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The ten greatest Cardinals award robberies

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In honor of Cardinals who deserved some hardware

St. Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Last week, Major League Baseball gave out its major awards—Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young Award, and Most Valuable Player. To nobody’s surprise, the St. Louis Cardinals were shut out—two Cardinals, Paul DeJong (a distant second to Cody Bellinger for Rookie of the Year) and Tommy Pham (11th for MVP), put up admirable fights, but it takes defiantly Cardinal-tinted glasses to see these awards as robberies of Cardinals players.

But the Cardinals have had some players throughout their history who were denied awards they arguably deserved. Is this a sign of voter bias against the Cardinals? Absolutely not. Cardinals players have also won awards with retrospectively insufficient statistical backing. But this isn’t about those players. It is instead a celebration of Cardinals who deserved awards but did not receive them. These rankings are based on a completely arbitrary formula I invented and you don’t, or at least shouldn’t, care about.

Honorable Mentions

  • In 1940, the NL MVP award went to Cincinnati Reds first baseman Frank McCormick. McCormick played for a team which won the pennant by 12 games and was worth 5.7 Wins Above Replacement, but Cardinals first baseman Johnny Mize was superior by both traditional measures (he led in all three Triple Crown stats, including a 43-19 home run lead) and modern ones (he led the NL in WAR with 7.4 and bested McCormick by 189 points of OPS).
  • I’m not so sure that Dwight Gooden didn’t deserve to win the award, hence this is relegated to Honorable Mention, but 1984 Bruce Sutter deserves credit for his 3rd place Cy Young finish, as he managed to out-WAR winner Rick Sutcliffe despite starting zero games.

#10, Mark McGwire, 1998 NL MVP

In 1998, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were constantly listed together, and while McGwire famously finished the season with four home runs more than Sosa, it was the Chicago Cubs right fielder who won MVP thanks in large part to being on a playoff team. But while McGwire had only slightly more home run power, he was substantially stronger by on-base percentage, thanks to 162 walks (Sosa had 73). But, as was often the case for about a decade-and-a-half, a case can be made for Barry Bonds, less valuable at the plate but considerably better in the field than McGwire.

#9, Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark, 1987 NL MVP

#2 and #3 in NL MVP voting in 1987 were Cardinals—Ozzie Smith finished second while Jack Clark finished third. Often, MVP robberies come by virtue of rewarding players on winning teams, but this was the opposite—the Cardinals led the NL with 95 wins while MVP Andre Dawson played on a last-place Chicago Cubs team. Ozzie faced an uphill climb, being a defensive whiz for an award which usually rewards offense (he was fine at the plate, but when a player has zero home runs on a season, it’s hard to compete with MVP-caliber sluggers). Clark, meanwhile, had a proto-Joey Votto season, leading the NL in OPS with a .286/.459/.597 triple-slash. Several players, notably Tony Gwynn, Eric Davis, and Dale Murphy, put up higher WAR totals than either member of the Cardinals duo, but the Cardinals duo outpaced Andre Dawson by a wide margin.

#8, Ernie Broglio, 1960 Cy Young Award

Although best known today as a punchline in relation to Lou Brock, Ernie Broglio was a terrific pitcher in his prime with the Cardinals. And in 1960, the 24 year-old led MLB pitchers in WAR and, by that metric, deserved the MLB Cy Young Award (the award was not yet divided by league). But the award went to Vern Law, who benefited from playing for the NL pennant-winning Pittsburgh Pirates and spending the full season as a starting pitcher, while Broglio alternated between the rotation at the bullpen (this didn’t quite mean in 1960 what it means today—he still threw 226 13 innings).

#7, Bob Gibson, 1969 NL MVP

Some people don’t like giving MVP to pitchers, so I docked this entry some points for that. But at 11.3 WAR, Gibson certainly deserved to finish ahead of the six pitchers who finished ahead of him in MVP voting. What kind of justice exists in a world in which the MLB WAR leader finishes tied for 30th in MVP voting while Ernie Banks finished 12th while finishing with -0.7 WAR? It should be noted that the award’s winner, San Francisco Giants first baseman Willie McCovey, was the NL’s WAR leader among position players and was a completely fine pick for the award if you must give it to a position player (though he very narrowly beat out a different pitcher, Tom Seaver, for it).

