By David Schoenfield
Page 2

It's been a quiet year for the most unappreciated superstar in baseball.

No trade demands, no fraternizing in hotel lounges with enemy players, no playing left field with a water bottle in his back pocket.

Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
"Hey Manny, my kids, their kids and their kids are so happy you hit after me."

Nope, other than that little incident last Sunday when his 27-game hitting streak ended in part because he didn't hustle out a ground ball, it's just been another season for Manny Ramirez.

You know, just the same old, boring numbers: a higher on-base percentage than David Ortiz (.431 to .397); a higher slugging percentage than Ortiz (.619 to .616); in the top six in the American League in OBP, OPS, RBI, HRs, walks and slugging.

And yet, last week ESPN.com ran a poll asking who will be the AL MVP. The candidates listed were Ortiz, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, Derek Jeter and Carlos Guillen.

Which means, once again, Manny isn't even on the MVP radar. I'm not saying he should be the MVP, but he certainly should be on the ballot. It's amazing: Despite playing for the Red Sox, despite being one of the most famous players in the game, despite appearing in the postseason in eight of his 11 full seasons … he's still more likely to get attention for being a comedy act than a fantastic player.

And this season, Big Papi's late-inning heroics have served to wipe Ramirez completely out of the public's eye.

How valuable is Manny to the Boston lineup? Remember, he bats after David Ortiz. How many more strikes do you think Big Papi gets to see because of Manny? Forget about what you've heard those Yankee fans say -- walking Ortiz to get to Manny is never going to be a good idea. So when Ortiz wins the MVP this year and signs $2 billion in endorsement deals, he better remember to give half to his left fielder.

But it got me thinking: No matter how great his hitting numbers, Ramirez will never win an MVP award -- he just has too much baggage with the lack of hustle and the, shall we say, erratic play in the outfield (although I wonder how erratic Big Papi would be if he had to play left field).

Yet, there's no denying he's one of the best players of his generation. So, with that in mind, here is a list of the 10 best players never to win an MVP award since 1976, the year I can recall watching my first baseball game, but not including pitchers, because I don't want to get into the whole Pedro Martinez in 1999 debate, and also not including players who debuted after the 21st century.

10. Eddie Murray
Best finish in MVP voting: second (1982, 1983)

My friend Victor and I used to get into arguments about whether Eddie Murray was a Hall of Famer. Victor didn't care about the 500 home runs or 3,000 hits. (Actually, the first Eddie Murray argument occurred before Murray reached those milestones, but I know if I called Victor right now his first words would be, "Eddie Murray is not a Hall of Famer.")

Victor's rationale was simple: "Did you ever go to a game to watch Eddie Murray play?"

Me: "The guy was the most feared hitter in the league there for a while!"

Victor: "I paid money to see Ripken or Lynn or Rice or Toby Harrah, but never Eddie Murray."

Me: "He's a Hall of Famer! He should have won the MVP in '84, not Willie Hernandez!"

Victor: "I never paid money to watch Eddie Murray hit!"

Me: "But he was a great player!"

And so on. I still say I'm right. From 1980 to 1985 he finished sixth, fifth, second, second, fourth and fifth in the MVP voting. He just never had the year to put him over the top.

9. Kirby Puckett
Best finish in MVP voting: second (1992)

Puckett was somewhat overrated -- big home-field advantage (he hit .344 at home in his career versus .291 on the road), didn't walk much -- but he sure personified what writers (who vote for the MVP award) say they like: an all-around game, leadership, media-friendly personality. His best year was '88, which was Jose Canseco's monster 40/40 season and he finished third in the voting that year (Mike Greenwell was second).

8. Mark McGwire
Best finish in MVP voting: second (1998)

The Sosa versus Big Mac MVP debate from '98 isn't worth wasting more of this yellow space on. Forget about what we think now, McGwire was clearly the superior player that season. But you wonder: Maybe they should retroactively give the trophy to Moises Alou? (Assuming, of course, that Congress doesn't go after those who rub urine on their hands for a competitive advantage.)

7. Tim Raines
Best finish in MVP voting: fifth (1983)

He didn't have the extended peak of Rickey Henderson, but in the mid-'80s he dominated games in the same way … minus the theatrics, the malapropisms, the self-made proclamations and, of course, the limelight. You can blame playing in Montreal … or maybe the time he said he wanted to be called "Rock" … but this guy was easily the most underrated player of the '80s.

According to the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, he was the third-best player in the NL in 1983, third-best in 1984, third-best in 1985, second-best in 1986, and third-best in 1987. He could have been MVP any of those seasons.

But his lack of notoriety gets back to the Montreal situation. Who ever saw Raines play during this five-year peak when he was best player in the NL? Did the Expos ever appear on a nationally broadcast game during this era? Did Youppi! ever join Johnny Bench on "The Baseball Bunch" to pump up his guy? Does anybody realize that he once scored 133 runs for a team that scored only 677 for the entire season?

Edgar Martinez
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Martinez won the second of his two batting titles in 1995.

6. Edgar Martinez
Best finish in MVP voting: third (1995)

No disrespect to Mo Vaughn or Albert Belle, but I wish to calmly assert that the 1995 American League MVP voting was a crock of lunacy.

