In our ninth installment of this MLB Monday series, we’re creeping closer to what we might recognize more as a “modern” era of baseball history—and you’ll see why below. That being said, this was also the year of the Black Sox World Series scandal, so even many casual baseball fans get the significance of this season as baseball soon took on a permanent commissioner to oversee the sport.
On with the 1919 awards show …
1919 American League MVP: Babe Ruth
This is an open-and-shut case, as Boston Red Sox left fielder, and still sometime starting pitcher, Babe Ruth led all major leaguers in WAR with a 9.1 mark. The next best player in the AL posted just 6.7 WAR, and that was Detroit left fielder Bobby Veach. At the plate, the Babe led the league in runs (103), home runs (29), RBI (113), on-base percentage (.456), slugging percentage (.667), OPS (1.114), and total bases (284) while hitting .322 in 130 games. For the record, he also posted a 9-5 record on the mound with a 2.97 ERA and one save in 19 appearances.
1919 National League MVP: Heinie Groh
The St. Louis Cardinals moved Rogers Hornsby to third base for the better part of this season, and although he didn’t lead the NL in any traditional offensive categories, he did post the highest OPS+ mark in the league. Hornsby also led the senior circuit in WAR, outdistancing Cincinnati Reds third baseman Heinie Groh (6.7 to 5.4).
However, the Cards finished a whopping 40.5 games behind the Reds in the standings, and that is pretty significant. Fielding wizard Art Fletcher, the shortstop for the second-place New York Giants, finished with 5.3 WAR, most of it on defense (3.9 dWAR). While the Giants finished nine games behind the Reds, you could argue Fletcher was also more valuable than Hornsby.
Groh was a positive defender (0.2 dWAR) while also leading the NL in OPS (.823) during the 1919 season. He produced a very good all-around season, albeit not spectacular on any level, tossing in a .310 average, 11 triples, 21 steals, and 56 walks. Groh has been a contender for this award in prior seasons (1915, 1916, and 1918), so we have little concern here. Plus, it’s nice to see Groh rewarded for his efforts in a deserved year.
1919 AL Cy Young: Eddie Cicotte
There are only two guys worth considering here: Washington Senators ace Walter Johnson, five-time winner in prior seasons, and Chicago White Sox star Eddie Cicotte, who won our Cy Young Award in 1917. Johnson’s WAR was higher (10.6 to 9.6), but the Senators finished an incredible 32 games behind Chicago in the AL pennant chase. That makes Cicotte’s season a lot more meaningful, both at the time and historically.
The White Sox starter led the AL in wins (29), winning percentage (.806), complete games (30), and innings pitched (306 2/3) with a 1.82 ERA, while the Big Train led the junior circuit in ERA (1.49), shutouts (7), and WHIP (0.985). Yes, Johnson had the “better” season, but Cicotte’s efforts meant more in the grand scheme of the baseball universe for 1919.
1919 NL Cy Young: Babe Adams
We have a three-way battle for this award, between Chicago Cubs ace Pete Alexander (7.4 WAR), Pittsburgh Pirates stud Babe Adams (7.4), and Cubs stalwart Hippo Vaughn (7.3). Alexander has won this award four times while with the Philadelphia Phillies, and Vaughn won it in 1918. So how do we decide?
The Cubs finished 21 games behind the Reds, and the Pirates finished 3.5 games behind the Cubs. Clearly, however, the combination of Alexander and Vaughn gave both those men a nice advantage over Adams, who had no such support in the Pittsburgh rotation.
In the absence of any valid candidates from better teams, Adams produced the most meaningful season of any NL pitcher. For the record, Adams led the senior circuit in WHIP (0.896), while also posting 17 victories, a 1.98 ERA, 23 complete games, six shutouts, and one save. He deserves this recognition.