In 1987, Chicago Cubs right fielder Andre Dawson led the National League with 49 home runs and 137 RBIs. He was the toast of Chi-Town. Everybody loved him. His loyal fans in the bleachers paid non-stop tribute to The Hawk with arms raised high, bowing at the waist in that classic "Wayne's World" We-Are-Not-Worthy Salute. Remember that?
Meanwhile, despite the heroic efforts of the Mighty Dawson, the Cubs lost the vast majority of their games, finishing dead last in the NL East, far behind the division champion St Louis Cardinals. That didn't matter to the sports writers voting for the most "worthy" candidate to receive the NL Most Valuable Player Award - it went to Dawson.
At the time, I was a little irked that Cardinals slugger Jack Clark - who had his best season ever despite having it shortened by a severe ankle injury in early September - didn't win it. Clark's acrobatic teammate, Ozzie Smith, actually finished second in the voting that year, putting together his best season ever - both offensively (75 RBIs) and defensively - he was never better.
Back in '87, measuring player performance was done the old-fashioned - and sometimes misleading way - things like "batting average", "home runs" and "runs batted in" were the crucial barometers of performance. Today, we realize "on base percentage" paints a better picture. Therefore, batters who are adept at drawing "base on balls" are generally more helpful to their team than free-swingers who rarely walk. It's so obvious, but rarely got much attention until guys like Billy Beane (Money Ball) started analyzing offensive production more effectively, about a decade ago.
So, let's take a closer look at the true numbers Dawson (AD) and Clark (JC) put up back in '87. A category in bold type indicates a #1 NL ranking. The conclusion: Clark should have been named Most Valuable Player that year - just as I suspected!
R HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ WAR
JC 93 35 106 136 .286 .459 .597 1.055 176 6.5
AD 90 49 137 32 .287 .328 .568 .896 130 2.7
There are several fascinating observations here. Clark walked 104 more times than the free-swinging Dawson, accounting for the NL leading OBP - SLG - OPS - OPS+ - All true measurements of offensive production. Dawson's OBP is extremely low for someone considered to be a league MVP!
Sure, it would have been one thing if Dawson was on the pennant winning team. Instead, Clark played for the winner, and based on his true production, it's not surprising!
I rest my case. Sorry Andre, we have to give the MVP Award to Jack the Ripper now. Only because he deserved it all along.
I knew it!