Looking through the past winners of major awards can be an interesting excursion. Sure, you'll see plenty of superstars, but mixed in will be guys that time seems to have forgotten. How many people today know anything about 1974 AL MVP Jeff Burroughs, essentially the Pat Burrell of his day? With winners that obscure, I wondered what forgotten players and seasons would turn up second in the writers' voting? Thanks to Baseball Reference we can see what the voting looked like each year. I thought it'd be fun to look at all the second-place finishers for three major awards: the MVP, the Cy Young and the Rookie of the Year.
Most Valuable Player
Let's start with the big one, which goes to the league's most productive player (ideally, at least). Quick rundown: there were no MVP's awarded between 1915-1921 or in 1930, only the AL awarded it in 1922 and 1923, and only the NL awarded it in 1929. If you see a gap in those regions, that's what it means. An asterisk signifies that the player's vote share (vote points received divided by the maximum number of vote points possible) came within ten percent of the winner.
As expected, this is one star-studded chart. There are some guys I wouldn't have expected to see here though, namely Eddie Rommel, Hughie Critz, Johnny Mostil, Lon Warneke, Bill Lee, Dizzy Trout, Eddie Mayo, Billy Goodman, Ned Garver, Sal Maglie, Don Hoak, Johnny Callison, John Mayberry, Al Cowens, Lonnie Smith, Kent Hrbek, Glenn Davis, Mike Greenwell and Tino Martinez. Of that bunch, only Trout and Garver have asterisks next to their names. I guess Garver's 20-win season for a 100-loss team didn't go unnoticed in his day. Trout's 1944 season was incredible, though often forgotten because it came during the war years. Stan Musial finished as runner-up three years in a row from 1949-51, which probably wasn't so bad considering he'd already won the award three times at that point. Would you have believed that Joe Rudi and Greg Luzinski were both two-time runners-up?
Once again, there's a rule to note: there was only one award given for both leagues until 1967. I put the runner-up under the column for the league he played in. If it says "n/a" it means the voting was unanimous and there was no second-place hopeful.
Once again, the names I wouldn't have expected: Dick Donovan, Wilbur Wood, Burt Hooton, Mike Caldwell, Joe Niekro, Jerry Reuss, Mike Norris, Steve McCatty (those A's really did have a great young staff), Steve Rogers, Mario Soto, Teddy Higuera, Jimmy Key (twice!), Scott Erickson, Pete Schourek and Jose Mesa. Did you know Dan Quisenberry was runner-up two years in a row? It's a shame so many people don't remember how highly-regarded he was. Someday, when their great seasons are a distant memory, Chien-Ming Wang, Esteban Loaiza and Dontrelle Willis will probably surprise a few back-lookers too. Steve Blass' sudden decline seems all the more tragic when you know he was Cy Young runner-up the year before.
Rookie of the Year
Like the Cy Young, the Rookie of the Year was given for both leagues combined in the beginning. That rule only lasted two years, and I handled that situation in my charts the same way I did the CY.
OK, be honest: have you ever heard of Chet Nichols, Tom Umphlett, Jim Finigan, Jack Meyer, Marcelino Lopez, Mike Nagy, Roy Foster, Bill Parsons or Pedro Garcia? Heck, even John Hudek and Rolando Arrojo are all but forgotten these days. The Rookie of the Year has more flashes-in-the-pan among its winners than any of the other major awards, but some of these second place guys were pretty good. Eight are Hall of Famers: Whitey Ford, Hoyt Wilhelm, Ernie Banks, Joe Morgan, Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Ozzie Smith and Paul Molitor. Surprisingly, none of them got an asterisk. The guys who finished ahead of them? Respectively, Walt Dropo, Joe Black, Wally Moon, Jim Lefebvre, John Montefusco, Fred Lynn, Bob Horner and Lou Whitaker. Not a Hall of Famer in the bunch, though Whitaker has his supporters. They may not have achieved immortality, but at least they got bragging rights for one year.
No one remembers who came in second, they say. After looking at these lists I think "they" may have a point. But for one man whose season was better (or at least appeared to be), each of these guys would've had their names etched in baseball history. For those who never won anything else, to come so close is especially unfortunate. It's probably not much consolation, but they'll never be forgotten as long as we nerds who dig through the archives keep their legacies alive.