In this midpoint season of the 1960s on MLB Monday, we see a very unique World Series matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins—two teams that were not in these cites just a handful of seasons prior. That’s how fast things can change in professional baseball, and we are here to mark those occasions … and the special players that made things happen.
So, here we go again with another awards presentation!
1965 AL MVP: Zoilo Versalles (original, confirmed)
Only two position players from the junior circuit finished in the Top 10 for MLB WAR. The best news is that these two players came from the two top teams: Minnesota (102 wins) and the Chicago White Sox (95). Twins shortstop Zoilo Versalles (7.2 WAR) won the vote, while White Sox second baseman Don Buford (6.9) finished 25th in the vote. Go figure.
Surprisingly, Versalles (3.0 dWAR) and Buford (2.8) also finished atop the league with their glove work as well, making them perhaps the most unlikely pair of AL MVP candidates ever. Buford’s .747 OPS did not distinguish him at the plate, however, while Versalles topped the league in runs (126), doubles (45), triples (12), and total bases (308)—not to mention strikeouts (122).
Zorro hit just .273 with a .781 OPS, which was only marginally better than Buford’s mark, although he also stole 27 bases, too. Overall, it’s hard to argue against the voters, who managed to find the best player on the best team and give him the award. We will, too, since the pennant race was not particularly close.
1965 NL MVP: Willie Mays (original, confirmed)
It is hard to fathom that this was only the second MVP voted upon for San Francisco Giants legend Willie Mays, but it was well deserved this time. His 11.2 WAR mark was the best in the sport by 3.3 wins over Milwaukee Braves superstar Hank Aaron (7.9), and the Giants finished just two games behind the pennant-winning Dodgers. Again, we have to emphasize that Mays has been one of the best players ever.
He has now won this award 8 times from us, including the last five in a row. Only pitching wizard Lefty Grove won more consecutive awards from us (6 AL Cy Youngs, from 1928 to 1933), and only New York Yankees superstud Mickey Mantle (1955-1958) and American icon Jackie Robinson (1949-1952) won as many as four straight MVP nods in this space. That is how special Mays really is in baseball history.
Oh, his numbers: league-best marks in home runs (52), on-base percentage (.398), slugging percentage (.645), OPS (1.043), and total bases (360), while also posting a .317 batting average and 112 RBI as well. He also did this at age 34, which is incredible.
1965 AL Cy Young: Sam McDowell
Only three pitchers in the American League truly had valuable seasons: Cleveland Indians fireballer Sam McDowell (8.2 WAR), Yankees stalwart Mel Stottlemyre (6.8), and Cleveland swingman Sonny Siebert (5.1). With the Yankees finishing under .500 and Cleveland finishing above .500 for the season, that makes it easy to give this award to Sudden Sam.
At age 22, he topped the AL in ERA (2.18), walks (132), strikeouts (325), wild pitches (17), fewest hits allowed per 9 innings pitched (5.3), fewest HRs allowed per 9 IP (0.3), and most Ks per 9 IP (10.7). Those were some exciting 273 innings, that’s for sure.
1965 NL Cy Young: Sandy Koufax (original), Juan Marichal (revised)
Giants ace Juan Marichal, who won our nod for this last season, steals this award away from Dodgers star Sandy Koufax, who won the vote at the time. Marichal’s 10.3 WAR mark was the best pitching effort in the majors, as the Left Arm of God (8.1) finished just third in the NL in value. In between, Cincinnati Reds All-Star Jim Maloney (8.2) also pitched very well during the regular season.
The weird thing here is that Koufax won the Triple Crown: 26 wins, 2.04 ERA, and a then-record 382 Ks. So how did Marichal outperform him, sabermetrically? His numbers—22 victories, 2.13 ERA, and 240 Ks—were very good, but clearly Koufax was the better guy. But the Giants stud topped the NL in shutouts (10), ERA+ (169), and fewest walks per 9 IP (1.4).
The ERA+ is the key, as even though Koufax went lower in straight ERA, the adjustment for the ballparks at the time shows that Marichal actually did better work considering where he made his starts in comparison to Koufax. This comes down to Dodger Stadium and Candlestick Park, two very different places to pitch in the 1960s.
And it is also about value to the team: Like Mays among position players, Marichal just had considerably more value to the Giants’ success than Koufax did to the Dodgers’ achievements. This may seem off considering Koufax won the Triple Crown and set an MLB record for strikeouts, but the wins and the ERA marks are dependent on stadium and team factors, too.
So, Koufax has his Ks, and Marichal has his WAR. In the end, we have to be consistent with sabermetrics, while breaking a different habit of rewarding Triple Crowns and records. This is a tough decision to make, but that WAR gap is way too high to ignore, considering the two-game gap in the standings here. We will accept any and all criticism for this choice with a firm nod of understanding.
1965 AL ROTY: Curt Blefary (original, confirmed)
Baltimore Orioles right fielder Curt Blefary (3.6) led the league’s rookies in WAR, but just barely over California Angels pitcher Marcelino López (3.5). With the Orioles winning 94 games to finish in third place, it makes it easy to confirm the vote at the time, as the Angels finished under .500 for the season.
Blefary posted an .851 OPS while hitting 22 HRs, driving in 70 runs, and walking 88 times. Meanwhile, López posted a 14-13 record and a 2.93 ERA for the 75-87 California club. Both players were clearly pretty good as rookies, but Baltimore got more meaningful mileage from Blefary in finishing with that impressive win total.
1965 NL ROTY: Jim Lefebvre (original, confirmed)
Three different National League first-year players were better than Blefary, making this analysis a little bit more challenging. The top rook was Houston Astros second baseman Joe Morgan (5.7 WAR), followed by Dodgers second baseman Jim Lefebvre (4.6) and Giants closer Frank Linzy (4.1). We know where L.A. and S.F. finished in the standings; what about Houston?
With just 65 wins, the Astros were 32 games behind the Dodgers in the standings. That means Morgan, no matter how good his season was, didn’t really have any true value to Houston during his rookie season. Morgan topped the NL in walks (97), but in a lineup devoid of talent, that means a lot less than it would have been if he was playing for the Dodgers or the Giants.
Lefebvre won the vote at the time, playing for a pennant-winning team: His .706 OPS was mediocre, but his glove was good (1.5 dWAR). Meanwhile, Linzy saved 20 games in unspectacular fashion for the Giants, striking out just 35 batters in 81 2/3 IP with a 1.212 WHIP.
Morgan was clearly the best rookie, but we will confirm Lefebvre’s award based on value for a pennant winner.