We have reached a crazy season on MLB Monday that ended up causing major rules changes in the sport, some immediate and some delayed. But thanks to 1968, a lot changed in the world—and not just in baseball, of course. But as goes America’s pastime, so goes the United States.
On with the superstar parade!
1968 AL MVP: Denny McLain (original), Brooks Robinson (revised)
For the first time in awhile, a pitcher won an MVP vote, as Detroit Tigers star Denny McLain helped his team win 103 games and cruise to the pennant by a comfy 12-game margin. So who can we re-assign this award to? Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski topped the majors with 10.5 WAR, a healthy followup effort to his Triple Crown season in 1967, although Boston slipped to fourth place and 17 games back—albeit over .500 for the year.
Next best in the AL were Baltimore Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson (8.4 WAR), who won the 1964 AL MVP, and Detroit catcher Bill Freehan (6.9). The Orioles finished second, five games ahead of Boston. While Yaz clearly had the best season, the Red Sox still were way out of it with him—and he didn’t win the TC this time around, only leading the AL in hitting (.301), walks (119), on-base percentage (.426), and OPS (.922).
Meanwhile, it’s clear Detroit could have won without Freehan, while Robinson was the difference between second and an also-ran finish in the standings. At age 31, Robinson topped the majors with 4.5 dWAR, and in this year of insanely good pitching, his 117 OPS+ was healthily above average. He played in all 162 games and led the league with 8 sacrifice flies, in addition to hitting 17 HRs and driving in 75 runs. That works for us, surprisingly.
1968 NL MVP: Bob Gibson (original), Willie McCovey (revised)
Six of the Top 10 position players in WAR came from the senior circuit, as St. Louis Cardinals ace Bob Gibson won the MVP vote—demonstrating the prowess of pitching in 1968. The Cards won the pennant by 9 games over the San Francisco Giants, while only the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds also topped .500 for the year.
Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente (8.2 WAR) was the best position player, but the Bucs posted just an 80-82 record. Giants first baseman Willie McCovey (7.0) was next, followed by Atlanta Braves RF Hank Aaron (6.8) and his center field mate Felipe Alou (6.5). With Atlanta winning only 81 games, this MVP nod from us probably goes to McCovey by default.
Although, Cubs third baseman Ron Santo (6.4) and Giants CF Willie Mays (6.3) are right there, too. San Francisco finished only four games ahead of the Cubs, so the Giants couldn’t afford to lose McCovey or Mays, in truth. Stretch had a stellar season, leading the NL in HRs (36), RBI (105), slugging percentage (.545), and OPS (.923). With Mays not leading the league in anything, this award has to go to McCovey—our 1959 pick for NL ROTY.
1968 AL Cy Young: Denny McLain (original, confirmed)
You’d think McLain was a lock for this, but he finished second in the AL for pitching WAR (7.4). He was topped by Cleveland Indians whiz Luis Tiant (8.5). With the Indians finishing in third place, Tiant was a serious difference maker—while the Tigers would have been fine without McLain and his 31 victories. This becomes a matter of looking at overall performance.
So let’s line it up:
- Tiant: 21-9, 1.60 ERA, 19 complete games, 9 shutouts, 264 strikeouts, 0.871 WHIP
- McLain: 31-6, 1.96 ERA, 28 complete games, 6 shutouts, 280 strikeouts, 0.905 WHIP
McLain tossed almost 78 more innings than Tiant did, and while we do think Tiant was “better”? We also think those extra innings at a high level of performance really count a lot—particularly with McLain’s ERA and WHIP. Plus, Tiant’s team finished 16.5 games out of first place, so even with him, Cleveland wasn’t super competitive. We will stick with McLain here, although we would not criticize anyone else choosing Tiant.
1968 NL Cy Young: Bob Gibson (original, confirmed)
This is an open-and-shut case, with Gibson’s 11.2 WAR outdistancing the next guy—New York Mets stud Tom Seaver (6.8)—by a country mile. Gibby did not win the Triple Crown, but his 1.12 ERA is legendary, and he also topped the NL in shutouts (13), Ks (268), and WHIP (0.853). His 21-9 record was good enough to help St. Louis clinch the pennant relatively easily.
1968 AL ROTY: Stan Bahnsen (original, confirmed)
In the Year of the Pitcher, any rookie starter that puts up 5.9 WAR is going to get the nod here, and that’s what New York Yankees youngster Stan Bahnsen did—posting a 17-12 record with a 2.05 ERA and 1.062 WHIP in 267-plus innings for the 83-79 fifth-place finishers. In some years, he could have been a candidate for the Cy Young, so this is a confirming nod to his award vote win at the time.
1968 NL ROTY: Johnny Bench (original, confirmed)
The Reds broke in a rookie catcher—some guy named Johnny Bench—and he won the vote for this award by posting 5.0 WAR for 83-win Cincinnati. But the 73-win Mets had a young pitcher named Jerry Koosman (6.0 WAR including hitting), who also deserves some consideration here. The vote was pretty close at the time, as one ballot/vote separated these two guys in the end.
Bench’s OPS+ was 117, and Koosman’s ERA+ was 145 in this year of pitching prowess. It’s clear the Mets rookie was the better player, but there is that 10-game gap in the standings to consider. Bench also posted 1.4 dWAR, which is impressive for a rookie behind the plate, although Koosman’s pitching WAR (6.3) was really good.
In the end, we have to go with the guy that contributed more to a winning team that was close enough to the top to matter, and that means we confirm Bench’s award—but again, we won’t argue with anyone who disagrees here.