez's numbers
actually are closer to those Greg Maddux put up for the
first-place Atlanta Braves in the strike-shortened 1995 season
(19-2, 1.63, 209 2/3 innings). Maddux finished third in the
balloting; the award went to a guy with 66 RBIs who didn't lead
the league in any offensive category, the Cincinnati Reds' Barry
Larkin. "Pedro's been phenomenal," Red Sox first
baseman-designated hitter Mike Stanley says, "but there's so
much more to the game. You've got to give the MVP to guys who
grind it out over 162 games, especially this year, when you've
got guys putting up Nintendo numbers. Heck, they've got numbers
I can't even get in Nintendo."

Another argument offered by Martinez's backers is this specious
one: Where would 94-68 Boston be without him? That contains an
inherent bias against exactly the kind of player who should be
winning the award: a great player playing for a great team. Or,
as MVP voter Jack O'Connell of The Hartford Courant puts it,
"That's voting on a hypothetical negative. You have to be
careful about putting the wild card on equal footing with
winning a division. It's still the backdoor."

Without the wild card Martinez's candidacy is as moot as was
that of his hero, Juan Marichal, in 1966. Marichal (25-6, 2.23)
walked fewer batters than Martinez while pitching 307 1/3
innings. His Giants finished second with 93 wins. Marichal wound
up sixth in the MVP voting, far behind winner Roberto Clemente
of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Fifteen starting pitchers have finished in the top three in MVP
voting since 1956, the first year writers also chose a Cy Young
Award winner. All 15 pitched for first-place teams. Where would
the Red Sox be without Martinez? They were 68-63 in the games in
which he didn't pitch. (Martinez made two relief appearances.)
That's a pace for 83 wins--which puts them smack dab in a
wild-card race with the A's and the Blue Jays.

"If I win just the Cy Young Award, that's enough for me. I'm
happy just with that," Martinez said last Friday, "but I think a
pitcher should be considered for MVP. I wear a uniform just like
them. I am a player, too."

Who, then, deserves the award? We'll tell you that, after an
assessment of the other leading candidates, starting with ...

Rafael Palmeiro, Rangers. The instructions to the writers who
voted in the original MVP balloting, in 1931, asked them to
consider contributions "offensively and defensively." This
directive is still in effect. Palmeiro took all but 107 of his
565 at bats as a designated hitter, which means he played half
the game for virtually the whole season. While his teammates
were sweating in the field, Palmeiro could, if he desired, watch
the game on TV while reaching for a hunk of pizza. An MVP
shouldn't be someone who can play the same position as you do at
home. While Palmeiro had the luxury of air conditioning and
thinking about nothing but his next at bat...

Rodriguez dominated the game behind the plate like no catcher
since Johnny Bench. Opponents tried to run on Pudge only 72
times all year. He threw out 38 of them. He also picked off 10
runners. Rodriguez also hit .332, the highest average by an
American League catcher since 1937. Alas, Rodriguez had a poor
on-base percentage (.355) and was ordinary in the clutch,
hitting .305 with runners in scoring position (.225 with two
outs in such situations). You can't afford those kinds of
shortcomings in this company. Just ask...

Nomar Garciaparra. Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette didn't
hesitate to call Martinez his choice for MVP instead of
Garciaparra, his All-Star shortstop and the league's leading
hitter (.357). More damaging, Garciaparra missed 27 games because
of injuries. You can't concede that much downtime to stalwarts
like...

Alomar. Not only does he have fine Triple Crown category numbers
(.323, 24, 120), but he also led the league with 138 runs, stole
37 bases, drew 99 walks and--talk about range--played second
base the way Perlman does his Stradivarius. Says Joe Strauss of
the Baltimore Sun, who voted Alomar first, "I look for the guy
who helps his team win in the most ways, most often." That's
sound thinking. Except that would not be Alomar. That would be...

Jeter. The Yankees' shortstop surpassed Alomar in on-base
percentage (.438 to .422), slugging percentage (.552 to .533),
hits (major-league-high 219 to 182) and total bases (346 to 300)
while batting 26 points higher. Jeter also deserves the Gold
Glove in what was a down year with the leather for the perennial
winner at short, Cleveland's Omar Vizquel. Out of a table
setter's spot in the lineup, Jeter even slugged better than 1973
MVP Reggie Jackson's .531. As a number 2 hitter he had 24 homers
and 102 RBIs, and as many total bases as...

