Don Mattingly talked Codes in Los Angelesthis week, suggesting to ESPN that Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp did not win the NL MVP Award at least in part due to an unwritten rule mandating that such players come from winning teams.
It’s certainly not a written rule. As Anna McDonald reported at the Hardball Times, “The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931: (1) actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense; (2) number of games played; (3) general character, disposition, loyalty and effort; (4) former winners are eligible; and (5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.”
The Code to which Mattingly referred has been truly flaunted only once, in 1987, when Andre Dawson took the honor, despite playing for the last-place Cubs. (In 1997, Larry Walker’s Rockies were a third-place team, and in 1989 the Brewers and Robin Yount finished in fourth. Neither, however, was a losing club, although Milwaukee finished at an even.500.)
In the wake of Ryan Braun’s PED investigation, Mattingly said he thinks Kemp should’ve won the award in the first place.
“You guys (the media) always ask me about unwritten rules, about catchers and stuff like that,” he said. “Then we have the unwritten rules about voting, because (Kemp) wasn’t on a winning team. You guys gotta get your unwritten rules together.”
The argument here is obvious: How valuable can a player on a last-place team actually be? This conversation occurs every winter—not only as it pertains to the validity of star players on losing squads, but pitchers’ eligibility for the MVP as well. It’s why some advocate for a “Most Outstanding Player Award,” and why some say that none of it matters—it’s all just a popularity contest, anyway. How else could Ted Williams bat .406, lead the league in home runs … and finish second to Joe DiMaggio? Or winning the triple crown twice—and losing the MVP both times, first to Joe Gordon, then again to DiMaggio.
For what it’s worth, all three of those Williams-led Red Sox teams finished with winning records, in either second or third place in an eight-team league.
Must have been the Code that handed those awards to members of the pennant-winning Yankees. Don Mattingly would not have approved.