Editorial: Ichiro doesn't deserve AL MVP

Let the great MVP debate begin. That's right, it's that time of year again when playoff chases heat up and every fan seems to make a case that their team's players deserves some hardware. This year in Seattle, the argument centers around only one player - right field sensation, Ichiro Suzuki. InsidethePark columnist Sean Duade breaks down Ichiro's chances for the award this season, and says they'll likely come down to slim and none.

Compared to recent years past, Mariners fans have little to argue about. Moyer's not competing for a Cy Young Award. Eddie Guardado is on the shelf and wouldn't win the Rolaids Relief Man award even if he was healthy. Bret Boone and Edgar Martinez aren't competing for the Hank Aaron Award or a Silver Slugger. Thankfully, the baseball gods have given us Ichiro Suzuki.

Ichiro, hands down Seattle's most valuable player this year, is keeping things interesting for Seattle fans whose playoff dreams turned into a nightmare long ago. Since the all-star break, Ichiro is hitting .473 with an OBP around .500 and his bat has taken on a life of its own, seemingly determined to break George Sisler's single-season hits record of 257. The mark has stood since 1920 hasn't been seriously challenged in the last 75 years. Lefty O'Doul was the last player to do so, banging out 254 hits in 1929 as a 32-year-old for Philadelphia.

All this excitement surrounding the chase for the single-season hits record begs the question: If Ichiro was to break Sisler's record, should he be named the AL's MVP?

In a word, no.

In a few words, not even close.

That being said, Ichiro does have a few factors working in his favor:

1) He plays in the AL West. The last eight AL MVP's have played in the West division (A. Rodriguez - Texas (03), M. Tejada - Oakland (02), I. Suzuki (01), J. Giambi - Oakland (00), I. Rodriguez - Texas (99), J. Gonzalez - Texas (98), K. Griffey Jr. - Seattle (97), J. Gonzalez - Texas (96))

2) He plays for a mid-market club in a competitive league. In the recent past, baseball writers have shown a fondness for the small-to-mid-market club who comes out on top; as opposed to the Yankees who have dominated in a large market with an obscene payroll.

3) He has won the award before. Lets face it, in order to win you need to get on the ballot and familiarity gets you consideration.

Yet while Ichiro does have several factors working in his favor he has one very large factor working against him - he is playing on a terrible team. This begs the question that tends to trouble voters every year: What exactly does MVP mean?

It's an argument that has been raging since 1931, when the award was introduced into both leagues. And the prevailing sentiment on an annual basis is that a player must be on a team that wins, be that the pennant, their division, or even the wild card, and in a few rare cases a team that was in contention for the playoffs. The 2004 Mariners are of course in contention for none of these things.

Of course there will always be a wise guy who'll bring up A-Rod or any other player who played on a losing, or in his case, last place team. But it's important to note that in A-Rod's case he had had two spectacular seasons prior to 2003, where he finished runner-up and sixth respectively in the MVP voting solely because he was on a last place team. In ‘03 it is speculated that A-Rod may have won because he had not won the award before and the BBWA felt guilty for previously denying him.

But the fact of the matter is that if Ted Williams could win hit .406 in 1941 and win the triple crown in 47 and lose the MVP both years to Joe Dimaggio, simply because the Yankees won the pennant, then that gives you a good idea as to what writers consider the MVP to mean.

Jayson Stark, a weekly columnist for ESPN and a regular guest on Baseball Tonight, puts the debate of what makes an MVP into plain language when he writes:

"This isn't the Most Picturesque Numbers Award. This isn't the Most Outstanding Player Award. This isn't even the ‘Best Player Who Has Gotten Jobbed Out of an MVP in the Past Award. This is about value."

And he continues; "The lessons of history couldn't be more clear. There have been 145 MVP trophies, and 141 of them went to players on teams with winning records. That's 97 percent, friends."

But maybe you don't agree with that logic. You probably think that is bogus and unjust. "Let the best player win the award!" you might say. I'm sorry to say but even if Ichiro breaks Sisler's record it would be highly debatable that first he broke Sisler's record fairly, and second, that he is the best player in the league.

Lets for a moment assume that Ichiro will break the single season hits record - and he is on pace to do so. It still would not matter, for numerous reasons. First of which is that Ichiro's pace is based upon 162 game season, ending on Oct 3 against Texas.

When Sisler set the hits record in 1920 he played in a slightly shorter 154 game season. That, and by comparison, Sisler's stats were far better during that 1920 season than Ichiro's are this year. Sisler, at age 27, hit 19 home runs, 49 doubles, and 18 triples while knocking 122 RBI, stealing 42 bases and hitting .406. Hmm, does Ichiro approach any of those numbers aside from steals and hits? It's really not even close. Sisler had 86 extra-base hits that year compared to the 35 that Ichiro currently has, and even tossed one inning of shutout baseball.

Even more convincing in the argument against Ichiro's candidacy for AL MVP is the fact that there are plenty of other deserving candidates having better years and, most importantly, playing on better teams than Ichiro. That list includes the likes of Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Gary Sheffield, Vladimir Guerrero, Hank Blalock and Johan Santana.

Come late October, when MVP debates will reach their paramount, Ichiro will be placed on the ballot, but don't be fooled; he won't finish higher than fifth.

Sean F. Duade is a junior at the University of Puget Sound, and welcomes your feedback, be it hate mail or kudos. Email all comments to sduade@msn.com

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