This season on MLB Monday finds us taking on the Year of the Home Run, where we saw a couple of players chase down Roger Maris and 61 HRs—non-ethically, of course. One could argue this was the turning point for the sport in selling its soul for profits, and the sad thing is that the public went along with it … even though we all should have known better.
What a world! Here’s our take on it, decades later.
1998 AL MVP: Juan González (original), Nomar Garciaparra (revised)
Texas Rangers right fielder Juan González won his second AL MVP vote in three seasons, but like we did in 1996, we’re re-assigning this award, readily. He posted just 4.9 WAR overall, with a -0.9 dWAR thrown in for good measure, and four other AL players posted WAR marks of 7.0 or higher. So, regardless of any PED suspicions, Juan Gone is long gone here.
Seattle Mariners shortstop Álex Rodríguez topped MLB in WAR (8.5), but he’s a PED user, so he’s out. New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (7.5), Chicago White Sox left fielder Albert Belle (7.1), and Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra (7.1) remain as our prime candidates here. But Belle was a negative defender (-0.8 dWAR), so now we just have the two East Coast stars to evaluate.
This was the season the Yankees won a record 114 games, so Jeter’s “value” takes a hit, as New York won the AL East by 22 games over the Red Sox. He was irrelevant, even if the team’s best player. Meanwhile, the Red Sox claimed the wild-card berth by just 4 games over the Toronto Blue Jays, so Boston would not have made the postseason without Nomar. That is value, and this is a value award.
He won our AL ROTY nod last year, and now he steps up in fine fashion: Garciaparra also finished second in the voting, by the way, thanks to a .323 batting average, a .946 OPS, 1.9 dWAR, 35 HRs, and 122 RBI. His all-around game fueled the Red Sox and was the prime reason Boston reached the postseason.
1998 NL MVP: Sammy Sosa (original), Barry Bonds (revised)
Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa (6.5 WAR) won the NL MVP vote, despite posting -0.5 dWAR. We also know he was a cheater, so he’s not even close to keeping this hardware. We also would disqualify St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire (7.5, including -2.6 dWAR!) for his PED use, and he finished third among NL players in WAR. Such a fun job we have given ourselves here, huh?
That leaves with us San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds (8.1), New York Mets first baseman John Olerud (7.6), Montréal Expos right fielder Vlad Guerrero (7.4), Atlanta Braves center fielder Andruw Jones (7.4), Cardinals OF Brian Jordan (7.0), and Braves third baseman Chipper Jones (7.0). The two Atlanta teammates cancel each other out, so it’s Bonds, Olerud, Vlad, or Jordan, strangely.
The Giants missed the postseason by 1 game, losing a one-game playoff against the Cubs in Game 163. The Mets finished one half game behind San Francisco in that wild-card chase, and the Expos won just 65 games. The Cardinals finished 6.5 games behind the Chicago, so this comes down to Bonds or Olerud. Bonds has the superior WAR and the slightly better team finish, so he wins this again.
We will point out that this is the fifth MVP nod we’ve given Bonds, and at this time, he had only won 3 trophies from the voters (1990, 1992, 1993). He won’t be eligible going forward as it’s documented he started using PEDs in 1999 because he was pissed about not being valued enough by the voters (or the sport, itself). The guy was an amazing talent, but his ego got the best of him, for sure.
Oh, his numbers? 44 doubles, 37 HRs, 122 RBI, 28 SBs, 130 BBs, .303 average, 1.047 OPS, 29 IBBs, and 0.3 dWAR. He was 33 years old, and without PEDs, his prime probably would have been coming to an end very soon here thereafter. This was the seventh-straight season he topped the NL in IBBs, by the way, even before he started juicing. What a shame he threw his storied legacy into the trash …
1998 AL Cy Young: Roger Clemens (original), Pedro Martínez (revised)
The four best pitchers in the junior circuit were Toronto Blue Jays cheater Roger Clemens (8.5 WAR), Oakland Athletics journeyman Kenny Rogers (7.5), Boston Red Sox acquisition Pedro Martínez (7.3), and Anaheim Angels veteran Chuck Finley (7.2). Clemens won the vote, so we are re-assigning this award, obviously. Oakland won just 74 games, so Rogers is out, too. This comes down to Pedro and Finley.
