Welcome to 1903 on MLB Monday Redux: We’re going back to fill in the first few seasons of the World Series era when it comes to the base MVP and Cy Young awards. This is an extension of our first miniseries that started back in March 2020, as we began then with the first year MVPs were given out, and we should have started 8 seasons earlier. So, here we go in filling historical gaps in the record!
Enjoy a few weeks of bonus content here …
1903 AL MVP: Freddy Parent, SS, Boston Americans
Here are the contenders, and they’re all teammates, oddly: Cleveland second baseman Nap Lajoie (7.9 WAR), Cleveland third baseman Bill Bradley (7.1), Boston shortstop Freddy Parent (6.4), Detroit outfielder Sam Crawford (5.7), Boston 3B Jimmy Collins (5.3), and Detroit centerfielder Jimmy Barrett (5.0). The Tigers finished under .500, so that solves one issue right there.
The Boston Americans won the pennant by 14.5 games over the Philadelphia Athletics and 15 games over the Cleveland Naps. Basically, the two Naps players were irrelevant, finishing that far back, so this comes down to the two Boston players: Parent or Collins. Both players were positive defenders, with Parent posting an MLB-best 2.5 dWAR.
With the defensive prowess and the overall WAR edge, we will give our first (in terms of season) AL MVP nod to Parent for the following stat line: .304 average, 31 doubles, 17 triples, 80 RBI, 24 SBs, and that 2.5 dWAR at the key defensive position in the infield. Parent did it all for the first World Series champions.
1903 NL MVP: Honus Wagner, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
The four contenders are Pittsburgh SS Honus Wagner (7.6), Brooklyn left fielder Jimmy Sheckard (7.0), Chicago first baseman Frank Chance (5.8), and Philadelphia CF Roy Thomas (5.7). The Phillies finished almost 40 games out of first, so this comes down to Wagner, Sheckard, and Chance. And Chance was a negative defender (-0.2 dWAR), so he’s out of consideration, too.
The Pirates won the pennant by just 6.5 games over the New York Giants, so without Wagner, they never would have done that. The Superbas finished 19 games behind Pittsburgh, so this award goes, hands down, to Wagner, who also won our 1911 and 1912 nods. At this point in time, he was just 29 years old, so you can see he was a very good player deep into his 30s.
His stat line: .355 average, 19 triples, 101 RBI, 46 SBs, 44 BBs, and a .931 OPS to go along with 1.7 dWAR (9th in MLB). His average led the NL, as did the triples mark. He also spent time in right field, left field, and first base, defensively. Wagner certainly deserves the reputation as one of the best players ever, still.
1903 AL Cy Young: Cy Young, SP, Boston Americans
A lot of good pitchers here, and some of them teammates, too: Philadelphia’s Rube Waddell (8.3 WAR), Detroit’s Bill Donovan (7.5), Philadelphia’s Eddie Plank (7.0), Boston’s Bill Dinneen (6.6), St. Louis’ Willie Sudhoff (6.6), and Boston’s Cy Young (6.6). The Tigers and the Browns both finished under .500, and the Americans beat the A’s out by 14.5 games for the pennant. This comes down to Dinneen or Young.
Remember, Dinneen won our 1903 World Series MVP nod, although that has nothing to do with this. With both pitchers posting 6.6 WAR, how do we do this kind of analysis? Well, one way is a head-to-head comparison:
- Dinneen: 21-13, 2.26 ERA, 299 IP, 148 Ks, 1.074 WHIP
- Young: 28-9, 2.08 ERA, 341.2 IP, 176 Ks, 0.969 WHIP
Young led the AL in wins, CG (34), shutouts (7), saves (2), and IP. Dinneed also had 2 saves, but otherwise, Young’s season was much more dominant—and it spreads out over a lot more innings, too. How did the WAR come out evenly? Something to do with fielding, which is not as important here as it is for position players. Young wins our first award that bears his name, which is kind of appropriate, no?
1903 NL Cy Young: Joe McGinnity, SP, New York Giants
In a rare circumstance, two candidates from the same team both surpassed double digits in WAR, triggering the threshold automation: New York’s Joe McGinnity (12.2 WAR) and Christy Mathewson (10.5). The Giants finished in second place, 6.5 games behind the Pirates, and by default, we give this award to McGinnity for the superior WAR mark, which is a tough break for Mathewson.
His numbers: 31-20, 2.43 ERA, 434 IP, 171 Ks, and 1.152 WHIP. That IP total is insane, and it was built upon 48 starts and 44 complete games. It’s a wonder his arm didn’t fall off, right? McGinnity led the NL in wins, CGs, and IP. These kinds of seasons faded away in the early twentieth century, but still, it’s shocking to look at a pitching line like that. What a workhorse!