The 1990s changed baseball as we know it forever, and as MLB Monday finally reaches this turning point, we take a minute of silence to pause and reflect on the glory days of professional baseball in America … everything that happened before 1990 made us what we are, and everything that has happened since shows us what we have become. And it’s not pretty, folks.
That being said, here we go … on with the show.
1990 AL MVP: Rickey Henderson (original, confirmed)
The Oakland Athletics won the AL West by 9 games over the Chicago White Sox, and their star left fielder—Rickey Henderson—topped all MLB position players with 9.9 WAR. He won the AL MVP vote at the time, and we confirm it based on that WAR mark being greater than the team’s division margin. Without him, maybe the A’s don’t win their third straight AL pennant.
Last year’s AL MVP winner here, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. (7.5), was the second-best player in the league, for reference’s sake, and his team finished under .500 for the season. No one else was within shouting distance of Henderson, so this is an easy analysis.
The A’s great’s numbers? His 119 runs, 65 steals, .439 OBP, and 1.016 OPS all topped the junior circuit, and Henderson added 28 HRs, 97 walks, and a .325 average, too. His 1.1 dWAR mark also was impressive considering his age (31). This was the peak of his career, right at the normal age for a prime coming to a close. Remember, Henderson also won our 1981 AL MVP nod here.
1990 NL MVP: Barry Bonds (original, confirmed)
Two players distanced themselves from the rest of the NL pack: Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Barry Bonds (9.7 WAR) and Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Lenny Dykstra (8.9). With the Pirates winning the NL East by just 4 games and the Phillies finishing under .500, however, we can confirm Bonds’ NL MVP vote win at the time. This was vintage Bonds, long before his ego drove him to cheat later.
At age 25, he really started blossoming into a great player: Bonds hit .301 and led the NL in SLG (.565) and OPS (.970), while posting 33 HRs, 114 RBI, 52 SBs, 93 BBs, and a .406 OBP. With 2.5 dWAR as well, his defense was better than it would be for the rest of his career. Makes you wonder just why he had to ruin his reputation later … as if this wasn’t enough for him.
1990 AL Cy Young: Bob Welch (original), Roger Clemens (revised)
The top pitchers in the AL were Boston Red Sox ace Roger Clemens (10.4 WAR) and California Angels southpaw Chuck Finley (7.7). No one else surpassed 6.0 WAR, and somehow, the voters gave the AL Cy to Oakland’s Bob Welch (2.9). Yes, he won 27 games with a 2.95 ERA, but … come on, people! With Boston winning the AL East by just 2 games over the Toronto Blue Jays, Clemens was incredible.
The Rocket’s numbers: 21-6, 1.93 ERA, 4 SOs, and only 7 HRs allowed in 228 1/3 innings pitched. He led the AL in ERA and shutouts, while also topping his peers in K/BB ratio (3.87) and sporting a 1.082 WHIP. How the voters blew this one is just beyond comprehension.
1990 NL Cy Young: Doug Drabek (original), José Rijo (revised)
The vote situation was also bad in the senior circuit, as Pittsburgh ace Doug Drabek (4.2 WAR) won the NL Cy vote for winning 22 games, the only category he led the league in. Meanwhile, San Diego Padres workhorse Ed Whitson (7.0), New York Mets southpaw Frank Viola (6.4), Cincinnati Reds phenom José Rijo (5.7), and Houston Astros journeyman Danny Darwin (5.3) all had better seasons.
However, the Padres had a losing record, although the Mets finished just 4 games behind the Pirates. The Reds won the NL West by 5 games, and the ‘Stros had a losing record. So, this looks like Rijo’s award, in truth, which puts his 1990 World Series MVP effort in much better context after he finished without a single vote in the NL Cy Young balloting.
We don’t care about the postseason here, but when people acted like his playoff performance was a fluke and came out of nowhere, that just wasn’t the case: His 14-8 record with a 2.70 ERA over 197 IP was impressive for a team that hadn’t won the division in over a decade. Interestingly enough, he garnered more MVP votes, finishing 19th in that poll, than he did Cy Young support. Go figure.
1990 AL ROTY: Sandy Alomar, Jr. (original), Kevin Appier (revised)
With just 2.4 WAR, Cleveland Indians rookie catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr. won the vote, mostly because of his name. His .744 OPS was average, and his defense (0.5 dWAR) was extremely overhyped at the time. Three other rookies in the league were better, including Kansas City Royals starter Kevin Appier (5.3), Baltimore Orioles phenom Ben McDonald (3.3), and Minnesota Twins junker Kevin Tapani (2.5).
The Royals won just 75 games, while the Orioles only won 76 times. The Twins posted 74 victories, and the Indians notched 77 victories. All things being equal then, this award belongs to Appier, who was 8th overall in MLB for pitching WAR. He earned 12 wins over 185 2/3 IP with a 2.76 ERA and 3 shutouts.
1990 NL ROTY: David Justice (original), Larry Walker (revised)
The Atlanta Braves finished last in the NL with just 65 Ws, but their rookie utility player, David Justice, won the NL ROTY vote with just 2.9 WAR—which included -1.2 dWAR! Hitting 28 HRs won him the award, as voters once again demonstrated they only cared about power stats. Meanwhile, Chicago Cubs starter Mike Harkey (5.2) and Montréal Expos right fielder Larry Walker (3.4) were better players.
The Cubs finished under .500, while the Expos won 85 times to finish third in the NL East. This makes Walker’s season the more impressive one, as he finished in positive defensive territory (0.8 dWAR) while hitting 19 HRs and stealing 21 bases.