The 1928 AL MVP Race

A few days ago, on April 29th, John Buck of the Toronto Blue Jays hit 3 home runs in one game, which is a pretty impressive feat.  It is even more impressive that Buck did it while playing catcher.  Since 1920, no catcher has ever homered 4 (or more) times in one game, and Buck marks the 27th time a catcher has homered thrice.  It should be noted that with searches made on Baseball-Reference such as this one, the years 1940-1951 are not covered.  So these 27 games cover the years 1920-1939 and 1952-2010.  The last to do it was Victor Martinez for the Indians in 2004.  His current teammate Jason Varitek is in the club as well, having completed the feat in 2001.  

The second of these 27 games was recorded in 1925 by Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane, who I am proud to introduce to this blog as a Boston University alum.  The conversation of BU alums in the majors really starts and ends with this guy, but I guess I can’t complain.  His 13 year career includes 2 MVP awards, 2 All-Star games (the first All-Star Game was played when he was 30 years old), and 3 World Series Championships.  Cochrane’s career is an interesting one for a multitude of reasons, so don’t be surprised if you hear his name on this blog again.
The most intriguing part for me is the quality of competition that he managed to beat out both times he came away with the American League MVP Award.  First let’s look at the leading vote-getters the first time he won in 1928:
Voting Results Batting Stats Pitching Stats
Rank ▴ Tm Vote Pts Share G AB R H HR RBI SB BB BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Mickey Cochrane PHA 53.0 83% 131 468 92 137 10 57 7 76 .293 .395 .464 .859
2 Heinie Manush SLB 51.0 80% 154 638 104 241 13 108 16 39 .378 .414 .575 .989
3 Joe Judge WSH 27.0 42% 153 542 78 166 3 93 16 80 .306 .396 .417 .813
3 Tony Lazzeri NYY 27.0 42% 116 404 62 134 10 82 15 43 .332 .397 .535 .932
5 Willie Kamm CHW 15.0 23% 155 552 70 170 1 84 17 73 .308 .391 .411 .802
6 Goose Goslin WSH 13.0 20% 135 456 80 173 17 102 16 48 .379 .442 .614 1.056
6 Earle Combs NYY 13.0 20% 149 626 118 194 7 56 11 77 .310 .387 .463 .850
8 Charlie Gehringer DET 12.0 19% 154 603 108 193 6 74 15 69 .320 .395 .451 .846
9 Buddy Myer BOS 11.0 17% 147 536 78 168 1 44 30 53 .313 .379 .390 .769
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/2/2010.

I’ve included the top 9 leading vote-getters, who were all hitters. As you can see, Cochrane barely eked out the victory over Manush- but how did he? Manush dwarfs him in nearly every relevant category, including a batting average that was 85 points higher despite collecting an extra 170 at-bats. I looked to defense for an explanation, and found that Manush posted a .992 fielding percentage in the outfield compared to a league average .966, while Cochrane posted a .966 fielding percentage behind the dish compared to a league average .976. Cochrane’s Athletics finished second in the American League while Manush’s Browns finished 3rd. But is that really enough to justify all his other “shortcomings?” Of course not.

In 1928, the AL MVP award had certain restrictions that are no longer in effect. The award was given to “the baseball player who is of the greatest all-around service to his club” and was voted on by a committee of just eight baseball writers. The three major differences from today were that you could not win if you were a player-manager (which was common then), you could not win if you had won before (this took Lou Gehrig, the 1927 winner among others out of the equation), and each of the eight writers had to vote for one player from each team. The first two rules have no effect on Manush, as he was eligible to win that year. The last sounds promising, but even that offers no help. Manush had no St. Louis Browns worthy of the title to compete with, while Cochrane played with a 41-year old Ty Cobb and a 20-year old Jimmie Foxx among other future Hall of Famers. Foxx even finished 11th in the voting, while none of Manush’s teammates finished in the top 25.

All this, and still no mention of Goose Goslin, who finished 6th in the voting. A quick glance at the table above, and it appears that he finished just 6 RBI short of the Triple Crown. This was not actually the case, since some ineligible players had him beat in home runs and RBI, although he did lead the league in batting average. He also finished the season with a Ruthian OPS of 1.056 (actually, Ruth’s OPS that year was 1.172, but he was ineligible to be MVP by virtue of winning the award in 1923). How did Goslin get overlooked? Maybe the teammate argument actually holds some weight here, since his fellow Washington Senator Joe Judge finished ahead of him at 3rd place.

I apologize if this post is unsatisfying, because I really have no answer to the question I have raised. I can’t find any justification for Cochrane winning this award over Manush or Goslin, unless the voters thought that he brought enough intangibles to the table to make up for his lack of statistical clout. Nevertheless, the 1928 AL MVP was the first awarded to a BU alum, and the second would come in 1934, also to Cochrane. This post is longer than I thought it would be so I’ll wrap up, but I would like to take a look at that MVP race eventually as well. And in case you are a particularly astute reader and you just noticed that Cochrane won twice despite there being a rule against it, the rules for the award were restructured in 1931 and have remained virtually the same since then. In conclusion, you can ask your friends and family the trivia question, “Who won the AL MVP Award in 1929 and 1930?” and then mock them as they attempt to answer before you inform them that no one did, because they discontinued it after 1928 due to the ridiculous rules and didn’t get it going again until 1931. Thanks for reading, and if you like the blog or if you have anything at all to say, I love comments and e-mails.


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