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Anthony Castrovince

These greats never got a dinner ... or an MVP

Castrovince: Greats who never got a dinner ... or MVP

These greats never got a dinner ... or an MVP
Miguel Cabrera arrived to the big leagues on June 20, 2003. In the time since -- among players with at least 2,000 plate appearances -- he has the second-highest batting average (.318), the fifth-highest on-base-plus slugging (.953), the second-most RBIs (1,089), the most doubles (377) and the sixth-most home runs (308). Among all players in Major League history with at least 3,000 plate appearances, his career OPS ranks 20th.

By any measure, Cabrera has been one of the most productive, most feared and most impressive position players in the sport for the better part of the past decade.

Yet, despite his numbers, the Most Valuable Player Award has eluded him. Cabrera has finished second in the voting once, fourth once and fifth three times.

We're about six weeks away from the end of the season, and it has been, predictably, another splendid one for Cabrera. He has a chance to finish the year with more than 200 hits, 40 homers, 40 doubles and 140 RBIs.

But it is not -- to this point, anyway -- likely to be an MVP season. For one, he trails Angels rookie Mike Trout in batting average, OPS and WAR, and he obviously doesn't have Trout's glove or wheels.

"He could run into one of these 'Wonderboy' stories," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, in what has become an oft-cited radio interview earlier this month.

Of course, for both "Wonderboy" and Cabrera, there is danger in the standings. The MVP voters often tend to gravitate toward the guys who help will their teams into the postseason, and the Tigers and Angels are still assured of nothing in that regard. Cabrera's best hope might be for his Tigers to reach October, while Trout's Angels go home.

But for now, Cabrera stands a very real chance of once again coming up empty in the MVP department, in a career trending toward Hall of Fame territory.

The good news? He has plenty of company, for the game's history is littered with players who were among the best in their generation, yet never labeled the best in their league in a single season.

With that in mind, here are 10 personal choices for the best position players for whom the MVP was -- or is -- elusive:

(Note that players whose careers or prime seasons preceded the creation of the Baseball Writers Association of America's MVP Award in 1931 are not included.)

10. Johnny Mize
"The Big Cat" posted his best years from his debut in 1936 through 1948 (he would go on to play five more seasons beyond that). In his prime years, he compiled a .997 OPS. How many hitters had a better OPS in that stretch? Two: Ted Williams (1.129) and Hank Greenberg (1.038). From 1937-40, this was an average season for Mize: .341 average, 1.042 OPS, 31 homers, 115 RBIs. He would finish second in the MVP balloting twice in that span, losing out to 27-game winner Bucky Walters of the Reds in 1939 (had the Cy Young Award been in place, perhaps Mize would have been MVP) and then, inexplicably, to first baseman Frank McCormick of the Reds in 1940.

9. Eddie Murray
The downside to being "Steady Eddie" -- piling up more than 500 homers and 1,900 RBIs in 21 seasons -- was that he was never "Explosive Eddie," turning in a season that bowled over the voters. He came close, finishing second in the voting in 1982 and '83. And upon further review, his best MVP argument might have actually been in 1984, when he finished fourth. Had WAR been in vogue then as it is now, the voters would have noted that Murray's 6.8 WAR mark was clear ahead of the competition. Alas, a reliever, the Tigers' Willie Hernandez, took home the trophy. Steady Eddie settled for the Hall of Fame.

8. Derek Jeter
He's one of the most respected, most decorated players of any generation, as evidenced by his 13 All-Star appearances and five World Series titles. But Jeter has rarely led the American League in anything other than plate appearances. He led the league in runs in 1998 and hits in '99. He might claim that hits title again in 2012, but he obviously won't garner much MVP support. Jeter finished second in the voting once (2006) and third twice ('98 and '09), and you could make a compelling argument that he should have beaten out the Twins' Justin Morneau in '06. But hey, he's got a World Series MVP Award, and he's got those five rings. Jeter's doing just fine for himself.

