Since we forgot to highlight it last week on MLB Monday, the 1958 season marked the move of both the Dodgers and the Giants from New York City to the Best Coast in California. And, now that we are discussing the 1959 season, we must point out this was the first time that the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series! As the team just won the 2020 World Series, it only seemed appropriate to mention it now.
On with the awards show for MLB, guaranteed to be more fun than the Golden Globes … Right?
1959 AL MVP: Nellie Fox (original, confirmed)
Only three AL players finished in the MLB Top 10 for WAR this season: New York Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle (6.6), Chicago White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox (6.1), and Detroit Tigers outfielder Al Kaline (5.9). With the ChiSox winning the pennant by 5 games over Cleveland and 15 games over New York—and the Tigers finishing under .500—it seems easy enough here to confirm the voters’ choice: Fox wins the MVP Award from us, too.
Fox was 31 years old, but he led the league in games (156), at bats (624), and plate appearances (717) while hitting .306 with 70 RBI and 71 walks—striking out just 13 times. He also compiled 2.6 dWAR to top the AL in that category as well. Mantle had an off season (a mere .904 OPS), opening the door for someone else to claim the hardware after he won it the last four seasons straight from us.
1959 NL MVP: Ernie Banks (original), Willie Mays (revised)
We took away the MVP Award from Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks last year, and he has defied us by winning the vote again this year! He did lead MLB in WAR, however, by 1.6 wins over Milwaukee Braves right fielder Hank Aaron (10.2 to 8.6). Also of note in the NL? Braves third baseman Eddie Mathews (8.2), San Francisco Giants center fielder Willie Mays (7.8), St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer (7.4), and Cincinnati Reds center fielder Vada Pinson (6.5).
Here’s the issue: The Dodgers won the pennant by 2 games over Milwaukee and 4 games over San Francisco, while the Cubs finished 13 games out and under .500 for the year. Banks only led the league in RBI (143) and intentional walks (20), and so much of his value was irrelevant coming for a losing team. Meanwhile, both Aaron and Mathews toiled away for a pennant-chasing team, as did Mays. Oh, and the Reds finished with the same 74-80 record as Chicago, by the way. The Cards posted just 71 wins.
Aaron and Mathews had each other to feed off, while Mays did a lot of heavy lifting by himself: That tells us Mays had more value in this season, since his WAR was only behind the Braves duo by a little. While Aaron had an outstanding season (a whopping 400 total bases, for example) and Mathews topped the circuit in home runs (46), it was Mays who had the best glove of the bunch (even with just 0.4 dWAR).
The Say Hey Kid also topped the NL in steals (27) while hitting 34 HRs and batting .313 overall. Yes, we know the Hammer had a better statistical season (despite -1.1 dWAR), but Mays simply had more value and more impact on San Francisco’s pennant chances.
1959 AL Cy Young: Early Wynn (original), Hoyt Wilhelm (revised)
Only two pitchers on the junior circuit posted 5.0-plus WAR, and Cy Young vote winner Early Wynn (2.8 WAR) was not one of them. He won 22 times for the ChiSox to post a league high there, but he also topped the AL in walks (119). This was an absolute disgrace of a vote—no offense to Wynn, who won our AL Cy in 1951 and 1954. But he isn’t going to sniff it this time around.
Washington Senators ace Camilo Pascual (7.8 WAR) and Baltimore Orioles hurler Hoyt Wilhelm (7.6) are the only two legitimate candidates for this award. The Senators finished dead last with 63 wins, while the Orioles ground out 74 victories. That leaves us with a rough choice here, but it is what it is when no AL pitcher really dominated the season for a contender. We are inclined to give the award to Wilhelm simply because Baltimore finished 11 games higher in the standings.
Pascual did top the league in complete games (17) and shutouts (6) on his way to a 17-10 campaign with a 2.64 ERA. He also finished 19th in the MVP vote at the time, so there were props to be had. Wilhelm posted a 15-11 mark while leading the AL in ERA (2.19), so he was pretty sharp himself. The deciding factor here, again, is team finish, so Wilhelm takes the trophy.
1959 NL Cy Young: Don Drysdale
In the senior circuit, six pitchers topped the magic 5.0-WAR threshold this season: Cards workhorse Larry Jackson (7.3), Pittsburgh Pirates star Vern Law (6.5), Dodgers youngster Don Drysdale (5.9), Giants ace Sam Jones (5.7), Braves legend Warren Spahn (5.5), and L.A. stalwart Roger Craig (5.0). Of course, Spahn (1947, 1956, 1957) and Jones (1958) have won this award from us before, but we know St. Louis didn’t compete for the pennant at all during the year.
This narrows the field down even more: The Pirates finished 9 games out, so we are reduced to Drysdale, Jones, and Spahn, really. Craig only pitched 152 2/3 innings as well, so he wasn’t even eligible for the ERA title—which isn’t disqualifying in itself, but in this group, the volume just isn’t there in comparison. With the Dodgers winning the pennant and Drysdale tossing 270 2/3 innings, it’s easy to give him the nod on value.
Big D’s numbers at age 22: 17-13 record, 3.46 ERA, and league-best marks in shutouts (4) and strikeouts (242). He was the best pitcher on a contending team in the league, and so we are very comfortable giving him this award.
1959 AL ROTY: Bob Allison (original), Jim Perry (revised)
Again, the Senators finished 31 games out of first place, but their center fielder Bob Allison (1.4 WAR) somehow won the AL ROTY vote. His .815 OPS was nice, and Allison did top the league in triples (9) while hitting 30 HRs, driving in 85 runs, and stealing 13 bases, too. But Cleveland Indians pitcher Jim Perry (3.0 WAR) was both a better player and a more valuable rookie.
Perry number’s for the second-place team: 12-10 record, 2.65 ERA, 2 shutouts, and 4 saves in 153 IP—all with a 1.157 WHIP. Remember, Cleveland was the only club to finish within 15 games of first-place Chicago, so without Perry, the Indians would have been even farther behind in the standings. We suspect voters were swayed by Allison’s power output, but we know better.
1959 NL ROTY: Willie McCovey (original, confirmed)
This is an easy choice: San Francisco Giants first baseman Willie McCovey only played in 52 games for the Giants, but he got them very close to an NL pennant nonetheless. If he had played the whole season, perhaps the Giants could have won it all. McCovey posted 3.1 WAR by hitting .354 with a 1.085 OPS in one third of a season‚ while adding 13 HRs and 38 RBI. He even received enough MVP votes to finish 22nd on that ballot, while being the unanimous choice for the NL ROTY.
Check in every Monday for our MLB awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!