We have reached a Golden Decade on MLB Monday, for the 1950s provide baseball fans with some of the best history in terms of amazing players and memorable seasons. Don’t believe us? Over the next 10 weeks, you will see what we mean …
On with the show!
1950 AL MVP: Phil Rizzuto (original), Larry Doby (revised)
There was a great pennant race in the American League, as four teams finished within six games of each other. All the other teams in the circuit finished under .500 for the season. That could make picking the MVP a challenge.
The top four positions players were New York Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto (6.8 WAR), Cleveland Indians Larry Doby (6.7), Yankees catcher Yogi Berra (6.1), and Cleveland third baseman Al Rosen (5.8). New York won the pennant, and Cleveland finished fourth, six games back. No other candidates really make the cut here.
Let’s start with Rizzuto and Doby: The former led the league in sacrifice hits (19) while posting an .857 OPS, while the latter topped his peers in on-base percentage (.442) and OPS (.986). Now, Rizzuto also finished second in the AL for dWAR (2.1), while Doby was a positive defender himself. Both played key positions on the diamond, of course.
Did Berra or Rosen do anything significant to top their teammates? The Yankees catcher didn’t lead the league in anything, although Rosen did hit 37 home runs while getting plunked 10 times—the best numbers in the AL for those categories. Both were positive defenders at their important positions, too.
Being the era that it was, Rizzuto won the vote, and Berra finished third. Doby? He was 8th in the vote, while Rosen was 17th! This was a clear Yankees bias at the time, which is why we are here, of course. New York won the pennant with a roster that still included Joe DiMaggio (5.3 WAR) and four star pitchers that combined for 13.3 WAR on the mound—including a young Whitey Ford. This was an All-Star team on its own, for sure.
Cleveland won the Series in 1948, of course, and the roster still featured a stellar rotation with Bob Lemon and Bob Feller in it—not to mention Early Winn. When we total up WAR for the top dozen players on each roster, this is what we get: New York with 42.5 WAR and Cleveland with 40.6 WAR.
The Yankees had a slightly top-heavier roster, and New York posted a 14-8 record against the Indians. But the depth factors in here, too, as with the payroll disparity created by the top attendance in the league helped the Yankees, too. Where does this leave us? Rizzuto was the best player on the best team, but that doesn’t always convey value. Doby was the second-best player in the league on a team that came up short in a pennant race.
The Pythagorean projection for each team reveals a difference of just four wins, as well. That shrinks the advantage for Rizzuto in terms of value, and we know the Yankees could have just bought a different guy to replace their shortstop if they needed to. Is that fair? You tell us: It was an unfair time in baseball.
We go with Doby here for a few contextual reasons, and we wouldn’t argue with anyone too strongly if they preferred Rizzuto. It is just one of those historical close calls, but we think media bias had a big part in it.
1950 NL MVP: Jim Konstanty (original), Jackie Robinson (revised)
The Philadelphia Phillies won the pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers by two games, with the New York Giants finishing five games out first place. Phillies pitcher Jim Konstanty won the MVP vote, and no Philly position player finished anywhere near the top of the NL in WAR. The three best position players were New York second baseman Eddie Stanky (8.2), Brooklyn second baseman Jackie Robinson (7.4), and St. Louis Cardinals legend Stan Musial (7.3). The Cards finished 12.5 games behind the Phillies, for the record.
Musial was second in the vote, while Stanky was third. Robinson was a shocking 15th, one year after winning the award. Musial won the batting title (.346) while posting NL-best marks in slugging percentage (.596) and OPS (1.034). Meanwhile, Stanky was tops in walks (144), OBP (.460), and HBP (12) while hitting .300 on the nose. What about Robinson? He hit .328 with a .923 OPS, but he didn’t lead the league in any category.
