And just like that, we’re back with another miniseries on MLB Monday that really won’t be that “mini”—it probably will take us another 2.5 years to complete, in truth, as we go through three categories of analysis: World Series MVPs, Managers of the Years (MOTY), and (undeserving) Gold Glove winners, all wrapped into one weekly column.
And since the World Series started in 1903, that’s where we begin, although it was 1955 before this award was voted on. When division play starts in 1969, we will add League Championship Series MVPs, too. Official MOTY awards were not voted on until 1983, for some reason, but we will start with them right away, because we can. And finally, the Gold Gloves … we’ve discussed this.
They were first awarded in 1957, and each season from there on, we will look at the most undeserving recipients, and we will also discuss those who were most egregiously overlooked. That should be fun! We won’t start until we reach that season, so it will be a long time before we get to it. We do have defensive metrics for seasons prior, but we’re looking at voting blunders mostly here, so no need to start earlier.
(Also, we didn’t start our original MLB awards miniseries until the 1911 season, when the first MVPs were given out. That was our decision at the time, and we won’t fill in the gap now for the first handful of seasons of the twentieth century; that can just be an addition column, singular, someday soon for a rainy Monday afternoon!)
We’re trying to think if we’re missing anything else here … and we cannot. On with the (new) show!
1903 World Series MVP: Bill Dinneen, SP, Boston
The Boston Americans beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in 8 games (!) to win the first-ever World Series. Two things stand out here: first, the Americans would become the Red Sox by 1908, and the Series was a best-of-nine affair back then, initially. We actually wonder why it has returned to that with the modern-day TV contract bonanzas, but we digress: Who was the first World Series MVP?
Well, Boston centerfielder Chick Stahl is a candidate, with his .303 average and .839 OPS for the Series, both of which topped the Americans, offensively. On the mound, the best pitcher for Boston was Bill Dinneen, who pitched 4 complete games, winning three of them, with a 2.06 ERA and a 1.057 WHIP. While Cy Young had slightly better numbers (1.85 and 1.029), he only started and completed 3 games.
Young had a relief appearance, too, but Dinneen edged him in IPs and overall hits allowed combined with strikeouts. It would have been “cooler” to give the first World Series MVP to Young, of course, but Dinneen was the better pitcher for this Series. We know it was a pitcher’s era, too, so Dinneen’s contributions are more impressive to us than Stahl’s plate action, so Dinneen it is.
1903 AL MOTY: Clark Griffith, New York
For these awards, we are going to rely heavily on three factors: Pythagorean projections (based on run-scoring differential), improvement from prior season, and relevance in pennant races. Eventually, we will factor in things like payroll, but that is a long ways off. Using the basic three ideas above, we have just one candidate here: Clark Griffith of the New York Highlanders.
The prior year, the team had been in Baltimore as the Orioles and won just 50 games while under the field leadership of John McGraw. Yes, that John McGraw. With the move to New York, Griffith coaxed 72 wins out of the roster with only one major addition (catcher Jack O’Connor). However, the key is that the Highlanders only outscored their opponents by 6 runs, overall (579-573).
By that projection, they should have posted just a 68-66 record, but Griffith coaxed a 72-62-2 mark out of them instead. That plus-4 mark was the best in the American League by 3 games, and even though New York finished fourth in the standings, the improvement and the exceeding of the projection wrap this award up handily for Griffith in our eyes.
1903 NL MOTY: Frank Selee, Chicago
We have three candidates for this award: Fred Clarke of the Pirates, Frank Selee of the Chicago Cubs, and Ned Hanlon of the Brooklyn Superbas. They were the top three, in order, for outdoing the respective Pythagorean projections, and all three teams finished above .500 for the year in the National League. However, only one of these teams improved from the 1902 season to the 1903 season.
That was the Cubs, who won just 68 times the year prior, before jumping to 82 victories this season. The Pirates actually regressed by double-digit wins, so it’s hard to reward Clarke for that, even if the team did win the pennant. Chicago improved from 68-69-6 to 82-56-1, while exceeding projections by 4 wins in the process, the second-best effort in the NL.
For the record, this team included an age-21 second baseman named Johnny Evers and an age-22 shortstop named Joe Tinker—not to mention an age-26 first baseman named Frank Chance. Each played at least 124 games for the Cubs in 1903, the first time they were truly together as a trio for a full season, and we’re sure that helped Selee work his magic on Chicago’s finish in the standings.