We make it a point to avoid emotion and sentimentality on MLB Monday, but we would be heartless if we did not highlight this week’s column as the last year in the career of Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente. He tragically died in an offseason plane accident after the end of the season, in which he registered his 3,000th hit on the final day of the year. We were surprised—and pleased—to award him the NL MVP last year.
On a more positive note, only one team besides the New York Yankees has won three straight World Series, and this season marks the start of that second team’s significant achievement—even though no member of that team won an award from us this season …
1972 AL MVP: Dick Allen (original), Carlton Fisk (revised)
The four best position players in the league were Chicago White Sox first baseman Dick Allen (8.6 WAR), New York Yankees center fielder Bobby Murcer (8.2), Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk (7.3), and Oakland Athletics left fielder Joe Rudi (6.1). While the Detroit Tigers won the AL East over the Red Sox by half a game, the A’s won the AL West over the White Sox by 5.5 games.
This leaves Allen and Fisk as our front runners for the award, really, with Rudi in a distant third. Allen, of course, won the 1964 NL ROTY Award vote (confirmed by us), and he won this MVP vote as well based on his bat: He topped his peers in home runs (37), RBI (113), walks (99), on-base percentage (.420), slugging percentage (.603), and OPS (1.023) while hitting .308 overall.
However, his -1.3 dWAR is really problematic for a guy on a team that finished second by 5.5 games. Meanwhile, Fisk posted 1.0 dWAR while hitting a league-best 9 triples and posting a .909 OPS from behind the plate. Despite playing one fewer game than the Tigers, the Red Sox were denied a chance to tie Detroit for the AL East title in a season that started late due to a labor dispute with owners.
Basically, Fisk led his team to the virtual top of the standings, while posting excellent numbers offensive and defensively. We find that more valuable than Allen’s lopsided season for an also-ran team that could have used much better defense from their star player.
1972 NL MVP: Johnny Bench (original), Joe Morgan (revised)
The Cincinnati Reds won the NL West by 10.5 games, and they had three players in the top 6 overall: Second baseman Joe Morgan (9.3 WAR), catcher Johnny Bench (8.6), and left fielder Pete Rose (6.1). That kind of means none of them were individually valuable, although Morgan has the best case among them based on WAR and division gap there. Bench won the vote for leading the NL in HRs (40) and RBI (125) again, like he did in 1970.
The other three players in the top 6 were Houston Astros center fielder César Cedeño (8.0), Chicago Cubs LF Billy Williams (6.2), and San Francisco Giants shortstop Chris Speier (6.1). The Cubs finished 11 games behind the Pirates in the NL East, while the Astros were second in NL West behind Cincinnati. The Giants finished under .500 on the year.
To us, this basically comes down to Morgan and Cedeño. In a strange twist, this was Morgan’s first year with the Reds after playing the first 9 years of his career in Houston. He was the difference maker in this pennant race, as if he had still been playing for the Astros, maybe they would have reversed the positions in the standings with Cincy.
Morgan also was the superior defensive player in this comparison (1.4 dWAR to 0.3 dWAR) to Cedeño, and his overall play was greater than Bench’s play, as well: Morgan led the NL in runs (122), walks (115), and OBP (.417) while hitting 16 HRs and stealing 58 bases. Toss in the fact that Morgan switched teams, and he certainly was the most valuable player in the league.
1972 AL Cy Young: Gaylord Perry (original), Wilbur Wood (revised)
Two pitchers dominated the junior circuit in this season, and Cleveland Indians veteran Gaylord Perry (10.8 WAR) was one of them—winning the vote at the time for his 24 wins, 1.92 ERA, and 29 complete games. However, the Tribe finished 12 games below .500 and and 14 games out of first place, making those numbers much less meaningful. Perry, of course, won our 1970 NL MVP nod, and this was his first season in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood (10.7 WAR) threw more meaningful innings for Chicago in its attempt to chase down the A’s for the division crown. That makes his efforts more valuable to a team in contention, for sure. Wood’s numbers—24-17, 2.51 ERA, 376 2/3 innings, 1.059 WHIP—were the main reason the White Sox had a chance to catch Oakland, as his 49 starts topped the league, easily.
We do think Perry’s season—0.987 WHIP included—was a better season, overall, but the value isn’t there on an also-ran team that finished in fifth place among AL East teams. Meanwhile, Wood carried his team to within shouting distance of a postseason berth with “good enough” numbers that had more value.
1972 NL Cy Young: Steve Carlton (original, confirmed)
This is the famous year of Philadelphia Phillies star Steve Carlton and his mind-numbing season for a team that won just 59 games. In posting 12.1 WAR, he bested the closest NL pitcher by 5.0 WAR (St. Louis Cardinals veteran Bob Gibson, his former teammate from 1965-1971). That kind of dominance transcends all our rules, as we have explained and illustrated before this, many times.
Carlton claimed the Triple Crown—27-10 record, 1.97 ERA, and 310 strikeouts—while also topping the senior circuit in starts (41), complete games (30), and IP (346.1). His WHIP (0.993) was stellar, too. The argument is there that Carlton pitched with no pressure on him, pennant wise, but who else would we give the award to? If another pitcher on a contending team had topped 10 WAR, for example, then there’s an argument.
However, even Gibson pitched for a sub-.500 team in 1972, so there is no one else to consider for this award. Case closed.
1972 AL ROTY: Carlton Fisk (original, confirmed)
There is no doubt about this vote confirmation, of course, with Fisk winning our MVP—but also easily outdistancing all other rookies in terms of WAR. In addition to the stats above, the Red Sox rookie backstop hit .293 with 22 HRs and 61 RBI, while walking 52 times and stealing 5 bases as well. He did this in 131 games out of the 155 Boston played in 1972.
For the record, Fisk is just the second rookie in our column space here to win both the ROTY Award and one of the other major awards above.
1972 NL ROTY: Jon Matlack (original, confirmed)
There was a similar situation in the National League, as New York Mets starter Jon Matlack won the vote with 6.1 WAR, a figure that readily left behind all other rookies in the senior circuit. The Mets went 83-73 to finish third in the NL East, so he didn’t pitch in an extreme vacuum, either. His 15-10 record, 2.32 ERA, and 1.172 WHIP were great numbers for a competing squad, and his 244 IP weren’t too shabby, either.