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Willie Mays Award: Is the World Series MVP Rightfully Named?

Willie Mays may be a Hall of Famer, but his World Series performances left a bit to be desired. Is he truly deserving of having this award named after him?

Recently, Major League Baseball announced that the World Series MVP would now be rebranded as the “Willie Mays Award.” On the surface, it would seem that the Hall of Fame center fielder would be a fitting choice for the award to be named after, but with a little digging it is found to be a flawed decision. Is Willie Mays in fact deserving of such a great honor?

Before we get our shovels out, let’s look at the most glaring aspect of the discussion. Willie Mays went to the World Series four times (1951, 1954, 1962 and 1973) and lost 3 of them. The lone championship being a four-game sweep over the Cleveland Indians in 1954. Mays lost to the Yankees in 1951 and 1962, and lost to the Oakland Athletics in 1973. The 1951 Yankees team was the ninth and last title for Joe DiMaggio, while the 1962 Yankees was the tenth and final ring for Yogi Berra. The 1973 Athletics had Reggie Jackson on the team, who had a vaunted World Series career which included 5 rings and being dubbed “Mr. October” for his 1977 World Series heroics. It appears as though there are many other players with superior Fall Classic pedigrees compared to Mays.

From an individual standpoint, Willie Mays wasn’t exactly a stalwart in the Series either. In 20 total World Series games, spanning four separate Fall Classics, Mays had a total of 78 plate appearances. In those he scored nine runs while accumulating 17 hits, three doubles, six RBIs, two stolen bases, and never proceeded to hit a home run. He walked seven times, stuck out nine times, had a .239 average, a .308 on-base percentage, and a .282 slugging percentage. He also grounded into four double plays, including three in the 1951 Series. Needless to say those numbers are not exactly worthy of having the World Series MVP named after you.

Mays’ claim to World Series fame is known as “The Catch” from Game 1 of the 1954 Series against the Indians. “The Catch” occurred during the top of the eighth inning in a 2-2 tie. Hall of Famer Larry Doby was on second base and future Giants General Manager Al Rosen was on first. With Vic Wertz at the plate against Don Liddle facing a 2-1 count, the Cleveland lefty stroked the next pitch deep into center field at the Polo Grounds. Mays chased it down, making a basket catch, and rifled it back to the infield, preventing Larry Doby from going any further than third base. The Giants would later go on to win the game on a Dusty Rhodes walk-off home run.

In the years since, this play would go on to become one of the most polarizing in World Series history. While some consider it the greatest defensive play ever made in the Fall Classic, others are skeptical.

In Game 6 of the 1947 World Series, the first ever Series to ever be televised, Al Gionfriddo made what a lot of people feel is the greatest catch in Series history. With runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers were leading by a score of 8-5. Gionfriddo robbed DiMaggio of a potential extra-base hit, which would would have pulled the Yankees within at least one, if not tying the game.

The Dodgers would go on to win Game 6 by a score of 8-6 before falling in Game 7 to the Yankees. Many people initially thought Gionfriddo’s catch had taken away a home run from DiMaggio, but it was later determined that the twisting catch was made a couple of feet in front of the left center field fence. The play resulted in a pretty iconic moment for the usually cool and collected DiMaggio, who was seen kicking the infield dirt out of frustration.

Many believe that Gionfriddo’s catch is superior to that of Mays because to paraphrase Gionfriddo, he caught it against Joe DiMaggio and Mays caught his against Vic Wertz. Mays’ star power is also a contributing factor in the discussion of which was more pivotal. After all, Willie Mays is a Hall of Famer, while Al Gionfriddo was a 5-foot-6, 165-pound defensive replacement.

And even if you’re willing to concede on the best World Series catch argument, there are still more than a handful of players that could be considered more deserving of the honor of having the World Series MVP named after them. Among them, a few prominent names stick out.

Christy Mathewson had a 0.97 ERA in four World Series appearances, including a series win in 1905. His efforts in the 1905 Fall Classic are arguably the greatest single individual World Series performance ever. Mathewson tossed three shutouts in three starts in Games 1, 3, and 5 against the Philadelphia Athletics, a feat highly unlikely to ever be repeated.

Babe Ruth appeared in ten World Series, winning seven titles. Ruth hit .326 with a .470 on-base percentage, including a then record 15 home runs. Ruth also hit three home runs in a single game on two separate occasions. The Bambino also had three World Series starts as a pitcher, posting a 0.87 ERA with a shutout and two complete games. His accomplishments gained him the honor of having the Postseasom MVP named the “Babe Ruth Award.”

Joe DiMaggio won nine titles in ten tries, only losing in 1942 to the St. Louis Cardinals. DiMaggio hit .271 with a .338 on-base percentage and a .422 slugging percentage. He added eight Home Runs with 30 RBIs and 27 runs scored in World Series play.

Yogi Berra won a record ten titles in 14 attempts. He hit .274 with a .359 on-base percentage in 295 plate appearances. Berra added 41 runs, 12 Home Runs, 39 RBIs, ten doubles and 32 walks, while only striking out 17 times. What makes Berra’s accomplishments even more respectable, he was behind the plate for the majority of the 75 games that he played in the World Series.

Some people believe that Mickey Mantle was the most naturally gifted player to ever live. In 12 World Series appearances he won seven titles. In 273 plate appearances he hit .257 with a .374 on-base percentage. This includes 18 Home Runs, which is the most in World Series history. He added 42 runs, 40 RBIs, 43 walks and only hit into two double plays in his World Series Career.

Reggie Jackson was a part of six pennant winning teams that won five titles, although he did not play in the 1972 World Series where his Athletics defeated the Cincinnati Reds. He was named World Series MVP in 1973 and 1977. In 116 plate appearances he hit .357 with a .457 on-base percentage. He accumulated a total of 21 runs, 24 RBIs, and ten home runs in series play, with three coming on three pitches to clinch the 1977 Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Willie Mays was a spectacular, generational player, but his numbers in World Series play simply do not come close. So many other prominent players performed at a high level in the Fall Classic and are equally worthy of the honor of having the World Series MVP named after them. This is not about lifetime achievement or about a single moment. This is about the accumulation of triumphs on baseball’s biggest stage.

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