The George McQuinn Fiasco

Baseball in the time of COVID
(Writing Time: 20 minutes)

OK, so I found a few moments this morning to break away and write a little baseball — 20 minutes today. This isn’t about today’s baseball but about a little rabbit hole that Bill James unintentionally sent me down. It involves the 1947 American League MVP voting which, as you might know, is probably the most controversial in baseball history.

That was the year Ted Williams won the Triple Crown but lost the MVP award by one point to Joe DiMaggio, who was not nearly as good.

Williams: .343/.499/.634, 9.5 WAR

DiMaggio: .315/.391/.522, 4.6 WAR

I was well aware of the controversy that year, but I always assumed it was a straight-up vote between DiMaggio and Williams, and the writers idolized DiMaggio while generally loathing Williams. I’d always heard about the writer who left Ted Williams entirely off his ballot and blamed him most of all.

Tuesday, Bill tweeted this:

Well, that seemed an interesting question — Cory Schwartz responded by pointing out that DiMaggio was left off three ballots.

But it turns out that wasn’t the most interesting part of all. I’d never really looked closely at the 1947 MVP balloting before. And when you do look at it, you realize that it wasn’t exactly the writers’ love of Joe DiMaggio that cost Williams the vote. No, instead, it was the writers’ insistence that the MVP had to come from Yankees because New York had cruised to the pennant.

It simply didn’t make sense to the vast majority of them to give the award to Williams or anyone else who wasn’t a part of a Yankees team that moved into first place on June 20 and was never challenged after that.

This shouldn’t feel too foreign to us … there are still plenty of people who think that the MVP should go to the best player on the best team. Every year, you will hear those tedious arguments about how the Most VALUABLE Player is not the same thing as the Most OUTSTANDING Player or some such thing. It was simply canon in 1947 that the MVP should go to a player on the runaway Yankees.’

And in truth, most voters DID NOT vote for DiMaggio. Here are the first place votes:

DiMaggio, 8 votes
Joe Page, 7 votes
Ted Williams, 3 votes
George McQuinn, 3 votes
Eddie Joost, 2 votes
Lou Boudreau, 1 vote

Joe Page was the super-reliever for Yankees in ‘47. He appeared in 56 games, went 14-8 with 44 games finished. He alone got almost as many first-place votes as DiMaggio.

And then there’s George McQuinn. You are forgiven if you have never heard of George McQuinn. He was a solid enough player for the St. Louis Browns before and during World War II. He made a handful of All-Star teams. Then in 1946, he played for the Philadelphia Athletics, and he seemed finished — hit just .225 with three home runs. Philadelphia released him. The Yankees picked him up.

And McQuinn, at age 37, had a renaissance season. He hit .304/.395/.437 with 84 runs scored and 80 RBIs. It’s utterly laughable to compare that season to the one Ted Williams had … but there was a sense that McQuinn was the difference-maker.

The ‘46 Yankees without McQuinn had finished third.

The ‘47 Yankees with McQuinn won the pennant by 12 games.

So he got three first-place votes. If even one of those votes had gone to Ted Williams … but they didn’t. So when you think about the bizarre ‘47 MVP balloting, the full picture is larger than “Eh, the writers just loved Joe DiMaggio.” The writers loved winning teams.

Oh, and don’t get me started on Eddie Joost. Those two first-place votes — for a guy who hit .206 and led the league in strikeouts — are utterly inexplicable. THOSE might be for the writers who just hated Ted Williams.