It’s another edition MLB Monday, and as we mourn the passing of Hank Aaron—the real home-run king—we also say goodbye to the New York Yankees winning every World Series for five straight years. The 1954 October memories are good ones, alas still for a team from the Big Apple. Go figure …
But who won our awards for this season?!
1954 AL MVP: Yogi Berra (original), Bobby Avila (revised)
The top three position players in the AL were Chicago White Sox outfielder Minnie Minoso (8.2 WAR), Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams (7.5), and Cleveland Indians second baseman Bobby Avila (7.1). The problem here is that the Cleveland Indians won the pennant with 111 victories, while Chicago ended up 17 games out of first, and the Red Sox finished way below .500 and 42 games back.
The vote-winning players from New York, catcher Yogi Berra, was everyone’s favorite interviewee but just the second-best player on his team (5.3 WAR) behind center fielder Mickey Mantle (6.9), so we have no idea why he won this award—other than the writers liked the guy, because the Yankees finished 8 games out of first place, despite winning 103 games.
All things considered, we have to give the award to Avila, perhaps one of the most unlikely MVP winners ever in our analyses: The 30-year-old veteran hit .341 to win the AL batting title, and he also added 15 HRs, 67 RBI, and 59 walks while leading the league in sacrifice hits (19). How often does the batting leader do that? Avila was also a positive gloveman with 1.0 dWAR for the pennant winners. That works for us.
We took an MVP away from Berra in 1951, too, and we feel no sadness in doing it again. Yogi was a great player, but his first two voted MVP nods were not deserved. We will see if he fares better with his third one next week (in the 1955 column).
1954 NL MVP: Willie Mays (original, confirmed)
This is an easy one: The New York Giants won the NL pennant by 5 games over the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the top two position players in the league were Giants center fielder Willie Mays (10.5 WAR) and Dodgers CF Duke Snider (8.1), last year’s MVP pick in this space. It’s easy to confirm Mays’ vote-winning, MVP season.
His raw stats: league-best marks in triples (18), batting average (.345), slugging percentage (.667), and OPS (1.078). Mays also hit 42 HRs, drove in 110 runs, and added 2.0 dWAR to his slate with excellent defense—which was on display in the World Series, of course. The dWAR mark was second best in the major leagues.
Mays was just 23 years old, and he would win the MVP vote again when he was 34 years old. In between, he didn’t win the vote, but we suspect he may be in line for more of these awards in the next few months.
1954 AL Cy Young: Early Wynn
With the Indians on top of the league, it’s easy to give this award to their best pitcher, Early Wynn, who also won this award from us in 1951 as well. He was second in AL pitching with 5.3 WAR, just behind Detroit Tigers starter Steve Gromek (5.6)—who pitched for Cleveland from 1941 to 1953 before joining the Tigers.
Of course, Detroit finished 43 games out of first place, so this is a no-brainer decision. Wynn posted a league-best 23 wins with a 2.73 ERA and an AL-high 270 2/3 innings pitched. His 1.138 WHIP was pretty good, too, and he also completed 20 games. He was a workhorse, and Wynn was a very good one, too, for the best team.
1954 NL Cy Young: Johnny Antonelli
The only thing keeping Philadelphia Phillies star Robin Roberts (9.0 WAR) from another Cy Young is the fact that his team finished under .500 and 22 games behind the Giants and their ace, Johnny Antonelli (7.5). That’s too much to overcome in value, since Roberts wasn’t facing any pressure when he took the mound. He was probably the better pitcher, but this is about value.
Antonelli’s numbers: a NL-best 2.30 ERA, with a league-high 6 shutouts, and a circuit-low 7.3 hits allowed per 9 IP. He also had the best win percentage (21-7 record). His 258 2/3 innings provided plenty of value for a team that won the pennant by 5 games over its biggest rivals from across town.
1954 AL ROTY: Bob Grimm (original, confirmed)
Along with Berra’s MVP vote win, the press gave the rookie vote to Yankees starter Bob Grimm (1.9 WAR). He wasn’t the best rookie, as that honor belongs to Philadelphia Athletics third baseman Jim Finigan (2.7 WAR). But the A’s did finish dead last in the league, so whatever Finigan did wasn’t valuable. There also was Detroit Tigers right fielder Al Kaline (1.2 WAR) in the fray. But we know the Tigers stunk, so this is simple to decide.
Grimm wins this award by default, as just the second AL ROTY we have confirmed in this space: He posted a 20-6 record with a 3.26 ERA in 199 IP. His WHIP (1.307) was mediocre, but with a team like the Yankees, that never really mattered. Grimm posted just one shutout in 37 appearances (20 starts). He also added one save.
1954 NL ROTY: Wally Moon (original), Gene Conley (revised)
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Wally Moon (3.0 WAR) won the vote at the time, but the award really should have gone to Milwaukee Braves pitcher Gene Conley (4.1). The Braves finished third in the NL, just 8 games behind the pennant winners, while the Cardinals were sixth, 25 games out of first place. For the record, Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks was third in NL rookie WAR (2.5), while Braves outfielder Hank Aaron was fourth (1.4 WAR in 122 games). Those are some impressive rookies trailing behind the other two fellas.
But we digress as Conley’s pitching line—14-9 with a 2.96 ERA and a 1.286 WHIP in 194 1/3 IP—earns him the award from us. Moon did hit .304 for the Cards, but he did it in a vacuum, of course. Conley was pitching with an outside hope at the pennant every time he took the mound. That means a lot to us, as you know, not to mention his superior value overall.