You’re not “valuable” unless you’re on a winning team, apparently

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We’re destined to have a good postseason award fight every year. Last year was the great pitchers’ wins debate, in which people argued about whether or not Felix Hernandez should win the Cy Young despite not having a lot of them.  This year it’s going to be the “MVPs can only come from winning teams” debate, with Jose Bautista as the bone of contention.

Today’s Jon Heyman’s column crystallizes the issue for us. A column in which he says that Jose Bautista would be his fifth-place MVP candidate. The reasoning is familiar and not unique to Heyman:

Stats are most assuredly a major part of the equation. But they shouldn’t be completely determinative. Otherwise, let’s just run the numbers through a computer. And rename the award Most Outstanding player. Because there’s no way to put a number on the value of leading a team into the postseason, which should be everyone’s goal.

Like people, stats are imperfect. Even WAR, which I agree is a very useful stat, is imperfect because it depends on the value placed on other statistics by the person who devises the formula. The ultimate goal of any player is to win, so the value of the individual accomplishments that lead to a pennant should be viewed in that context.

So while Bautista has been the most outstanding player in the league whether you use WAR or OPS or or any other key stat, it’s a tough case to make for him as MVP in a year when so many stars are ushering their team into the playoffs.

I guess what I don’t understand here is if “leading a team into the postseason” is the criteria, how can Heyman include four Red Sox in his top ten?  Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz all being so awesome, how can it be said that anyone “led” that group?  It was a total team effort — of a stacked team — which got the Red Sox where they are. None of those guys has either (a) played as well as Bautista; or (b) done anything superhuman or singular. It’s a wolfpack of excellent players, none of whom are as good as Bautista, and none of whom — if surrounded by Bautista’s supporting cast — would be playing on a playoff team this year either.

I know the arguments that will come. I am well-aware of the how people engage in the precise parsing of the term “valuable” and put forth the idea that it’s not called the “most outstanding player award.”  But it seems to me that in order to get to the place where one can start hashing out the definition of “valuable” one has to totally ignore the fact that baseball is a team sport. And I don’t understand what good an award is if it’s premised on completely and utterly divorcing it from the essence of the game itself.

And of course there’s a final irony here. It’s usually the guys who are the biggest proponents of “team chemistry” — the guys who believe that you can’t win jack without 25 guys working together — who tend to argue that one guy can single-handedly lead a team into the playoffs.  Does that make any sense to you?  It doesn’t to me.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.