The World Series for the first year of the new decade featured two teams that had been knocking on the door for many years, led by two stars that had been denied rightful MVP awards, as well. All that was remedied in 1980, both for teams’ sakes and the individuals as well. On with another edition of MLB Monday!
Read on to enjoy a redemption year, of sorts, for two Hall of Fame third basemen …
1980 AL MVP: George Brett (original, confirmed)
Five of the top six players in MLB came out of the junior circuit this season, led by Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett (9.4 WAR). He has won three MVPs from us already (1976, 1977, 1979), but the voters had never rewarded him for his excellence until this season, as the Royals won 97 games to win the AL West by 14 games—and Brett hit .390 to post the higher batting average in the majors since 1941.
The New York Yankees (103 wins) and the Baltimore Orioles (100 wins) were the best teams in the AL East, but none of their individual players posted a WAR mark higher than 6.6 for the year. Two Oakland Athletics—left fielder Rickey Henderson (8.8) and center fielder Dwayne Murphy (6.9)—were behind Brett, as well as Royals left fielder Willie Wilson (8.5).
The A’s finished that distant second behind K.C. in the standings, and while Wilson may have been equally responsible for the Royals’ division title, he wasn’t as valuable as Brett. The Kansas City speedster did lead the AL in runs (133), hits (230), and triples (15) while hitting .326 overall and stealing 79 bases, but Brett topped the league in average, OBP (.454), SLG (.664), and OPS (1.118) while adding 24 HRs, 115 RBI, and 15 SBs himself.
This five-year run of Brett’s may be one of the most underrated stretches of baseball excellence in history, and we confirm his MVP vote victory for this season’s AL award.
1980 NL MVP: Mike Schmidt (original, confirmed)
The three best players in the senior circuit were Philadelphia Phillies 3B Mike Schmidt (8.9 WAR), Montréal Expos CF Andre Dawson (6.8), and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez (6.7). Remember, we stripped the latter of his co-MVP last season, and we also had awarded the former this award in 1977 and 1978 over the vote winners at the time.
With the Phillies winning the NL East by 1 game over the Expos—and the Cardinals finishing well under .500—it’s easy to confirm Schmidt’s first vote win here, as his 2.1-WAR edge over Dawson was the difference in the division standings. He had a season for the ages, winning the Gold Glove (1.6 dWAR) while topping the NL in HRs (48), RBI (121), SLG (.624), OPS (1.004), TBs (342), and sacrifice flies (13). The TB total was the highest of his career.
Schmidt also stole 12 bases while hitting .286, a career high for him at that point. Strangely, his 89 walks were a career low at that point for a full season, but he made up for it with the career bests in HRs and RBI. At age 30, this truly was Schmidt’s peak, although he had several great seasons still ahead of him.
1980 AL Cy Young: Steve Stone (original), Larry Gura (revised)
The voters really loved Baltimore pitchers throughout the 1970s, and this first season of the following decade was no exception. We’ve stripped Orioles pitchers of a lot of Cy Youngs recently, and we will do it again this year as Baltimore starter Steve Stone (4.0 WAR) won the award vote somehow—probably just because of his 25-7 record, which was supported by a borderline-mediocre 1.297 WHIP and just a 3.23 ERA.
However, five other AL pitchers were much more deserving in meeting our threshold requirement here (5.0 WAR): Chicago White Sox rookie starter Britt Burns (7.0), Kansas City stalwart Larry Gura (6.0), Oakland A’s phenom Mike Norris (5.9), Minnesota Twins rookie closer Doug Corbett (5.7), and Toronto Blue Jays workhorse Jim Clancy (5.5). Toronto won just 67 games, so Clancy is out, and the Twins finished under .500 as well.
The ChiSox won just 70 games, so this comes down to Gura and Norris, and with the AL West gap between the Royals and the A’s, it’s easy to give this award to Gura, even though he was only slightly better than Norris. At age 32, he posted an 18-10 record with a 2.95 ERA, complemented by 16 complete games and 4 shutouts. His WHIP (1.228) was also better than Stone’s mark, we’d point out.
1980 NL Cy Young: Steve Carlton (original, confirmed)
Phillies ace Steve Carlton (10.2 WAR) was almost 4 WAR better than the next-best pitcher in the league, Los Angeles Dodgers veteran Don Sutton (6.3). With Philly winning its division by just 1 game, it’s easy to confirm Carlton’s award here without even a debate.
His traditional stats: 24-9, 2.34 ERA, 286 Ks, and a 1.095 WHIP. The wins and strikeouts were the best marks in the NL, and Carlton also topped the circuit in innings pitched (304). At age 35, he won his third Cy vote (although he took away his vote win in 1977), and this is the second time we’ve confirmed his vote win (1972).
1980 AL ROTY: Joe Charboneau (original), Dave Stapleton (revised)
With just 2.4 WAR for a 79-win team, Cleveland Indians LF Joe Charboneau won the AL ROTY vote for hitting 23 HRs with 87 RBI and an .846 OPS—and -1.1 dWAR, too. He would be out of MLB by 1983, which is irrelevant here, but telling nonetheless. Meanwhile, Burns, Corbett, and Boston Red Sox utility player Dave Stapleton (3.0 WAR) all were better players.
With the Red Sox winning 83 games, we will give this award to Stapleton for hitting .321 and playing 1.0 dWAR-level defense at five different positions, overall. His .802 OPS was good enough for a rookie hitter in a competitive AL East Division.
1980 NL ROTY: Steve Howe (original), Dave Smith (revised)
Dodgers rookie closer Steve Howe (0.4 WAR) won the ROTY vote, as L.A. finished 1 game behind the Houston Astros in the NL West Division. With a 7-9 record, we’re not sure why the voters glommed on to him so much, in truth, but needless to say, he won’t be winning our confirmation here.
San Francisco Giants reliever Al Holland (3.0) was actually the best NL rookie, but the Giants won just 75 games. Expos pitcher Bill Gullickson (2.6), Astros closer Dave Smith (2.5), Phillies outfielder Lonnie Smith (2.3), and Montréal reliever Jeff Reardon (2.1) are the real candidates here. The two Expos cancel each other somewhat, as the team still finished second to the Phillies, so this comes down to Smith and … Smith.
With Lonnie “Skates” posting a -0.6 dWAR, it’s easy to hand this award to Dave: His 7-5 record and 1.93 ERA were significantly better than Howe’s marks, obviously, and his team won the division thanks to his presence on the roster. It’s unreal how voters could have even considered Howe over Smith at the time, in truth, even using traditional stats. L.A. “star power”? Ridiculous.