On MLB Monday today, we take on a fun season and a unique one, for two reasons: First, the Baltimore Orioles opened Camden Yards, a new ballpark that changed the course of baseball’s economic future; and second, this was the last season before the San Francisco Giants sold their soul to the devil—and changed the course of baseball’s moral future, as well. We shed a tear for some obvious reasons … or several tears, in truth.
Now, on to the fun part of baseball history!
1992 AL MVP: Dennis Eckersley (original), Roberto Alomar (revised)
We will never be sure why the voters chose to give the AL MVP to Oakland Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley (2.9 WAR), but there were better candidates on the A’s roster (five Oakland players topped his WAR mark, in truth)—not to mention the entire junior circuit. So, we will be revising this award, obviously, and we have 5 legitimate candidates below who finished in the MLB Top 10 for WAR while playing for a team that finished over .500 for the season.
Those five players are Minnesota Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett (7.1), Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas (7.0), Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar (6.6), Twins left fielder Shane Mack (6.5), and A’s first baseman Mark McGwire (6.5). We have a few challenges here to sort through, and the first one is the Minnesota duo: They’re both out as is often the case, and the Twins finished 6 games behind the A’s, anyway, in the AL West Division. But there’s more to sort.
The case of Big Mac: It is our belief that this was the first year McGwire was using PEDs, after he’d hit rock bottom in 1991 at age 27 with a .201 batting average and a .714 OPS, his career low. Teams had figured his one-trick act out by his fifth full season in the majors, and his strong recovery in 1992 (.268 average, .970 OPS) was a little surprising, all in all. And when he was out injured for most of the next three seasons—178 games total from 1993 to 1995—we think it was his body rebelling against the PEDs.
His “legend” took off in 1996 and culminated in the 1998 season of 70 home runs, but we see this season as his starting point based on statistical analysis. Therefore, we will not consider him for this award or any other after this point in time. That is our choice, just as it was in 1988 to strip José Canseco of his AL MVP Award—and it will be again in the future with players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, etc.
Therefore, this award comes down to Thomas and Alomar, and with the Big Hurt’s brutal defense (-1.8 dWAR), Alomar gets our nod here for leading the Blue Jays to the AL East Division title by 4 games over the Milwaukee Brewers. His numbers: 105 runs, .310 batting average, 76 RBI, 49 SBs, 87 BBs, .832 OPS, and 0.6 dWAR. Without him, Toronto doesn’t win the division.
1992 NL MVP: Barry Bonds (original, confirmed)
The top 3 players in the senior circuit were Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Barry Bonds (9.0 WAR), Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg (7.8), and Philadelphia Phillies catcher Darren Daulton (6.9). In many seasons, any of these three performances could have won this award, and Bonds took home the hardware with the vote at the time, as the Pirates won their third straight NL East Division crown, this time by 9 games over Montréal.
With the Cubs and the Phillies both finishing under .500 in the NL East, this is Bonds’ award to keep, readily. We know he wasn’t using PEDs yet, so we confirm this award without question, based on these numbers: 109 runs, 34 HRs, 103 RBI, 39 SBs, 127 BBs, .311 average, .456 OBP, .624 SLG, 1.080 OPS, and 32 IBBs. At age 27, this was Bonds entering his considerable prime, as he topped the NL in runs, walks, OBP, SLG, OPS, and IBBs. This is his second MVP nod from us (1990).
1992 AL Cy Young: Dennis Eckersley (original), Mike Mussina (revised)
Six pitchers topped 6.0 WAR to easily outpace Eckersley for the AL Cy, so again, we have to wonder just what the voters were thinking. Yeah, we know he posted 51 saves, but that wasn’t even a record. His 1.91 ERA was pretty, but it wasn’t overly dominant. It was just a weird year for voting, clearly (see below). Anyway, the one pitcher who played for a team over .500 on the year was Baltimore Orioles phenom Mike Mussina (8.2 WAR), making this award his almost by default. It was his first full MLB season.
