Welcome to MLB Monday for April 5, 2021, as the new professional baseball season has started already. What a wonderful thing to see, with minimal complications from pandemic times. We hope you are able to get to a ballpark this season, safely, to make up for missing out on last season!
Here in our weekly column, we take on another season where the New York Yankees won the American League pennant, but this was the organization’s last hurray until the late 1970s. What will that mean for the awards below? Read on to find out …
1964 AL MVP: Brooks Robinson (original, confirmed)
The pennant race was so close between the Yankees (99 victories), the Chicago White Sox (98), and the Baltimore Orioles (97). No other team finished within 14 games of the top, as only the Detroit Tigers (85) and the Los Angeles Angels (82) also finished over .500 for the season. We could have a lot of MVP candidates, nonetheless.
But the three best players in the AL were Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson (8.1 WAR), Angels shortstop Jim Fregosi (7.9), and White Sox SS Ron Hansen (7.7). Robinson won the vote at the time, and Hansen led all MLB players in dWAR (4.0). This looks complicated, in truth, as Fregosi (2.5 dWAR) and Robinson (2.2 dWAR) also were excellent glovemen.
Robinson hit .317 and led the league in RBI (118), which is probably he won the award despite playing for the third-place team. Robinson also topped the AL in sacrifice flies (10), but his OPS was only .889 for the season. Fregosi posted an .833 OPS, while Hansen’s .766 mark trailed far behind. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ best position player was catcher Elston Howard (5.5 WR), who we stripped of his voted MVP last year.
With the Angels so far out of the pennant chase, this comes down to Robinson or Hansen. Which player had more “help” getting his team to the top of the standings? The next-best player on the Orioles was left fielder Boog Powell (5.7 WAR), while the White Sox had 3B Pete Ward (6.3). Robinson was the “better” player, and it seems he had to carry more of the load for Baltimore lineup as well. We confirm his MVP vote, therefore.
1964 NL MVP: Ken Boyer (original), Willie Mays (revised)
This was a year for pennant races, for sure, as five teams finished within five games of each other atop the senior circuit: the St. Louis Cardinals (93 wins), the Cincinnati Reds (92), the Philadelphia Phillies (92), the San Francisco Giants (90), and the Milwaukee Braves (88). This was the famous Phillies collapse that we so often see referenced.
Where does that leave us for the MVP discussion? The seven top guys were Giants center fielder Willie Mays (11.0 WAR), Chicago Cubs 3B Ron Santo (8.9), Phillies rookie 3B Dick Allen (8.8), Los Angeles Dodgers CF Willie Davis (8.3), Reds right fielder Frank Robinson (7.9), Pittsburgh Pirates RF Roberto Clemente (7.2), and Braves RF Hank Aaron (6.8). That is quite the collection of studs.
The Dodgers (80 wins), the Pirates (80), and the Cubs (76) all finished under .500 for the year, so we can cross them off the list. Mays was once again absolutely outstanding, while the MVP vote went to Cards 3B Ken Boyer (6.1 WAR). He’s obviously not going to be our pick, that’s for sure.
Allen is more valuable than Robinson since the teams tied in the standings, and the Braves finished too far back for Aaron’s season to have enough value to leapfrog Allen or Mays. So those are our two finalists: With the Giants finishing just two games behind the Phillies, Mays’ season has to take precedence here. That makes this another season where the Say Hey Kid was very undervalued by MVP voters at the time.
Mays’ numbers at age 33: a league-high 47 home runs, an NL-best .607 slugging percentage, and a league-topping .990 OPS. He hit just .296, but Mays also walked 82 times—including 13 intentional passes. He was always carrying mediocre S.F. rosters deep into September pennant chases during his career, and it’s incredible to think to this point he’d only won one MVP vote (1954). This is the seventh time we’ve given him our NL award.
1964 AL Cy Young: Dean Chance (original, confirmed)
The top three pitchers this year were Angels phenom Dean Chance (9.4 WAR), who won the MLB Cy Young vote, followed by Yankees ace Whitey Ford (6.7) and Boston Red Sox closer Dick Radatz (6.1). Boston won just 72 games, so Radatz won’t get our nod, but it is interesting to see his name so frequently in these analyses as a “closer” of the time period: During this season, he posted 157 innings, 181 strikeouts, 16 wins, 29 saves, and a 2.29 ERA. Modern closers’ arms would fall off!
The Angels finished 17 games behind the Yankees, but L.A. never would have reached 82 wins without Chance’s efforts: 20-9, 1.65 ERA, 11 shutouts, and 278 1/3 IP all topped the AL. He also managed to save four games for the Angels, which is incredible. Ford didn’t lead the league in anything, but he turned in his usually solid season for the usually great Yankees team: 17-6, 2.13 ERA, 8 shutouts, and 1 save in 244 2/3 IP.
There’s nothing wrong with Ford’s season, but it’s not “stellar” enough—or valuable enough, really—to take this voted award away from Chance. If the Chairman of the Board had posted more wins and shutouts with a lower ERA, he might have been able to snag this award. Whitey was a very good pitcher, obviously, but playing for the Yankees really helped.
1964 NL Cy Young: Juan Marichal
This was an era of NL dominance, as evidenced by the Yankees’ World Series losses, and these were the 7 best pitchers of the year: Dodgers ace Don Drysdale (7.8 WAR), L.A. wizard Sandy Koufax (7.3), Giants rock Juan Marichal (6.3), Philly ace Chris Short (6.2), St. Louis legend Bob Gibson (6.0), Cubs workhorse Larry Jackson (6.0), and Pirates wildling Bob Veale (5.8).
We wonder just how the Dodgers finished under .500 with those two pitchers and Davis in the lineup, but whatever … Either way, that opens up the door for this award to Marichal, Short, and Gibson, since the Cubs and Pirates also finished with losing records.
Marichal topped the NL in complete games (22), while neither Short or Gibson were the “best” at anything:
- Marichal: 21-8, 2.48 ERA, 269 IP, 206 Ks
- Short: 17-9, 2.20 ERA, 220 1/3 IP, 181 Ks
- Gibson: 19-12, 3.01 ERA, 287 1/3 IP, 245 Ks
The WAR values for each player are reversed from their team order, so that’s kind of a wash. We generally think Marichal’s season has the most value, and it was probably the best season, as well. We are comfortable with Marichal winning our NL Cy here.
1964 AL ROTY: Tony Oliva (original, confirmed)
The Minnesota Twins finished with just 79 victories, and that was 12 fewer wins than the season before. However, their right fielder—Tony Oliva (6.8 WAR)—easily was the best rookie in the league by 3.5 WAR. The next-best first-year player was Baltimore pitcher Wally Bunker (3.3). Therefore, we can confirm this award, pretty readily.
As a rookie, Oliva led the AL in runs (109), hits (217), doubles (43), average (.323), and total bases (374) while posting 32 HRs and 94 RBI. That’s quite a season for a rook, even if his team wasn’t very good around him.
1964 NL ROTY: Dick Allen (original, confirmed)
Allen was an MVP finalist in our analysis above, so there’s no doubt he gets this award over two other pretty-good NL rookies: Giants 3B Jim Ray Hart (5.3 WAR) and Braves LF Rico Carty (4.8 WAR). But Allen led the his peers in runs (125), triples (13), and total bases (352)—not to mention strikeouts (138). He also hit .318 overall with a .939 OPS, 29 HRs, and 91 RBI. This was the only season of his career that he was a positive defender, too (0.3 dWAR).