We continue to wade through tainted territory on MLB Monday, as the 1997 season is up to bat now in our ongoing miniseries that might end sometime before the 2022 season begins. In the meantime, we look back almost a quarter century now to see what was what.
Enjoy and stomach as much of this as you can … we know it’s hard sometimes to sift through the grime.
1997 AL MVP: Ken Griffey, Jr. (original, confirmed)
This is an easy award to discuss as the Seattle Mariners won the AL West Division by 6 games, and their center fielder—Ken Griffey, Jr.—also led the AL in WAR (9.1) by almost 2 wins. Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas (7.3) was next best, even with his -1.2 dWAR. Griffey posted 1.9 dWAR to easily win the vote at the time, and we confirm it without much need for discussion.
Griffey’s defense won him an eighth-straight Gold Glove, and his offense wasn’t bad, either: career bests in HRs (56), RBI (147), and TBs (393), which all led the league, and also league-topping marks in runs (125), SLG (.646), and IBBs (23). His .304 average and 1.028 OPS were pretty solid as well. This was The Kid’s age-27 season, and perhaps he was never better.
Strangely, this was the only MVP vote he ever won, but for us, this is his second piece of hardware here.
1997 NL MVP: Larry Walker (original), Barry Bonds (revised)
Five hitters in the senior circuit had outstanding seasons that all bested Thomas’ season in the AL: Colorado Rockies right fielder Larry Walker (9.8 WAR), Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio (9.4), Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza (8.4), San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds (8.2), and Houston 1B Jeff Bagwell (7.7). That’s three former winners right there, too.
Walker won the vote, but the Rox finished 7 games behind the Giants in the NL West, and his season falls just short of that historical-override threshold we’ve been using. Biggio and Bagwell helped the Astros to a 5-game edge in the NL Central, but they cancel each other out. The Dodgers finished 2 games behind S.F. in the NL West … and 4 games behind the Florida Marlins for the wild-card spot.
We’re nothing if not fair and honest here, so this MVP belongs to Bonds: Without him, the Giants are not a postseason team, period. He finished fifth in the voting at the time, which must have infuriated him, of course. We can say we was truly robbed here after posting 0.7 dWAR, 40 HRs, 101 RBI, 37 SBs, 145 BBs, a 1.031 OPS, and 34 IBBs. Both walks numbers were the best ones in the league, by the way.
1997 AL Cy Young: Roger Clemens (original), Randy Johnson (revised)
The vote here went to Toronto Blue Jays free-agent signee Roger Clemens (11.9 WAR), whose “historic” season belongs in the trash as far as we are concerned to his use of PEDs. At age 34, he posted his best season since 1990, reversing a trend of performance decline that began in 1993, really. When the Red Sox refused his contract demands, he took his circus on the road to Canada and started cheating.
So that leaves us with five viable candidates: New York Yankees southpaw Andy Pettitte (8.4); Seattle Mariners ace Randy Johnson (8.0); Detroit Tigers youngster Justin Thompson (7.7); Yankees veteran David Cone (6.7); and Blue Jays stalwart Pat Hentgen (5.8). The Yankees duo cancel each other out, and Hentgen pitched next to Clemens, even if he was cheating. That leaves us a simple(r) decision.
The Tigers finished under .500 which means the Big Unit gets the nod, as a difference maker for the Mariners’ postseason chances. His stat line: 20-4, 2.28 ERA, 291 Ks, and a 1.052 WHIP. Johnson led the AL in winning percentage (.833), fewest hits allowed per 9 IP (6.2), and most Ks per 9 IP (12.3). This is the second AL Cy we’ve give him.
1997 NL Cy Young: Pedro Martínez (original), Kevin Brown (revised)
Four starters separated themselves in the National League: Montréal Expos phenom Pedro Martínez (9.0 WAR); Atlanta Braves legend Greg Maddux (7.8); Florida Marlins ace Kevin Brown (7.0); and Philadelphia Phillies veteran Curt Schilling (6.3). We don’t think Schilling was using PEDs yet, either, so we will still consider him here. The Expos were under .500, which means this trophy is up for grabs.
Martínez won the vote, but his value was suspect on a losing team. The Braves won the NL East by 9 games over the Marlins, so Maddux also has some true value issues. Florida finished 4 games ahead of the Dodgers for that wild-card berth, which boosts Brown’s value. The Phillies posted the worst record in the league, so Schilling is irrelevant.
This means Brown wins this award from us for the second straight year. His stats: 16-8, 2.69 ERA, 205 Ks, and a 1.180 WHIP. Quite the underrated pitcher, for sure.
1997 AL ROTY: Nomar Garciaparra (original, confirmed)
Only two rookies finished with 2.2-plus WAR marks, and both played for losing teams: Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra (6.6) and Chicago White Sox outfielder Mike Cameron (4.4). Garciaparra won the vote, as his WAR mark was pretty impressive for a first-year player. We will confirm the award for this line: 209 hits, 44 doubles, 11 triples, 30 HRs, 98 RBI, 22 SBs, .306 batting average, and an .875 OPS.
He also added 2.0 dWAR as well while leading the AL in hits and triples. Garciaparra finished eighth in the AL MVP voting, too.
1997 NL ROTY: Scott Rolen (original), Andruw Jones (revised)
The three top rookies were Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen (4.5 WAR), St. Louis Cardinals starter Matt Morris (4.1), and Braves outfielder Andruw Jones (3.3). Rolen won the vote, despite the fact that his team finished with the worst record in the league (68-94). What about Morris and Jones? The Cards win just 73 games, so they were not much better. We know Atlanta won its division.
That means Jones is our guy: His primary value was on defense (2.5 dWAR), as at age 20, he was a little overmatched at the plate (.745 OPS in 399 ABs). But he still managed to hit 18 HRs, drive in 70 runs, and steal 20 bases. He was pretty good, all things considered.