#6, Harvey Haddix, 1953 NL Rookie of the Year

Comparing position players to pitchers is a difficult exercise, and this was particularly the case in 1953, so I’ll forgive voters for giving NL Rookie of the Year to Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jim Gilliam. But in retrospect, Harvey Haddix was truly phenomenal, going 20-9 with a 3.06 ERA in 253 innings. He was the NL’s third best pitcher by WAR (behind Hall of Famers Robin Roberts and Warren Spahn) and decisively edged Gilliam by the metric, 7.4 to 3.9.

#5, Stan Musial, 1944 NL MVP

Although he went through a period in the late 20th and early 21st centuries of being criminally underrated in the macro baseball sense, Stan Musial was generally regarded roughly as well as he deserved during his playing career, but he did fall short of a few deserved MVP awards—the same can be said of many great athletes in many sports (LeBron James and Sidney Crosby are notable modern examples), as voters get bored sometimes. In 1950, Musial finished second for MVP behind Jim Konstanty, who had 2.9 fewer WAR. The next year, Musial finished second behind Roy Campanella, who had 2.4 fewer wins. But the biggest Musial robbery came in 1944, when he finished fourth. With 8.8 WAR, Musial led the league, and yet it was his teammate, shortstop Marty Marion, who won the award—while Marion was a good fielder at a premium position, his offensive production (.267/.324/.362) lagged considerably behind Musial’s (.347/.440/.549).

#4, Keith Hernandez, 1979 NL MVP

So technically, Keith Hernandez won MVP in 1979. And while one could make the argument for a different NL player to win MVP, such as Dave Winfield or Mike Schmidt, such a compelling argument does not exist for Pirates first baseman Willie Stargell, who split the award with Keith Hernandez. Hernandez, the supreme defensive first baseman of his era, was also a better hitter than Stargell. Stargell, by WAR, was the 9th best player on his own team. Strictly on merit, Stargell was clearly outpaced by (among others) teammate Dave Parker, but somehow, Pops received ten first-place votes in what increasingly looks like a lifetime achievement award.

#3, Albert Pujols, 2006 NL MVP

Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies, in his prime, was a terrific hitter, and 2006 was his best year. He’s also a local of the St. Louis area, attended (Southwest, at the time) Missouri State University, and seems to be a very pleasant man. But Pujols deserved his second consecutive NL MVP award in 2006. He trailed Howard in home runs and RBI, but was a better hitter by wRC+ (174 to 162) and built a 3.3 WAR edge largely thanks to superior base running and far superior defense at first base.

#2, Albert Pujols, 2007 NL MVP

2007 was a wide-open year for NL MVP, and while Pujols did lead the league in WAR, thanks to a .997 OPS and easily his best season statistically as a defensive first baseman, one can make an argument for other players—but Pujols finished in 9th. Perhaps it was fatigue and perhaps it was that Pujols played, for the only time in his Cardinals career, on a below-.500 team. Perhaps it was that his offensive numbers look relatively pedestrian compared to the amazing level of his previous seasons. But that Pujols finished third among first basemen while putting up more WAR (8.7 to 6.5) than the other two first basemen—Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard—combined, is a testament to a great Albert Pujols season that went almost completely overlooked.

#1, Bob Gibson, 1969 NL Cy Young Award

Yes, I discussed his MVP case earlier, but that Bob Gibson, sandwiched between back-to-back Cy Young campaigns and coming off perhaps the greatest pitching season ever, didn’t garner a single Cy Young vote in 1969 is preposterous. Sure, his ERA increased by over a run, but his 2.18 ERA still trailed only Juan Marichal and bested that of the two men who did receive votes, Tom Seaver and Phil Niekro.

That only first-place votes existed makes Gibson being completely shut out slightly less bad, but the fact remains that Gibson deserved first place votes. Gibby was 2nd in ERA, 1st in FIP, and he easily bested the two vote recipients in innings, strikeouts, basically every conceivable measurement besides wins (of which Gibson still managed 20). And this was in a season in which baseball made it harder for pitchers because Gibson was just too good in 1968.