7. Roberto Alomar
Probably the most complete player on this list, Alomar dazzled at second base (winning 10 Gold Gloves), was feisty at the plate (batting an even .300 for his career), and was a menace on the basepaths (swiping at least 30 bases eight times). It is a travesty that he finished sixth in the MVP voting in 1992 (with teammates Joe Carter and DH Dave Winfield finishing ahead of him, no less). He finished sixth again in '93, this time with teammates Paul Molitor and John Olerud ahead of him. In '99, Boston's Pedro Martinez was famously snubbed for the MVP, but if the award had to go to a position player, certainly the voters should have sided with Alomar over the Rangers' Ivan Rodriguez.

6. Manny Ramirez
"Manny Being Manny" did not include "Manny Being MVP." That's pretty amazing when you consider the 555 career homers, the 1,831 RBIs, the .312 average, the .996 OPS and the fact that he was on 11 playoff teams. But Ramirez's greatest seasons -- he led the AL in OPS three times, and won the 2002 batting and '04 home run titles -- came at a time when guys were posting video-game numbers (in hindsight, at the height of the use of performance-enhancing drugs such as the ones that Manny was eventually busted for ... twice), and so he never finished higher than third in the voting.

5. Tony Gwynn
Gwynn is another obvious example of the premium placed on power -- and on playing for a winning club -- because he won eight batting titles but played on just three playoff teams in his 20 seasons with the Padres. His closest MVP chance was in his first full season, when he placed third in the voting behind Ryne Sandberg and Keith Hernandez. Maybe Gwynn would have fared better if the strike-shortened 1994 season had run its full course, for Gwynn was batting .394 with a career-best 1.022 OPS. But we'll never know.

4. Al Kaline
A 15-time All-Star who played his entire career with the Tigers, won a batting title (in 1955) and World Series ring (1968) and hit .293 with 399 homers, 1,583 RBIs and 3,007 hits, Kaline was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame. He also received votes on MVP ballots in 14 different years. But he never finished higher than second, and in both instances -- 1955 and '63 -- he finished behind a New York Yankees pennant-winner (Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, respectively).

3. Wade Boggs
Boggs was, of course, one of the best pure hitters of his time, batting .328 and amassing 3,010 hits. He won five batting titles. He led the AL in OBP six times. He even led the league in intentional walks six straight seasons from 1987-92. In '86, when he hit .357 with a .939 OPS on a Red Sox team that went on to win the pennant, the voters tabbed him the third-most valuable player on his own team, behind Roger Clemens (who won the award) and Jim Rice. Boggs finished seventh overall. And in '87, when he hit .363, banged out an uncharacteristic 24 homers and among AL position players posted the highest OPS (not that anybody was paying attention to that) and WAR (or that), he finished ninth.

2. Mel Ott
Ott debuted in 1926, and the MVP, as we know it, wasn't handed out until 1931. There was a National League award from 1924-29, but Ott never won it. And while the bulk of his career was played with the modern MVP honor in place, Ott never finished higher than third in the voting, despite leading the NL in homers six times -- twice in seasons in which the Giants won the pennant. According to Baseball Reference, Ott's adjusted OPS was tops in the NL five times. He hit 511 homers in his career, 30 or more in a season eight times. Yet he never really came close to claiming an MVP Award, despite garnering votes in 13 different seasons.

1. Eddie Mathews
Mathews was the first athlete on the cover of Sports Illustrated but he never finished first in an MVP vote. He hit 512 homers, including 30 or more nine years in a row. Here's the reason I'm giving Mathews this "prestigious" top spot. He played from 1952-68, and in that span, the only players who created more runs were Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Braves teammate Hank Aaron. Pretty good company, right? Mathews finished second on the ballot in '53 and '59.

Honorable mention
Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Alan Trammell, Paul Molitor, Kirby Puckett, Tim Raines, Mark McGwire, Edgar Martinez, Mike Piazza and Todd Helton are among those who have been snubbed, and that's just scratching the surface.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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