Ramirez. Only eight men have driven in more runs in a season
than Ramirez, who had 165 RBIs. All of those players are in the
Hall of Fame. All of them are also long dead. Ramirez drove in
more runs in a season than Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie
Mays, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and everybody else who has
played since 1938.

The knock on Ramirez is that he benefited from the Indians'
having had more runners than the New York City Marathon, but
good hitters on strong offensive teams, such as Paul O'Neill of
the Yankees and B.J. Surhoff of the Orioles, proved that not
everyone could drive those runners in the way Ramirez did.
O'Neill and Surhoff each had more at bats with runners in
scoring position than Ramirez, and neither came within 55 RBIs
of him. That's because Ramirez hit .386 and slugged .757 with
runners in scoring position. "Robbie got on base and got his
hits," Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo says of Alomar,
"but Manny was the guy who scared you. He did the damage. I
mean, all the time. He killed us."

Yes, every once in a while Ramirez needs a compass and a map to
navigate the outfield and the base paths. The RBIs, though, are
only the beginning of the seismic impact he had at the plate at
a time when the American League need only station kegs at third
base to complete its slo-pitch slugfest mentality. Ramirez was
the only player in either league to finish among the top five in
all three Triple Crown categories (his .333 batting average
ranked fifth and 44 home runs tied for third), and he also led
the American League in slugging percentage (.663), finished
second in on-base percentage (.442) and only once played as many
as five consecutive games without an RBI. "I was on to Robbie
and Pudge for most of the year," Stanley says of his MVP
thinking, "but Manny's numbers just kept going up and up and up,
and finally I just said, 'O.K., I give. You've got it.'"

He does here, too, on an unofficial ballot that lists the
candidates as follows: 1) Ramirez, 2) Jeter, 3) Rodriguez, 4)
Alomar, 5) Martinez, 6) Palmeiro, 7) Garciaparra, 8) Giambi, 9)
Green, 10) Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.

Obvious greatness gets overlooked in the mad search for nuance.
The Indians have made a shambles of the American League Central
for five years running, yet they've never had the MVP or Manager
of the Year. Ramirez should be rewarded for amassing a
once-in-a-lifetime season for the first club in 49 years to
score 1,000 runs. He was the dominant player on a dominant team.
It's as obvious as the outline of an ink blot. Isn't it?

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [T of C] COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE Bumper crop Voters had to weigh the attainments of (from left) Ramirez, Martinez, Rodriguez, Garciaparra and Jeter. COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO Most voluble When the masterly Martinez wasn't driving batters batty, he bugged the Sox with his seasonlong lounge act in the dugout. COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL ZITO/SPORTSCHROME Hitter, sitter Despite his gaudy stats, power-packed Palmeiro will suffer in the MVP voting because he was virtually a full-time DH. COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE COLOR PHOTO: PAUL JASIENSKI Manny virtues The rampaging Ramirez was the only major leaguer to finish in the top five in all three Triple Crown categories.

The Signs Are Hard to Read

Pedro Martinez's 1999 performance ranks among the 12 best by a
starting pitcher in the 44 years since the Cy Young Award was
established. His presence in the dazzling dozen, however, offers
mixed hope that he'll get this year's American League Most
Valuable Player award to go along with the Cy Young he's certain
to win. As this chronological list reveals, others with even
better stats than Martinez's have come up short in the MVP vote.
Then again, the Red Sox' Roger Clemens ('86) and the Dodgers'
Don Newcombe ('56), the only starters not on this list to win an
MVP award in the life span of the Cy Young, succeeded with
lesser seasons.