The Red Sox won the wild-card spot and finished 7 games ahead of the Angels, so that clinches it for Martínez, rather simply. This was Pedro’s first season in Boston, after the Red Sox traded Tony Armas, Jr. and Carl Pavano for him. Ouch! No regrets there, unless you are/were a Expos fan, of course. Just 26 years old, Martínez would give the Boston organization the 7 best years of his career—and then some.
His numbers: 19-7, 2.89 ERA, 251 Ks, 1.091 WHIP. He didn’t actually lead the AL in anything, but he was the difference between the postseason and the offseason for the Red Sox.
1998 NL Cy Young: Tom Glavine (original), Kevin Brown (revised)
Atlanta Braves southpaw Tom Glavine (6.1 WAR) won the NL Cy Young vote, but he’s not going to get to keep it like he did in 1991. Four better NL pitchers were San Diego Padres ace Kevin Brown (8.6), Mets journeyman Al Leiter (6.7), Braves wizard Greg Maddux (6.6), and Philadelphia Phillies veteran Curt Schilling (6.2). The two Braves cancel each other out, of course, but this is an easy analysis.
The Padres won the NL West by 9.5 games, the smallest division-winning margin in the senior circuit. The Phillies finished under .500, and the Mets missed out on the playoffs by a few games. That means Brown wins his third-straight NL Cy Young from us, when he didn’t win any of the votes at the time. That is almost a Dave Stieb surprise here.
His stat line: 18-7, 2.38 ERA, 257 Ks, 1.066 WHIP. He also led the NL in starts (35) and fewest HRs allowed per 9 IP (0.3). At age 33, this was the final year of Brown’s considerable prime, and it’s a shame he’s not going to be remembered for his dominant stretch here, outside of our readership.
1998 AL ROTY: Ben Grieve (original), Mike Caruso (revised)
This award is crazy to assess: Oakland RF Ben Grieve (2.2 WAR) won the vote, but White Sox shortstop Mike Caruso (2.7), Yankees starter Orlando Hernández (3.5), and Tampa Bay Devil Rays import Rolando Arrojo (4.1) all finished with higher WAR marks. However, and this is where it gets interesting, the A’s, the White Sox, and the Devil Rays all posted losing seasons, and we know the Yankees rolled the league.
Also, Arrojo was 32 years old after pitching for years on Cuba’s national team, even winning an Olympic gold medal in 1992. Likewise, El Duque was also 32 and a Cuban veteran who won gold in Barcelona. Neither of these guys were true rookies. So, that leaves us with Caruso and Grieve. See how crazy this is? The White Sox were closer to the postseason than the A’s were, so Caruso is going to get this nod.
Caruso had a short career, but he was good enough in 1998 to claim this trophy: .306 average, 55 RBI, 22 SBs, and a 0.5 dWAR. In comparison, Grieve also had a brutal -2.5 dWAR. Caruso sort of won this award by default, but that happens sometimes, as we know. Caruso would only play one more full MLB season before being out of the majors for good by the end of the 2002 season.
1998 NL ROTY: Kerry Wood (original, confirmed)
Cubs fireballer Kerry Wood won the NL ROTY vote, and we confirm it, thanks to his 3.8 WAR. The only other true contender was Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton (3.2), but the Rox won just 77 games while Chicago made the postseason as the wild-card team. That makes this an open-and-shut case for Wood, who famously tied an MLB record by striking out 20 batters in one 9-inning game.
Wood’s overall numbers: 13-6, 3.40 ERA, and 233 Ks. He only had one complete game all year, the famous one, but he did top the league in fewest hits allowed per 9 IP (6.3) and most Ks per 9 IP (12.6). He literally compiled twice as many strikeouts as hits given up. No wonder Wood blew his arm out and missed the entire 1999 season.