I have been part of the Baseball Writers Association of America's voting body for more than 25 years. It's an honor. Always has been -- even on nights when you're getting insulted and vilified on social media.
The 2021 National League MVP ballot was the most difficult, in any category, that I've ever encountered. I mulled it daily over the final two weeks of September and agonized over it for two days before hitting the submit button.
I knew I was going to take heat for it, but I also knew what I believed, especially regarding that tricky word valuable.
So, I voted this way:
Fernando Tatis Jr.
As a baseball writer, I've always had great respect for the player who exudes accountability. Jimmy Rollins got benched for not running out a ball one night in Atlanta. After the game, he looked across the clubhouse at a group of reporters and waved us over to offer his account of what happened. One night at the Vet many years ago, Scott Rolen struck out five times in a game. Five times. Afterward, he emerged from a back room in the clubhouse, approached a couple of reporters and said, "I figured you might want to talk to me." There were days in 2021 when Hector Neris looked like he wanted to cry after blowing a save but he took the questions, endured the heat. Ditto even for Harper on the night I asked him about a reckless baserunning play that cost the Phillies. He offered his reasons. He was accountable.
I figured you might want to talk to me.
I don't view this as an award for the best player in the league or the guy with the best offensive numbers. That's why the venerable Hank Aaron Award exists.
Numbers are huge in this. We all know that. And there are more numbers and statistics than ever to build up a player's candidacy or knock it down. You don't get considered for the top 20 in an MVP discussion without numbers, never mind the very top of the ballot, but numbers aren't everything. If they are, why not save the effort and the vitriol and let a computer pick the winners?
There is some subjectivity to this. Brandon Crawford's leadership and across the board contributions on both sides of the ball on a 107-win Giants team made such an impression on four voters that they awarded him a first-place vote. Bravo for them for believing in what they saw, what they felt. And congratulations to Crawford. Over 400 players appeared in the National League in 2021. He finished fifth in the voting. Not too shabby.
I love big production numbers as much as anyone and they are the first thing I put through the strainer when I consider a ballot. But that nebulous word valuable always gets me. For me, it's loaded with nuance. I think about the core of pro sports and what they are about: Winning. I ponder the player's performance numbers, frame them around the concept of winning and go from there. Did this player produce big numbers? Yes. Did he help lift his team into contention and keep it there?
Better yet, for me, at least, did he put a team on his back in the second half, raise it from the dead, keep it alive and in the playoff hunt right until the end? I value that stuff. That's why I was one of 17 voters to give Harper a first-place nod. And, oh yeah, I know the NL East was a weak division and the Phillies, the team I cover, finished just two games over .500. But that weak division eventually produced the World Series champion and was there for the taking, by at least four of the clubs, at midseason. The NL East race might have been ugly, but it was a race nonetheless with the kind of pressure-filled games down the stretch that test a player's mettle and reveal his value, at least in my interpretation of the word.
Turner, with brilliant credentials and impact on a great Dodgers team, got my second-place vote.
Goldschmidt got my third-place vote because of his work in pressure-filled games that picked up a sagging, seventeen-wins-in-a-row Cardinals team and delivered it to the postseason.
I was taken with the way Austin Riley stepped up and delivered for Atlanta all season but especially down the stretch. He helped the Braves build the momentum that propelled them to something special in October. I know this observation will not be objective enough for some, but I believe in it.
Crawford was my fifth-place vote, a fantastic two-way season for a fantastic club that exceeded all the data-based predictions.
And that brings me to the sixth and seventh spots on my ballot. I have great respect for Fernando Tatis Jr.'s talent and for his amazing production in 2021. I loved the way he engaged with fans during his visit to Citizens Bank Park this summer, even tweeted about it. He is the budding face of baseball, might be already. He went through the strainer as a top 3 guy, but ultimately slipped on my ballot when his team faded down the stretch. My voting Tatis sixth was not a negative commentary on him. He's awesome. It was a positive commentary on Harper, Turner, Goldschmidt, Riley and Crawford and the impact they had on teams that contended all the way.
Juan Soto who got my seventh-place vote. What a season. What a second half. What a hitter. Like Tatis, he started in the top 3 of the strainer but was passed by others when I just could not suppress my personal interpretation of the word value. The Nationals were a second-place team in a winnable NL East at the end of June but plummeted in the second half, not that it was Soto's fault. He might have been in a different spot on a lot of ballots had the Nats not held a fire sale in July and traded Turner and Max Scherzer.
As I ramble on here, I must make the point that all ballots are just opinions and therefore are like our nether regions – we all have one. Unfortunately, in many corners of today's world, there's little respect for differing opinions. I disagree with you therefore I must assail and impugn you.
Oh, well. No problem there. As Larry Bowa once told me, "Take it like a man, b----!" Sometimes you have to take a little heat. I'm not going to tailor my vote to avoid backlash.
I like looking over the ballots and seeing the opinions of all the voters. I see their names and their choices and from that can glean their personnel guidelines and perspectives – and I respect them all. These are people who love the game, respect the game, and do their homework. Just like me.
Someone suggested that these awards be taken away from the BBWAA and be decided upon by a cast of former winners. How absurd. These awards, the most prestigious in the sport, are property of the BBWAA. The organization does a great job getting it right and did so again in 2021.
Thank you for your interest in these great awards. Your passion shows why they are special. In the end, we are all judge and jury of our own ballot and I stand by mine.
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