With the Cards’ distant finish, this comes down to Eddie and Jackie: Both were excellent defenders, with Stanky (2.1 dWAR) finishing second in the NL for value and Robinson (1.6 dWAR) finishing fourth. The fact the Dodgers finished three games ahead of the Giants comes into play here, as Stanky’s overall edge in value isn’t enough to overcome that team gap at all. Throw in the continued, ongoing pressure that Robinson faced every time he stepped on the field, and his production—80 walks to just 24 strikeouts, for example—is stellar.
1950 AL Cy Young: Art Houtteman
Only three hurlers finished with 5.0 WAR marks or better: St. Louis Browns workhorse Ned Garver (7.3), Detroit Tigers star Art Houtteman (6.0), and Boston Red Sox ace Mel Parnell (5.7). The Browns finished 40 games out, and Garver’s value is derived mostly from the 260 innings he threw for a bad, bad team. Meanwhile, the Tigers ended up just three games behind the Yankees, and the Red Sox were four games out of first place.
Houtteman led the AL in both shutouts (4) and home runs allowed (29), which is an odd combination. His 3.54 ERA wasn’t very impressive, and he also walked more batters (99) than he struck out (88). His 274 2/3 IP played a big role in his WAR mark, clearly. Parnell, our 1949 Cy Young winner, wasn’t better than Houtteman, in truth: a 3.61 ERA with 106 walks and only 93 Ks presents an issue here.
None of these pitchers were actually “good” in a statistical sense, even if they had top value in the league. In the end, we go with Houtteman by default: highest WAR for a contending team, and he did lead the AL in something positive. But this was clearly a bad year for pitchers.
1950 NL Cy Young: Robin Roberts
So we know Konstanty won the MVP Award, although we are not sure why: It’s pretty much one of the worst votes ever. He was third on his own team with 4.4 WAR, and his pitching teammate Robin Roberts was second in the NL for WAR (7.4). A reliever, Konstanty “vultured” 16 wins while saving 22 games, but it’s unreal how he won the MVP. Needless to say, he will not be winning our Cy Young.
Cincinnati Reds veteran Ewell Blackwell (7.5) topped the NL in WAR, while Roberts was second, barely. No other pitcher was close to the two of them, and we know the Phillies won the pennant. The Reds? They ended up 24.5 games out of first place. Blackwell did lead the NL in Ks per 9 IP (6.5) , but that’s about it.
Roberts posted 5 shutouts in his only league-best effort, while also winning 20 games with a 3.09 ERA. We also may be seeing a lot more of his name in this space over the coming weeks, as he was just 23 years old in this, his third, MLB season.
1950 AL ROTY: Walt Dropo (original), Whitey Ford (revised)
It’s a shame Ford didn’t win this vote at the time, as Boston first baseman Walt Dropo (2.6 WAR) impressed the voters with an AL-best 144 RBI and 326 total bases. However, his glove (-1.1 dWAR) was brutal. Ford posted 2.6 WAR in just 112 innings, and if he had been given the ball more for the defending champions, he probably would have run away with this award. As it was, his 9-1 record and 2.81 ERA made a big difference in a close pennant race.
For the record, Chicago White Sox shortstop Chico Carrasquel (2.7 WAR) was the best rookie on paper, as he hit .282 with 66 walks while adding 1.4 dWAR in the field. However, the Pale Hose finished 38 games out of first place, so his value takes a hit in comparison to Ford’s contributions to the Yankees.
1950 NL ROTY: Sam Jethroe (original), Bubba Church (revised)
Boston Braves centerfielder Sam Jethroe topped the NL with 35 stolen bases as a rookie, and that won him the vote at the time with 3.2 WAR for a team that finished eight games out of first place. But he hit just .273 with poor fielding skills (-0.4 dWAR).
Meanwhile, Philadelphia pitcher Bubba Church also posted 3.2 WAR while tossing 142 quality innings for the pennant winners: a 2.73 ERA and a 1.190 WHIP were the highlights in Church’s season. It’s easy to see his contributions were more valuable than Jethroe’s were, in context of the pennant race.
Phillies pitcher Bob Miller (2.2 WAR) was the third rookie we considered, but his 3.57 ERA in 174 IP put him a ways behind his own teammate in this analysis.