Another award season has come and gone, and the Met display case has been modestly enhanced. Two Gold Gloves, for Wright and Beltran; another shiny Silver Slugger for Wright and his 124 RBI — man on third/nobody out notwithstanding; one semi-official Comeback Player of the Year for Fernando Tatis (Sporting News version, not MLB's)…nice, unobtrusive additions, but nothing that requires another wing or a press conference. No Manager of the Year for the 39th consecutive November; no Rookie of the Year for the 24th consecutive campaign; no Cy Young for the 23rd straight year. No MVP after 47 years in business.
This wasn't the year to make too rabid a case that any of our contenders got robbed. Santana could have been Cy Young, but Lincecum was hotter longer. The Most Valuable Delgado bandwagon lost some steam there toward the end. Jerry Manuel got a touch of support for skipper honors but that's not a fight I'd pick. And Daniel Murphy's 131 at-bats weren't really enough to ROTY him up, though it was just enough to disqualify him for 2009 (assuming he's healthy).
I've always taken a great interest in where Mets rate in these votes and an outsized share of pride when one of them wins something or, in recent years, comes moderately close to it. I'm beginning to wane in this regard as I have in the Hall of Fame voting. It's yet another one of those baseball things that's out of my control (well, all baseball things are out of my control, but I can fool myself into thinking I have something to do with more immediate Met matters) and too heavily dependent on the judgment of others — others who do not have Met interests at heart or even top of mind.
But it's nice to be in the conversation. Johan finishing third for the Cy was pretty monumental in recent Met pitching history. The last time a Met pitcher drew as many first-place votes as Santana was the last time a Met pitcher won the darn thing, 1985, when Doc did it. Our Gang of Five that won MVP votes — Wright, Delgado, Santana, Beltran, Reyes — was our biggest contingent since 1986 when six Mets (Carter, Hernandez, Knight, McDowell, Dykstra, Ojeda) collected points. At least three Mets have shown up in the Most Valuable totals every year for the last four years.
No, we never win the MVP, but it's a far cry from how we used to lose it. We never used to show up at all.
In 17 separate seasons, representing 36% of the franchise's life, no Met received a single vote for Most Valuable Player, according to the tabs kept by Baseball-Reference.com. Mind you, each ballot lists ten players, ranked first to tenth. Two beat writers per team in each league vote. Thus, in National League MVP voting, there are theoretically 320 opportunities for a player from any given team to garner support, even if it's just a tenth-place vote. Seventeen times, between 20 and 32 writers (the number varying based on number of teams in the league since 1962) voted and none of them saw fit to recognize a single Met as one of the ten most valuable or best players in the league. Whatever criteria an individual writer used, 17 times nobody thought it applied to a Met.
Talk about irrelevance. Talk about feeling excluded. Talk about a lack of validation at the end of a long hard slog of a season.
It shouldn't surprise you that all 17 of the seasons in question were seasons in which the Mets had a losing record. Only seven times have the Mets lost more games than they've won yet had a player show up in the MVP balloting. You might figure that some Met had such a standout year that he transcended the team's performance and attracted a great deal of support. It's never happened. The only Met to finish in the Top Ten in voting for MVP when the Mets were sub-.500 was Howard Johnson, who finished fifth in 1991 after leading the league in homers (38), RBI (117) and stealing 30 bases. He didn't receive a single first-place vote.
It's quite dispiriting to examine a given year's MVP balloting, read a long list of names (34 in 2003) and see no Mets. It's like the National League had a party and our invitation got lost in the mail. All it would have taken for posterity's sake was for one writer — a Mets beat writer or somebody else with an open mind — to have noticed, for instance, that in 1981's infamous second season, the Mets made a pretty decent run at first. Dave Kingman finished the season third in homers, tenth in ribbies and sixth in walks. Only Mike Schmidt, the eventual MVP, hit home runs more frequently than Kingman. This was Dave's first season back with the Mets; he made an impact on their fortunes. Hence, you had some “value” to go along with some stats.
Nobody could throw him a tenth-place vote? Journeyman catcher Milt May, for having one of those above-average years for a team that finished a little better than previously managed (3½ back in the second half), was thrown a tenth-place vote, tying him for 25th and last among MVP candidates. Milt May hit .310 with two homers for the Giants. Twenty-six players from ten of the twelve extant National League clubs received at least one Most Valuable Player point in 1981. The Mets and Padres were completely shut out.
This is not a jihad against Milt May's only MVP vote ever nor a revisionist revolt on behalf of Dave Kingman (who hit .221 and led the league in strikeouts) per se. It's just an example of the way these things have worked. Seventeen times out of 47, it was as if the Mets hadn't even played a season. We understand we can only make the playoffs now and then (not as much now as we would have thought). But individually, to trudge through the schedule and be told, sorry, nobody here was particularly valuable — in fact, everybody here was worthless — is bracing, to say the least. You and I watch the Mets so closely and are convinced, in any year, that somebody had a good year, that somebody made a difference for the better, that somebody was the reason we lost only 95 games instead of 103. Then you have this body, the Baseball Writers Association of America (keepers of the world's worst Web site; seriously, don't stare directly into it), making evaluations for the ages, and you and I are told: no, not really, nobody on your side was any good for the past six months.
It's a slap in the face. It's a bigger slap in the face, I believe, than a Met never having won an MVP, than the three times — Seaver '69, Hernandez '84, Strawberry '88 — a Met finished second instead of first. It's like we didn't even exist.
Not the case in 2008. Wright finished seventh, Delgado ninth. Santana, at 14th, finished ahead of Lincecum and Webb, the two pitchers who finished ahead of him for Cy Young. Beltran at 21st and Reyes, tied for 24th, rounded out the Met delegation among 27 National Leaguers named on at least one ballot. All things considered, it was a pretty good showing.
Beats the hell out of 1962-63; 1965-66; 1974; 1977-82 (Tom Seaver got one tenth-place vote in '77, so if you want to slice a third of that off considering he started the season as a Met, be my guest); 1992-93; 1995; and 2002-04. We complain a lot nowadays if our team does something silly like lose its last game of the year to cost itself a playoff spot, but obviously the mere act of contending goes a long way in maintaining relevancy. The idea is to get to the playoffs, of course, but failing that (which is something 22 of 30 teams do every year), it's nice to at least be spoken of in some positive light when all is said and done.