Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Snyder’s Soapbox: With MLB integrating Negro Leagues records, it’s time to name MVP awards after players

Welcome to Snyder’s Soapbox! Here I pontificate about a matter related to Major League Baseball on a weekly basis. Some of the topics will be pressing matters, some might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things and most will be somewhere in between. The good thing about this website is it’s free and you are allowed to click away. If you stay, you’ll get smarter, though, that’s a money-back guarantee. Let’s get to it.

This week, Major League Baseball is fully, finally integrating the record books with stats from Negro Leagues. I have no doubt that some people out there will object to this — which is kind of telling, right? — but if the white players who only played against other white players get to be in the record books, why wouldn’t the Negro Leagues players also get to be there? Logic dictates this is the correct move. We know that some of the greatest players in history were shut out of Major League Baseball simply due to the color of their skin.

One of those players was Josh Gibson, perhaps the greatest catcher who ever lived. In 602 officially recorded games, Gibson hit an absurd .373/.458/.718. If you look at his baseball-reference.com page, the black ink (leading the league in a category) is pretty jarring. It just jumps off the page how offensively dominant he was. 

In an interview with USA Today about the stats, Gibson’s great-grandson suggested another honor that should be next on MLB’s to-do list: putting his name on the MVP trophy.

“How ironic would it be for Josh Gibson to replace the man who denied more than 2,300 men the opportunity to play baseball in the major leagues?” Sean Gibson said. “I’m hoping with these stats that we can change it to the Josh Gibson MVP award. These stats make a great case for it to be named in his honor.”

Sean Gibson is alluding to Kenesaw Mountain Landis, whose name was on the trophy until 2020. No, Landis never won MVP. He was never even a player. He was the first commissioner. Landis oversaw Major League Baseball through an era of segregation that prevented Black players from playing, even though they were certainly good enough on merit, simply because of racism. It was the correct move to strip his name from the award, even if maddening that it took so long. 

Why was a player award even named after a commissioner in the first place? Even if you somehow put aside the racism — easily the most egregious aspect here and a disqualifying blow — naming a player trophy after a commissioner is lunacy. What if someone said we should name the MVP after Rob Manfred instead of, say, Mike Trout

I’ll pause for laughter. 

The best pitcher awards are named after Cy Young. The best rookie awards are named after Jackie Robinson. Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente have awards named after them. Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman do, too, as does Edgar Martinez. 

All these awards have player names on them, but the biggest and most important honor for an individual player in an individual season is blank and used to be named after a commissioner. At least it isn’t saddled with Landis anymore, but now it’s time to recognize players on the NL and AL MVPs, right? It doesn’t even have to just be one. Like the reliever award, we can slap one on each league’s own award. 

I’m down with Gibson being in the mix, especially since it would be a good way to reintroduce his name into the conversation among casual fans. Think about how much even non-sports fans have heard of Babe Ruth. A significant portion of baseball fans don’t know much, if anything, about Gibson and that’s not fair. 

It’s a shame we never got to see an integrated league, because we don’t truly know exactly how great players like Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Oscar Charleston and Josh Gibson would have been against one another. We just know they were all amazing. Again, shame on Landis and all his minions. But I digress. We’re talking about the MVP awards. 

You know who I feel like needs to be mentioned here? Willie Mays. It could be argued that he was the greatest all-around baseball player of all-time. He led the league in WAR 10 times and as the voting body shifts more toward all-around greatness instead of just the triple crown stats (Mays was amazing at those, too), he’s a perfect fit. What player is most synonymous with being outstanding in the box, on the basepaths and in the field? Say Hey. 

As noted above, Gibson’s career rate stats are utterly ridiculous and it could be argued he’s the best player from the segregated era on the Negro Leagues side. Charleston also has a case. On the MLB side, Babe Ruth is widely regarded at the top dog and there’s no argument here against that sentiment. As such, if you grabbed one player from the Negro Leagues and one from MLB in that era, Gibson and Ruth are easy choices. 

But I really want Mays in there. 

Could we name an MLB-wide winner after Gibson (“Major League MVP”) and then have the AL MVP called the Babe Ruth Award while the NL MVP is the Willie Mays Award? That could work. Of course, there is a Babe Ruth Award, given to the best postseason player each year. There just isn’t a ton of fanfare around it (did you know Adolis García won it last year?). Still, one could argue that the AL MVP should be named after Gibson and the NL named after Mays. 

I’d be OK with anything mentioned here. My most strongly held beliefs are that the MVP awards should be named after players and that it’s embarrassing how long they were named after a racist, segregationist commissioner. I do love the idea of some combination of Gibson, Mays and Ruth, though. 

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