Mo Freakin' Vaughn?!?!?

Edgar led the league in on-base percentage, batting average, OPS, runs scored, doubles, runs created, games played and adjusted OPS. He was second in slugging percentage, fourth in RBI, second in hits, second in walks and third in total bases. On top of that, with Ken Griffey Jr. nursing a broken bone in his wrist and the Mariners 13 games behind the Angels in mid-August, Edgar led one of the great pennant comebacks in baseball history: That month, he hit .398 with 33 RBI and 31 runs in 29 games.

Mo Freakin' Vaughn?!?!?! He didn't even finish in the top five in the league in on-base or slugging percentage.

I don't care if Edgar was a DH -- he was the MVP that season.

Belle? Sure, he hit 50 homers. But Edgar's OBP was 78 points higher! 78 points! Plus, Belle was probably corking his bat.

5. Ozzie Smith
Best finish in MVP voting: second (1987)

Let's see here: You have the greatest-fielding shortstop of all time on a division-winning club who hit over .300, scored 104 runs, stole 43 bases in 52 attempts and had a .392 on-base percentage, and the voters selected a guy on a last-place team who scored fewer runs, got on base less (a lot less -- .328 OBP) and played a less important defensive position (I'm talking about Andre Dawson, no need to Google it). Wouldn't you like to go back and figure out how this happened? It'll be like in 20 years trying to explain Steve Nash winning the MVP over LeBron or D-Wade. Actually, it's worse; it's more like giving Ray Allen the MVP simply because he led the league in 3-pointers.

Anyway, Ozzie did become an asset at the plate despite his lack of power and was a terrific base stealer. When in doubt, baseball teams are wise to usually pick the player with the strong bat over a good-field/weak-stick guy; in Ozzie's case, even if he hit .230 (like he did early in his career) he was so astounding with the leather he was a valuable player.

4. Roberto Alomar
Best finish in MVP voting: third (1999)

In 1992 with the Blue Jays, Alomar was a 24-year-old kid who played second base like a Wallenda, hit over .300, was fourth in the league with a .405 OBP, stole 49 bases, hit .354 with runners in scoring position and scored over 100 runs. His only weakness was power, but for you kids, eight homers was actually a decent total from your second baseman back then.

And you know which teammate finished ahead of him in the MVP voting? Dave Winfield, a 40-year-old designated hitter who ran as well as one of the Molina brothers playing an August day game in St. Louis and didn't even slug over .500. Now, Winfield was a new acquisition for the Jays that year, so maybe the voters gave him extra credit for veteran leadership as Toronto won the division. EXCEPT THE JAYS HAD WON THE DIVISION TITLE THE YEAR BEFORE AS WELL. It makes no sense, except, well, voters love RBI even more than they do expensing a dinner at Outback.

(Joe Carter also finished ahead of Alomar in the MVP voting that year -- he was third, Winfield fifth and Alomar sixth. I don't have the energy to discuss that travesty right now.)

The weird thing? The same thing happened the next year. Alomar was even better, adding more power, stealing more bases, driving in more runs, hitting for a higher average. New teammate Paul Molitor, another designated hitter, and with essentially identical batting stats, finished second in the voting. So you have two guys who are equals as a hitter but one plays a Gold Glove second base and steals 33 more bases while the other watches CNN between innings? Who do you think was more valuable?

And there was also 1999. Pudge Rodriguez won. Both played on division winners. Go look up the stats and you'll see why I think Alomar was the better player.

Craig Biggio
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The only thing you ever got from Biggio was solid numbers on the field and at the plate,

3. Craig Biggio
Best finish in MVP voting: fourth (1997)

At his peak, the guy did everything well: get on base, hit for power despite playing in the Grand Canyon, steal bases, get hit by pitches, win Gold Gloves. He'd never get hurt, but always had the dirtiest uniform on the field. In '97, he grounded into zero double plays. The year Pudge Rodriguez won the MVP, he grounded into 31. Just sayin'.

2. Mike Piazza
Best finish in MVP voting: second (1996, 1997)

Probably should have won in '97, when he hit .362 with 40 homers, but lost out to Coors Walker. If Piazza had played in Coors he might have hit .400 with 60 homers.

Of course, Biggio should have won in '97 as well. See why it's hard to win an MVP award?

1. Manny Ramirez
Best finish in MVP voting: third (1999, 2004)

To be honest, I'm not sure Manny has ever actually deserved an MVP award. In 1999, he did drive in 165 runs, which is the most of any player since Jimmie Foxx in 1938. Anybody else drives in 165 runs and they win the MVP as easy as Meryl Streep going up against Lindsay Lohan on an Oscar ballot.

And before you rip this selection of Ramirez, just remember that Juan Gonzalez won two MVP awards. And Gonzalez was nowhere near the complete hitter Ramirez has been.

Ahh, history will not look kindly upon us.

Just for the fun of it …

Honorable mention: Gary Carter, Gary Sheffield, Tony Gwynn, Derek Jeter, Wade Boggs, Dave Winfield.

Best pre-1976 players never to win: Eddie Mathews, Al Kaline, Ron Santo, Johnny Mize.

David Schoenfield is the lead editor for Page 2. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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