Ron Darling got to witness it firsthand.
As one of the starting pitchers for the 1985 New York Mets, Darling watched Dwight Gooden dominate baseball with arguably the best modern-day season ever by a pitcher.
Gooden had the best record (24-4), ERA (1.53) and the most strikeouts (268) in the National League, and he tossed eight shutouts and 16 complete games. He posted a wins above replacement rating of 12.1 over 35 starts — numbers that would have assuredly locked up the MVP award most years.
But Gooden didn’t do that in 1985. He took home the Cy Young Award and finished fourth in the MVP voting behind the Cardinals’ Willie McGee, who hit .353 with 10 home runs and stole 56 bases.
So why wasn’t Darling the least bit upset McGee won? Because he values what it means to be an everyday player.
“I’m probably the only ex-pitcher that doesn’t really believe in starting pitchers being MVPs,” said Darling, who now at 54 is a color commentator for the Mets and TBS. “No one loves [Dodgers ace] Clayton [Kershaw] more than I do. I love watching him pitch. But it is 35 games as opposed to 150-plus games a year. And that’s why [Marlins right fielder] Giancarlo [Stanton] has my vote.”
Although their wild-card hopes are still clinging by a thread, the Marlins (67-71) do have a good shot at accomplishing something they’ve never done before — call the league’s Most Valuable Player their own.
In ESPN’s latest MVP forecast, Stanton is leading Kershaw 24-22 among a panel of 60 voters. But there is a growing sentiment Kershaw (17-3, 1.70 ERA, 202 Ks, 7.4 WAR) deserves it over Stanton, who is hitting .295 and leads the NL in home runs (36), RBI (102), on base percentage (.402), OPS (.968), slugging (.566) and WAR (6.4).
History, though, is on Stanton’s side. No pitcher in the NL has won the MVP award since Bob Gibson in 1968, and, according to ESPN’s stats and information department, six of the last seven players who led the NL in homers, RBI and slugging over the past 40 years have won the MVP award.
The only one who didn’t: the last player to lead the league in those three categories, Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette (1995).
“I’m not one of these guys who says the pitcher can’t get the MVP,” said Mets beat writer Mike Puma of the New York Post, who has a vote for the MVP. “I think the pitcher can get the MVP if he has an extraordinary season and if a hitter doesn’t rise up. But you look at the season Stanton is having, he’s certainly having a phenomenal year. So, it’s just going to come down to these last four weeks here.”
What could ultimately hurt or help Stanton down the stretch is how the Marlins finish the season. Some voters don’t like giving the MVP award to players on losing teams or those out of playoff contention. Puma said he won’t necessarily “weigh that a lot” when he makes his final decision because the Marlins have been competitive in large part due to Stanton.
“While it certainly helps to be on a playoff-bound team — or on a team with a winning record — I don’t think the Marlins’ sub-.500 record is a fatal impediment to Stanton winning the NL MVP,” said Adam Rubin, who covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com and has an MVP vote, too.
“In fact, I recall Joe Girardi winning NL Manager of the Year in 2006 with a Marlins team that finished six games under .500, although I admittedly voted for Willie Randolph No. 1 and Girardi No. 2 that year. Stanton’s power numbers, in an era in which homers overall are dwindling, stands out. And let’s not forget his production comes despite a spacious home ballpark.
“Also, despite a reputation for injuries, Stanton has appeared in every game this season. That should be weighed heavily when one thing voters will have to consider this year is the worthiness of a starting pitcher who arguably contributes only every fifth game, albeit in dominating fashion.”
Stanton belted three homers against the Mets and had three other balls caught at the warning track at Marlins Park this week. Manager Terry Collins compared pitching to Stanton these days to pitching to Barry Bonds in his prime. Collins said everyone stands up in the dugout, pays attention and smiles because they’re scared.
“The thing with Stanton is he goes up against a lot of great pitchers every night and he’s the targeted guy,” said Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson, once the teammate of the last pitcher to win the MVP Award (Detroit’s Justin Verlander in 2011).
“A pitcher can do some amazing things, and Kershaw is definitely one of them. But a guy that can go out there 130, 140, 150 times a season obviously brings more value than a pitcher who is out there 30 or 40 times a year. No matter how dominant you are there’s still 120 other games where someone else makes a decision with whether we win or lose. In terms of that, you’ve got to give the MVP award to the position player. ... Besides, it’s not like a position player can win the Cy Young.”