We have reached the midpoint of the 1980s on MLB Monday, and we all remember this season for the World Series at the end of it, of course. For years after this, it seemed like the Fall Classic always had some crazy drama going on, and we can point back to the Battle of Missouri in 1985 as the start of it.
But on with the awards show, as that is the real focus of this miniseries, right?! Right!
1985 AL MVP: Don Mattingly (original), George Brett (revised)
The MVP vote went to New York Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly (6.5 WAR), as he topped the AL in doubles (48), RBI (145), total bases (370), and sacrifice flies (15)—but he was just fifth in the league for WAR, and he trailed one of his own teammates, as well. We love Donnie Baseball, but there’s no justification for him winning this award.
Toronto outlasted New York by 2 games in the AL West, while Kansas City topped the California Angels by 1 game in the West. This means Yankees left fielder Rickey Henderson (9.9 WAR), Royals third baseman George Brett (8.3), and Blue Jays right fielder Jesse Barfield (6.9) all deserve the award more than Mattingly, and even Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs (9.1) had a much better season for his .500 club.
Of course, Henderson won our nod here in 1981, and Brett has won four of these from us already. If Rickey had reached double-digit WAR, we would give him the award automatically, but Brett and Barfield played for division winners that would not have won without their contributions. Since Mattingly and Henderson played for the same team, too, that didn’t win a division title, they wipe each other out. Sorry, Rickey, as you were nearly historic.
Therefore, it’s hard to ignore Brett’s edge on Barfield, both individually and in a team sense, as the Royals had a closer division-title race than the Blue Jays. Brett earned this with the following stats: .335 average, 30 HRs, 112 RBI, .585 SLG, 1.022 OPS, and 31 IBBs. He topped the AL in those last three categories, and at age 32, this was his final “great” season, and it’s appropriate that it ended in K.C.’s first World Series championship, too.
For the record, only Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays won more MVP awards from us than Brett. That’s some impressive company.
1985 NL MVP: Willie McGee (original), Pedro Guerrero (revised)
The five best position players in the senior circuit were St. Louis center fielder Willie McGee (8.2 WAR), Los Angeles Dodgers utility man Pedro Guerrero (7.9), Montréal Expos LF Tim Raines (7.6), New York Mets catcher Gary Carter (6.9), and Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith (6.4). With St. Louis winning the NL East by 3 games over the Mets, the Cards duo gets lowered in value. Meanwhile, the Dodgers won the West by 5.5 games.
To us, this elevates Guerrero over McGee, as much as we loved McGee’s game at the time. Without Pedro, L.A. wouldn’t have beaten out the Cincinnati Reds for the playoff spot, and the Expos finished 16.5 games out of first place, so Raines doesn’t hold his value in comparison, either. It’s not McGee’s fault that he had a teammate that was pretty good, too, but it is what it is.
Guerrero led the NL in OBP (.422), SLG (.577), and OPS (.999) while hitting .320 with 33 HRs, 87 RBI, and 12 SBs. He also walked 83 times, and after being brutal with the glove up to this point in his career, Guerrero actually posted 0.2 dWAR during this campaign, which solidifies his claim to this award.
1985 AL Cy Young: Bret Saberhagen (original), Dave Stieb (revised)
Overall, seven pitchers topped 6.0 WAR in 1985, and two of them were teammates: the Royals duo of vote winner Bret Saberhagen (7.1 WAR) and southpaw Charlie Leibrandt (6.6). That means Saberhagen’s vote win probably be overturned here. It’s just the way it is, even if he did top the junior circuit in WAR.
The remaining five pitchers noted above were Blue Jays star Dave Stieb (6.8), Minnesota Twins veteran Bert Blyleven (6.7), Texas Rangers knuckleballer Charlie Hough (6.3), Seattle Mariners hurler Mike Moore (6.3), and Boston personality Dennis Boyd (6.1). With only Toronto finishing above .500 in this group, then it’s easy to hand this award—again!—to Stieb. We are truly in shock here, as he is proving to be the most underrated pitcher ever.
Seriously, this is insane he has won four straight Cy Youngs from us, as the only other pitchers to do this were Walter Johnson, Pete Alexander, and Lefty Grove. We may have to start a “Stieb for the Hall” campaign as his traditional stats—14-13, 2.48 ERA, and 1.140 WHIP—certainly helped the Blue Jays to their first-ever postseason berth. He also topped the AL in ERA and fewest hits per 9 IP (7.0) over his 265 very valuable innings.
1985 NL Cy Young: Dwight Gooden (original, confirmed)
With 12.2 WAR, Mets second-year sensation Dwight Gooden easily outdistanced everyone else in MLB as he posted a truly historic campaign for New York: 24-4, 1.53 ERA, 16 complete games, 276 2/3 IP, and 268 Ks. All those numbers led the senior circuit, as Doc won the Triple Crown at age 20.
There’s no debate here, as the next-best NL pitcher—Cards lefty John Tudor—posted 8.1 WAR, good enough to win in most years since he threw for a division winner. Those are the breaks, however. Gooden was just a force of nature in 1985, and there was no stopping him during that fateful season.
1985 AL ROTY: Ozzie Guillen (original), Stew Cliburn (revised)
Chicago White Sox SS Ozzie Guillen (2.3) won the AL ROTY vote despite finishing fifth in rookie WAR. His team finished in third place, just 6 games behind the Royals in the AL West. But we’re looking at Milwaukee Brewers starter Teddy Higuera (3.1), California Angels reliever Stew Cliburn (3.1), Rangers CF Oddibe McDowell (2.5), and Yankees reliever Brian Fisher (2.4). They all were better than Guillen, and some of them played for contenders.
The Brewers and the Rangers were bottom dwellers, so this comes down to Cliburn and Fisher to us. Being consistent, we go with Cliburn, who had better value for a team that finished closer to the top of the standings. We think Fisher had the better season, overall, but value is value.
Who was Cliburn? Good question: He didn’t pitch in the majors again until 1988, and then that was it. You can read his full story here. But in 1985, he posted a 9-3 record with a 2.09 ERA and a 1.141 WHIP with 6 saves in 99 IP for a team that just missed the postseason.
1985 NL ROTY: Vince Coleman (original), Tom Browning (revised)
St. Louis OF Vince Coleman (2.4 WAR) came away with the NL ROTY vote win, even though he was outdone by Cincy southpaw Tom Browning (4.1), Montréal starter Joe Hesketh (3.0), and San Francisco Giants 3B Chris Brown (2.6). With the Expos and the Giants far out of contention, this comes down to Browning and Coleman.
Coleman actually posted 0.2 dWAR, as well, surprisingly, as he finished his career with -5.6 dWAR overall. Browning won 20 games for a second-place team, while Coleman posted a .655 OPS for a division winner. Yes, on paper, the Cardinals don’t win the NL East without Vincent Van Go’s 110 steals—but he also topped the NL in caught stealing (25) while striking out 115 times. St. Louis basically won in spite of Coleman, in truth.
We just see Browning as meaning more to his contending team here: 20 wins, 6 CGs, 4 SOs, 261 1/3 IP. For a squad that improved 19 wins in the standings, the southpaw rookie starter was the big difference maker.