Year Player, Team W-L ERA GS IP BB SO MVP Finish (Winner)

1963 Sandy Koufax,
Dodgers 25-5 1.88 40 311 58 306 1
1965 Sandy Koufax,
Dodgers 26-8 2.04 41 335.2 71 382 2 (Willie Mays,
Giants)
1966 Sandy Koufax,
Dodgers 27-9 1.73 41 323 77 317 2 (Roberto
Clemente, Pirates)
1966 Juan Marichal,
Giants 25-6 2.23 36 307.1 36 222 6 (Clemente)
1968 Bob Gibson,
Cardinals 22-9 1.12 34 304.2 62 268 1
1968 Denny McLain,
Tigers 31-6 1.96 41 336 63 280 1
1971 Vida Blue,
A's 24-8 1.82 39 312 88 301 1
1972 Steve Carlton,
Phillies 27-10 1.97 41 346.1 87 310 5 (Johnny Bench,
Reds)
1978 Ron Guidry,
Yankees 25-3 1.74 35 273.2 72 248 2 (Jim Rice,
Red Sox)
1985 Dwight Gooden,
Mets 24-4 1.53 35 276.2 69 268 4 (Willie McGee,
Cardinals)
1995 Greg Maddux,
Braves 19-2 1.63 28 209.2 23 181 3 (Barry Larkin,
Reds)
1999 Pedro Martinez,
Red Sox 23-4 2.07 29 213.1 37 313 ?

SI's 1999 All-Star Team

C IVAN RODRIGUEZ, Rangers. His 199 hits were second most ever
for a catcher. He also threw out 53% of runners who tried to
steal on him. (Runner-up for catcher slot, Mets' Mike Piazza:
21%.) Meanwhile, Pudge stole 25 himself.

1B MARK MCGWIRE, Cardinals. Gets slight edge over Astros' Jeff
Bagwell because of big advantages in home runs (65-42) and RBIs
(147-126). Honorable mention to A's Jason Giambi and Blue Jays'
Carlos Delgado.

2B ROBERTO ALOMAR, Indians. Put up power hitter's numbers (24
homers, 120 RBIs, .533 slugging percentage) while showing premium
baserunning skills and unsurpassed defense.

SS DEREK JETER, Yankees. Even better all-around season than
Alomar's. Remarkable production (.349, 24 homers, 102 RBIs) from
number 2 spot in lineup. Major league leader in hits (219) also
exhibited better glove and durability than Red Sox' Nomar
Garciaparra or Mariners' Alex Rodriguez.

3B CHIPPER JONES, Braves. Clutch hitter with better on-base
(.441) and slugging (.633) percentages and more runs (116) and
home runs (45) than either Diamondbacks' Matt Williams or Mets'
Robin Ventura.

LF LUIS GONZALEZ, Diamondbacks. National League hits leader
(206) is choice out of a lackluster list of possibilities. He
had better batting average (.336) and on-base (.403) and
slugging (.549) percentages than either Rockies' Dante Bichette,
Orioles' B.J. Surhoff or Reds' Greg Vaughn.

CF BERNIE WILLIAMS, Yankees. Toughest call of any position, with
Pirates' Brian Giles and Mariners' Ken Griffey Jr. holding the
edge in power. This vote, though, is one to curb worship of the
almighty dinger. Williams has huge advantages over Giles and
Griffey in batting average (.342) and hits (202), plus more
walks (100) and better on-base percentage (.435) while still
providing power numbers (25 homers, 115 RBIs).

RF MANNY RAMIREZ, Indians. It took greatest run production (165
RBIs) in 61 years to beat out Cubs' Sammy Sosa, who nearly
joined 1930s sluggers Chuck Klein, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx as
the only players with back-to-back 400-total-bases seasons.
Honorable mention to Blue Jays' Shawn Green and Expos' Vladimir
Guerrero.

DH RAFAEL PALMEIRO, Rangers. American League-leading hitter in
late innings of close games (.413) drove in winning run 20 times.

RHP PEDRO MARTINEZ, Red Sox. So much better than everyone else in
American League, he could have given up 32 earned runs in his
last inning of the season and still won the ERA title.

LHP RANDY JOHNSON, Diamondbacks (right). Amassed fourth-most
strikeouts in baseball history (364) in major-league-high 271
2/3 innings. Arizona scored zero or one run in eight of his
starts, precluding 20-win season.

RP BILLY WAGNER, Astros. Phenomenal 14.95 strikeouts per nine
innings gives him a slight edge over another Mr. Automatic,
Yankees' Mariano Rivera, who was unscored upon over season's
final 10 weeks. --T.V.

"Pedro's been phenomenal," says Stanley, "but you have to give
the MVP to guys who grind it out over 162 games."

"Manny was the guy who scared you," says the Orioles' Perlozzo.
"He did the damage. I mean, all the time."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)