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A brief history of Cardinals playoff MVPs

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If MLB, like the NHL, had an MVP award for entire postseasons, which Cardinals would have taken home the hardware?

2011 World Series Game 7 - Texas Rangers v St Louis Cardinals

Since 1955, the World Series Most Valuable Player Award has been distributed to the baseball player voted to have contributed most positively to his team’s performance in the World Series. Although it has always specifically pertained to the World Series itself, the award was a de facto playoff MVP award until 1969, when the League Championship Series became a thing. Whether this was their intent or not, this was how it worked out.

As such, Major League Baseball does not hand out a playoff MVP award. This is not particularly unique—the National Football League and National Basketball Association also award an MVP award for the final round of its postseasons. But the National Hockey League, currently in the midst of the final round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, instead presents the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player not of the final round of the playoffs, but instead to the most valuable player of the entire postseason.

Perhaps baseball would have gone this route had the award been implemented during the League Championship Series (or League Division Series, or Wild Card Game for that matter) era, but the status quo is a very powerful thing. But the idea of a baseball version of the Conn Smythe Trophy—call it the Conn(ie) Mack Trophy if you’re so inclined to corniness—amuses me. And the St. Louis Cardinals have had their share of successful playoff runs since 1969, so for no real reason, here is a look at who deserved the award for postseason MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals.

To save your time and mine, I limited it to postseasons in which the Cardinals made the World Series—as you will see, I’m not opposed to giving the award to teams who did not win the World Series, but I do strongly prefer that he play close to the maximum number of games, particularly when dealing with such a small sample size as it is.


1982

World Series MVP: Darrell Porter

Playoff MVP: Darrell Porter

The Cardinals catcher was a deserving NLCS MVP, with an OPS of 1.603 in three games against the Atlanta Braves. He arguably should not have won World Series MVP, as his .775 OPS was far more pedestrian, and Joaquin Andujar won two games with a 1.35 ERA. Robin Yount had a strong offensive World Series in a losing effort, though his ALCS was unexceptional (the MVP award went to California Angels outfielder Fred Lynn in a losing effort). That said, it’s hard to argue against the guy who won MVP of each Cardinals series as the overall postseason MVP.

1985

World Series MVP: Bret Saberhagen

Playoff MVP: George Brett

The Royals ace deserved World Series MVP after starting and completing two victories against the Cardinals, allowing just one run and one walk, while striking out ten batters. But he struggled in the ALCS, allowing five runs in 7 13 innings in his two starts. Meanwhile, Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett won ALCS MVP and his .859 OPS was tops in the World Series among Kansas City’s starting lineup. The top Cardinals candidate was probably John Tudor, a valid Cy Young candidate in a universe without Dwight Gooden, who had a 2.93 postseason ERA, as NLCS MVP Ozzie Smith had a downright awful World Series OPS of .309, courtesy of just two hits in seven games.

1987

World Series MVP: Frank Viola

Playoff MVP: Tony Pena

Viola started three World Series games for the Twins, winning two of them, and won MVP despite a relatively pedestrian 3.72 ERA. But his 5.25 ALCS ERA probably disqualifies him from the playoffs-wide award. ALCS MVP Gary Gaetti had a decent World Series, OPSing .852, but in this case, I’m giving the award to Cardinals catcher Tony Pena in a losing effort. He posted an identical .935 OPS in the NLCS and World Series (the NLCS MVP went to Jeffrey Leonard, deservedly, in a losing effort for the Giants), tops for the Cardinals in both rounds among starters, and unlike the future Cardinal Gaetti, played a premium defensive position.

2004

World Series MVP: Manny Ramirez

Playoff MVP: David Ortiz

Ramirez was only marginally better than Ortiz in the curse-breaking Boston Red Sox World Series win (Mark Bellhorn and Bill Mueller both had higher OPSes while playing in all four games, but that’s more trivia than a serious indictment of giving the award to Manny Ramirez), and Ortiz was undoubtedly the best offensive player for the Red Sox during the postseason. His 1.086 World Series OPS was his worst of the run, following a 1.199 in his ALCS MVP-winning series and a 1.688 in the ALDS.

As far as Cardinals are concerned, Larry Walker had the only World Series worthy of comparison to Ortiz’s production, but it required an exceptional playoff run to surpass Big Papi. NLCS MVP Albert Pujols had a better World Series than you may remember, but even so, I’ll defer to the ring-holder.

2006

World Series MVP: David Eckstein

Playoff MVP: Yadier Molina

Molina had a very good World Series, and could have laid claim to winning MVP of that had Scott Rolen not been even better (wait, who won the World Series MVP? Wait, really? Okay then). But Molina also had a valid case for NLCS MVP, won by Jeff Suppan in an effort I won’t get too upset being rewarded with the actual hardware, leading starters in OPS while authoring one of the most exciting moments in Cardinals postseason history. Solid cases can also be made for Albert Pujols, who lacked a 2004 NLCS level series but was consistent throughout, and Jeff Weaver, who had a 2.43 ERA and was good in each round of the playoffs.

For the Detroit Tigers, Kenny Rogers pitched 23 shutout innings and was easily the most valuable player on the AL champions, but it’s hard to pick somebody who made just three starts in three rounds over the consistency and omnipresence of Yadier Molina, even if you are able to ignore that one thing.

2011

World Series MVP: David Freese

Playoff MVP: David Freese

David Freese won MVP and certainly had the most dramatic, iconic performance of the series, but several other Cardinals also had valid arguments for the award—Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter, Allen Craig, even Albert Pujols for the fear he put into the heart of Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington. But Freese was also NLCS MVP, in a series he dominated to an even greater extent, and played well in the NLDS. Pujols had similar offensive production throughout the run, and Carpenter had the iconography of his NLDS Game 5 (although he was less great in his other two pre-World Series starts), but I’ll defer to Freese as the Cardinals candidate.

Although he had a relatively pedestrian World Series, with a .773 OPS, Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers dominated the ALCS to such an extent that I can’t not mention him, even though his ALDS was quite bad. Cruz hit six home runs in six games, good for a 1.713 OPS, and also his candidacy gives me an excuse to embed video of his one-on-one matchup with Freese.

2013

World Series MVP: David Ortiz

Playoff MVP: Jon Lester

It’s hard to not give the award to the man who put up a cartoonish 1.948 OPS in the World Series (#2 on the Red Sox was Jacoby Ellsbury, with a .599), but Ortiz had a sluggish ALCS—he hit a grand slam in Game 2, but got only one other hit the entire series. He still merits consideration, and he was also very strong in the ALDS, but I’m going with Jon Lester here, who allowed just one run in his 15 13 World Series innings, walking one and striking out fifteen. He was also strong in the prior two series, and in the postseason as a whole, Lester had a 1.56 ERA in 34 2/3 innings.

The top Cardinals contender was NLCS MVP Michael Wacha, but his numbers are a tick behind those of Lester, as his ERA jumped to 2.64 after a poor World Series Game 6 start in which the rookie allowed six earned runs in 3 23 innings. This is a debatable award, but it would be nearly impossible to justify giving it to a Cardinal.


As hockey fans may be aware, the Conn Smythe Trophy is frequently awarded to undeserving winners on the basis of narrative over merit (only seven non-Canadians have ever won the award, and just last year, the award went to a Canadian player while an American teammate had better stats). But mercifully, this award exists solely in our hearts and it will not be tainted by the harsh reality of bad awards voting.