Boston Red Sox aces Roger Clemens (8.7) and Frank Viola (6.2) couldn’t keep their team afloat, strangely, and Kansas City Royals youngster Kevin Appier (8.0) also couldn’t stop his team from finishing near the bottom of the AL West. Meanwhile, Mussina kept the Orioles within shouting distance (7 games) of Toronto in the AL East by posting an 18-5 record, a 2.54 ERA, 8 CGs, 4 SOs, and a 1.079 WHIP in 241 innings. At age 23, he wins this Cy Young from us, although he never won a real one.
1992 NL Cy Young: Greg Maddux (original, confirmed)
Four pitchers in the league finished in the MLB Top 10 for WAR, starting with Chicago Cubs ace Greg Maddux (9.1 WAR), who won the vote at the time despite his team posting just 78 victories. Meanwhile, St. Louis Cardinals junker Bob Tewksbury (6.4), New York Mets southpaw Sid Fernandez (6.1), and Phillies youngster Curt Schilling (5.9) also delivered Cy-worthy seasons for their teams. New York and Philadephia finished below Chicago in the NL East, while St. Louis won 83 games.
While Maddux doesn’t reach our double-digit threshold here for an outright win, the gap between his season and Tewksbury’s season is significant. Plus, Maddux did post the highest WAR in MLB for the year, even higher than Bonds’ mark for position players. That is good enough for us. Maddux topped the NL in wins (20) and IP (268), while also posting a 2.18 ERA, 9 CGs, 4 SOs, 199 Ks, a 1.011 WHIP, and a 0.2/9 HR allowed rate. He gave up just 7 dongers all season while pitching at Wrigley Field.
That HR allowed rate also was the best in the senior circuit, as were his 35 starts and 14 hit batsmen. Knowing Maddux’s legendary control, we have to think he was hitting those guys on purpose, and only when he wanted to hit them.
1992 AL ROTY: Pat Listach (original), Kenny Lofton (revised)
It was a strong year for rookies in the AL, as four of them posted WAR marks above 4.0 for the season: Cleveland Indians center fielder Kenny Lofton (6.6), Seattle Mariners starter Dave Fleming (5.1), Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Pat Listach (4.5), and Brewers starter Cal Eldred (4.2). Listach won the vote, despite posting 124 strikeouts and a mere .701 OPS. With two Brewers on this list, however, it’s hard to discern which one had more value, so they both go by the wayside.
That leaves us with Lofton and Fleming, and Lofton actually finished in the MLB Top 10 for WAR, while Fleming did not. Cleveland also won 12 more games than Seattle did, so we give this award to Lofton for an MVP-level season as a rookie: His 66 SBs topped the league, and he walked 68 times while hitting .285 overall.
1992 NL ROTY: Eric Karros (original), Tim Wakefield (revised)
Five different rookies in the league posted at least 2.0 WAR, and the voters still gave the ROTY nod to Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros (0.4 WAR) for some reason. Maybe it was his 88 RBI, but … come on! Phillies starter Ben Rivera (2.6), Expos outfielder Moises Alou (2.5), Cincinnati Reds outfielder Reggie Sanders (2.5), Pirates knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (2.1), and Cardinals reliever Mike Pérez (2.1) all deserved this award a lot more than Karros.
Of those five deserving candidates, only Rivera played on a losing team—as did Karros, for the last-place Dodgers! We know the Pirates won the NL East, readily, while the Expos came in second place, and the Cardinals came in third place. The Reds came in second place in the NL West, as well. Therefore, all things being equal, we give the nod to Wakefield for his 8-1 record in 92 IP over 13 starts. He completed four of those starts and tossed one shutout, while posting a 2.15 ERA and a 1.207 WHIP.
Was this another voting example of L.A. bias like we saw in the late 1980s? Definitely. Interesting how people always comment on an “East Coast media bias” without citing some of these egregious examples of a “West Coast media bias”!