The champion of the 2009 World Series has not yet been determined. But has its Most Valuable Player already been chosen in the consensus' perception?
Off days in the World Series schedule can be used for various things, and on the most recent one, between Games 5 and 6, a brushfire was sparked in support of Chase Utley to be this Fall Classic's MVP.
Permit us to reach for the hose, putting out that fire and perhaps also cooling off some of Utley's most fiery advocates.
Can the Philadelphia second baseman emerge as the MVP of the Series? Sure. Have the Phillies win two more games and we'll talk.
However, if the Yankees turn their advantage into their 27th historical title, no way should a member of the losing team reign as MVP of this 105th World Series.
Not even if Utley keeps hitting home runs, stealing bases and gets a better haircut.
This is not to denigrate Utley's performance, which has been prolific as well as timely. His five home runs have tied the single-Series record of Reggie Jackson (who incidentally had only two after five games in 1977, hitting the final three in Game 6). Three of them humanized CC Sabathia and a fourth came off another left-hander in Phil Coke.
All impressive, honorable feats.
But not MVP-worthy. Not yet.
Harangues over the regular-season MVP -- is he the most valuable to a winning team or just the most productive? -- are vacuous enough. At least there is room for debate across six months.
MVPs FOR LOSING TEAMS
If Chase Utley wins the World Series MVP award even if the Phillies lose, he would be the ninth player in North American major team sports history to win a championship series/game MVP while playing for a losing team. Here are the others (NOTE: NHL's award is for entire postseason):
Bobby Richardson, Yankees
Roger Crozier, Red Wings
Glenn Hall, Blues
Jerry West, Lakers
Chuck Howley, Cowboys
Reggie Leach, Flyers
Ron Hextall, Flyers
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ducks
Across 10 days in October? No wiggle space whatsoever. None.
You win, you can be in the MVP winner's circle. You lose ... well, you lose.
Part of the fuel for the Utley debate is that no Yankees pitcher or player has yet risen above his teammates in either performance or decisive moments. But candidates certainly have emerged.
If the Yankees prevail, the clear choice could be Mariano Rivera, who has been keeping leads all October while all the closers around him have been losing theirs. Rivera has saved two of New York's wins and has not allowed a run in 3 2/3 innings.
One can even make convincing cases for other New York contributors. Alex Rodriguez has been using his first World Series bullets well, stepping up and delivering in the clutch. Derek Jeter has seemingly been in the middle of every rally. Damon has been Johnny on the spot, even when he hasn't been swiping two bases on one pitch.
Utley, at least while his team is in a hole, has no case. Not even precedent which, besides being slim, is exceptional.
In the 53 years in which a World Series MVP has been chosen, he came from the losing side only once: Bobby Richardson took the prize in 1960, even as his Yankees were knocked off in seven games by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Richardson, oddly, is also the only second baseman ever selected as World Series MVP. Utley shares his position, but should not share his notoriety in the event the Phillies do not rally back and triumph.
For one thing, Richardson's overall performance was compelling, symbolic of a New York team that absolutely destroyed the Pirates (outscoring them 38-3) in the three games it did win.
Richardson hit .367 and drove in 12 runs -- still a World Series record. Richardson had 11 hits in the seven games.
Utley has six hits. Five of them have just happened to leave the park.
For another thing, the manner in which the World Series MVP is selected is quite different than it was 49 years ago.
Then, it was put to a press-box vote of reporters. When word of Richardson's selection filtered down to the Pirates' clubhouse during the latter stages of Game 7, their eminent reliever, Elroy Face, verbally abused Bob Fishel, accusing the Yankees' public relations director of lobbying for a Yankees win.
That's according to Marty Appel, one of Fishel's successors who now runs his own New York public relations firm. Appel said, "I still call Bobby after the final [World Series] game, as I've done for 25 years now, to celebrate another year of his RBI record standing."
Appel also sides with a key element of Richardson's MVP selection: The votes were cast before Game 7 ended, before Mazeroski happened, before the voters could know they were choosing a losing player.
That only makes sense: You can't envision writers hanging around their press box seats to fill out a ballot after a walk-off home run ends a World Series.
Now, the votes, from a preselected board, among them MLB.com, are thoughtfully cast after the last out.
So the voters will know which team has won the ring. And they should have no confusion about who wins the MVP trophy.
When the MVP accepts his prize, he has to have the champagne of glory on his face.
If not, the voters will have egg on theirs.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.