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Monday, November 17, 2003
The List: Most controversial MVPs

By David Schoenfield
Page 2 staff

Now that we know who the American League MVP is, we can expect to see outrage from hyper-ventilating sports columnists across the land. How can someone from a losing team be the most valuable player in the league? Of course, if Alex Rodriguez hadn't won, everyone would have been outraged that the best player wasn't named MVP. So in this case, we were going to end up with a controversial winner, regardless. Here are Page 2's 10 most controversial MVP races in sports since 1990:

1. Ivan Rodriguez over Pedro Martinez, 1999
In the most recent vintage of the pitcher vs. hitter debate, Martinez went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts and received the most first-place votes, but Pudge won the overall tally: 252 points to 239 (Roberto Alomar and Manny Ramirez were right behind at 226 points). Rodriguez hit .332 with 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases, but voters missed out on his .356 on-base percentage and 31 double plays hit into. As for Pedro, two writers didn't include him on their ballots (which go 10 players deep), not because they didn't think he was one of the 10 most valuable players, but because they refused to consider a pitcher, blatantly ignoring the rules of the ballot.

2. Joe Montana over Randall Cunningham, 1990
For those who think Mike Vick's throwing-running ability is something new ... you're wrong. Let's see him match the year Cunningham had in 1990 for the Eagles: 3,466 yards passing with 30 touchdowns (and only 13 interceptions) ... and 942 yards rushing (8.0 yards per carry) and five TDs. Cunningham led the Eagles to a 10-6 record. The 49ers went 14-2 with Montana throwing for 3,944 yards with 26 TDs and 16 INTs. The awards actually were split three ways: Montana won the official Associated Press award, while Cunningham was honored by the Pro Football Writers Association and the Niners' Jerry Rice (1,502 yards, 13 TDs) by the Sporting News.

3. Ichiro over Jason Giambi, 2001
This was a case of style vs. sabermetrics. Ichiro came over from Japan and brought his unique style of hitting and personality to Seattle. The voters were impressed as much by Ichiro "magic" as his numbers: he hit .350, stole 56 bases, won a Gold Glove and was second in the league in runs scored. Meanwhile, the more sabermetrically inclined pointed out that Giambi nearly matched Ichiro in batting average (.342, despite the lack of impressive infield singles), but trumped Ichiro easily in on-base percentage (.477 to .381 ) and slugging percentage (.660 to .457). Giambi finished first in the league in both categories, but Ichiro finished first in the MVP vote: 289 points to 281.

4. Magic Johnson over Charles Barkley, 1990
In the closest NBA vote since the media took over the voting in 1981, Johnson edged Barkley by 22 points, even though Barkley received more first-place votes (38 to 27). Barkley averaged 25.2 points and 11.5 rebounds and shot 60 percent from the field. Johnson averaged 22.3 points, 11.5 assists and 6.6 rebounds (while shooting 48 percent). Barkley's Sixers won 53 games while the Lakers won 63. Oh yeah -- Michael Jordan averaged 33.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists and finished third in the voting.

5. Brett Favre and Barry Sanders tie, 1997
Ivan Rodriguez
There's no shame in giving the award to arguably the best catcher in history.
When is an MVP Award particularly controversial? How about when there's a tie. A classic quarterback-running back debate took place in '97. Favre, who had won the previous two MVP Awards, threw for 3,867 yards and 35 touchdowns in leading the Packers to a 13-3 record. Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards with a remarkable 6.1 yards per carry and scored 14 touchdowns. The Lions went 9-7 and won a wild card. While Favre and Sanders shared the official Associated Press award, Sanders won the unofficial award from the Pro Football Writers Association.

6. Juan Gonzalez over Alex Rodriguez, 1996
In one of their weaker moments in judgment, the Baseball Writers Association gave the award to the one-dimensional slugger over the brilliant shortstop in a close vote (290 points to 288). Gonzalez had more RBIs (144 to 123) but A-Rod scored 52 more runs (141 to 89), hit .358 to Gonzalez's .314 and had a .414 on-base percentage to Gonzalez's .368. The Rangers edged the Mariners by 4½ games to win the AL West. Other reasoning? One writer said he voted Rodriguez seventh on his ballot because "No. 2 hitters don't win the MVP."

7. Tim Duncan over Jason Kidd, 2002
Duncan averaged 25.5 points and 12.7 rebounds for the Spurs while Kidd engineered an amazing turnaround for the Nets after coming over from Phoenix: from 26 wins to 52 and a trip to the NBA Finals. He was attempting to become the first point guard since Magic Johnson in 1990 to be named MVP, but Duncan's scoring won out over Kidd's playmaking. Kidd had averaged 14.7 points, 9.9 assists and 7.3 rebounds, but shot just 39.1 percent (no MVP had shot that poorly since Bob Cousy in 1957).

8. Sammy Sosa over Mark McGwire, 1998
Brett Favre
Sharing the MVP award with Barry Sanders? Brett Favre gave it two thumbs up.
In the year of the great home-run chase, McGwire hit more home runs (70 to 66) and had huge edges in on-base percentage (.470 to .377) and slugging percentage (.752 to .647). Sosa had small edges in RBIs (158 to 147) and runs scored (134 to 130). But Sosa's biggest edge came from his teammates: the Cubs won 90 games and the wild card, finishing 6½ games ahead of Big Mac's Cardinals. In the end, the voting wasn't even close, as Sosa got 28 out of 30 first-place votes.

9. Kurt Warner over Marshall Faulk, 2001
Rams teammates, Warner had won the 1999 MVP and Faulk won the 2000 MVP. Who was the key to the Rams' 14-2 record in 2001? Warner threw for 4,830 yards -- the second-highest total in history -- and 36 touchdowns, although he led the NFC with 22 interceptions. Faulk had 2,147 yards from scrimmage and scored 21 TDs despite missing two games: he ran for 1,382 yards and had 83 catches for another 765 yards. Warner won the vote, 21½ to 17½.

10. Karl Malone over Michael Jordan, 1997
Jordan had already won four MVP Awards, so maybe voters were simply getting a little tired of giving it to him. Jordan had another typical MJ year: 29.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists. The Bulls, however, did slip from a record 72 wins to 69. Malone averaged 27.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists in leading Utah to 64 wins. Malone topped Jordan in a close vote (986 points to 957), but Jordan would get the last laugh: the Bulls beat the Jazz in six games in the NBA Finals.

Also receiving votes:
Miguel Tejada over Alex Rodriguez, 2002
Jeff Kent over Barry Bonds, 2000
Mo Vaughn over Albert Belle, 1995
Charles Barkley over Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan, 1993
Terry Pendleton over Barry Bonds, 1991