There won’t be a recount in 2018, but there should be.
No, not for the nail-biting gubernatorial election in Wisconsin, but for a recent postseason sports award involving a local athlete. Lorenzo Cain was omitted from the list of Rawlings Gold Glove winners Sunday despite a spectacular defensive performance in center field for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018.
We’ll keep our pitchforks handy if Christian Yelich is somehow not named National League Most Valuable Player on Nov. 15, and maybe if Craig Counsell falls short in the Manager of the Year results announced Tuesday.
It got us thinking about other times a Wisconsin sports figure has been eked out — perhaps wrongfully — in postseason voting. Let’s go back in time and re-litigate some of these races.
2018: National League Gold Glove
The Gold Glove has been ridiculed over the years for honoring top offensive players for a defensive award, and it’s inherently difficult to compare players in an area where statistical measures are still evolving and imperfect. Rawlings defines the award as something that “represents overall fielding excellence, and it is not an award based solely on fielding metrics and statistics, nor does it factor offensive production.”
Which is nebulous enough to justify any pick. But it’s hard to vote based on the simple eye test when you only get to see other players a couple times a year, and defensive metrics have become more advanced in recent seasons.
Coaching staffs from the National League decide on the NL Gold Glove winner, and though Cain was among the three finalists, the award ultimately went to Ender Inciarte of the Atlanta Braves.
Cain unquestionably has better numbers than Inciarte by defensive metrics and was one of the best players in baseball by WAR — largely thanks to his defense (though his baserunning and offense certainly helped, too). In fact, Fangraphs thinks Cain is the fourth-best defender in all of baseball since 2013, and yet he has zero Gold Gloves on his mantle. The same metric (defensive runs saved) views Cain as the second-best defensive player in the NL in 2018 at any position, behind Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed.
Cain was the centerpiece of the best team in the National League, made a number of highlight-reel plays (including two home-run saving catches) and heck, if we’re using the old wink-wink standards of a Gold Glove, he’s a much better offensive player than Inciarte. So what gives?
2017: Super Bowl LI MVP
James White doesn’t technically count as a Wisconsin athlete here — he was playing for the New England Patriots and is a native of Florida. But once a Wisconsin Badger, always a Wisconsin Badger (I mean, Russell Wilson was in Madison for one season and still gets regarded as such).
In 2017, James White should have been Super Bowl MVP. Even Tom Brady, who was given the award instead, thinks so.
White finished the game with 14 receptions and three touchdowns (plus a two-point conversion). Those were both Super Bowl records. He finished with 110 yards receiving, 29 yards rushing, and helped New England score 19 fourth-quarter points for a thrilling 34-28 rally against Atlanta. His 2-yard run in overtime clinched the victory.
But who got Super Bowl MVP? Brady. Because he’s got a pretty face, I guess?
In fairness, Brady compiled his own Super Bowl record with 43 pass completions and 466 yards, but he also took a record 62 attempts. And haven’t we given enough hardware to Tom Brady in his career? Brady said afterward that White deserved the honor.
2004: National League Cy Young
Let’s be realistic, Ben Sheets was probably never going to win the Cy Young in 2004. Even if the vote were held today, it seems likely Arizona’s Randy Johnson (16 wins, 2.60 ERA, 176 ERA-plus, 0.900 WHIP, 290 strikeouts to 44 walks in 245 innings) deserved the hardware over actual winner Roger Clemens.
But that Sheets finished with one lousy third-place vote is a crime, tied for eighth with Brad Lidge.
In 2004, Sheets was practically disqualified with a 12-14 record (something that wouldn’t get factored nearly as heavily today), but that belied one of the greatest pitching seasons in Brewers history, and maybe the greatest. He had a 2.70 ERA in 237 innings, with 264 strikeouts and a mere 32 walks. He posted a 0.983 WHIP and ERA-plus of 162, which was second best behind Johnson among starters. His 7.2 WAR was also second to Johnson among those who received a Cy Young vote.
He was better than Roy Oswalt or Jason Schmidt or Carlos Zamrabno or Carl Pavano (?). He was even better than Clemens, who was plenty solid for Houston that year. He even had a league-leading five complete games, which seems borderline otherworldly in modern Brewers terms. He famously struck out 18 batters in a game against the Braves that May.
Maybe he doesn’t win, but he deserved to be on the ticket.
2003: National League Rookie of the Year
Scott Podsednik definitely wasn’t the sexy pick. The steady leadoff man for the Brewers came out of nowhere at age 27 to produce a strong rookie season in which he compiled an .822 OPS, stole 43 bases and set a franchise record by reaching base in 47 consecutive games. The winner of the Rookie of the Year was a far more exciting player, with Florida Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis getting the nod.
Willis posted a 14-6 record, 3.30 ERA, 1.282 WHIP and 142 strikeouts with 57 walks in 160 innings. Decent, but he wasn’t even the best rookie pitcher in the NL that season — that would be Arizona’s Brandon Webb (10-9, 2.84, 1.151 WHIP, 172 strikeouts in 180 innings). It seems like there’s another universe where Podsednik got the votes he needed, but Willis had 17 first-place votes with Podsednik eight, and the overall points total went Willis 118, Podsednik 81 and Webb 73.
1992: American League Manager of the Year
Politics is about quid pro quo, right? So let’s make a deal.
If we’re being honest, the 1992 Rookie of the Year Award should have gone to Cleveland’s Kenny Lofton over Milwaukee’s Pat Listach. Lofton had the better numbers and, ultimately, the much better career. So we could technically stand to give that away to attain something else.
The Manager of the Year award should have belonged to Milwaukee’s Phil Garner instead of Oakland’s Tony LaRussa. LaRussa led the A’s to first place in the West Division — two years after they won 103 games with much of the same cast as that squad. I mean, they should have been good. They won four more games than the Brewers, who had much less star power and still contended for the East Division title into the final stretch of the season.
Scrap Iron, in his first year at the helm, seemed to be part of the team jelling. Rookies Listach and Cal Eldred were at the forefront, along with aging veterans Paul Molitor (age 35) and Robin Young (36).
LaRussa went on to irritate scores of Brewers fans during his days as Cardinals manager. Here’s one more reason to dislike him.
1973: National Basketball Association MVP
Maybe the voters were sick of seeing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hog all the hardware. He won the MVP in 1971 and 1972 and then again in 1974, so let’s not suggest for even a second that Abdul-Jabbar went underappreciated during his days with the Milwaukee Bucks.
But this 1973 thing is a travesty.
Dave Cowens of Boston was named the MVP at the end of the 1973 season after averaging 20.5 points, 16.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting .452 from the floor. Not bad, of course.
Kareem averaged slightly fewer rebounds (16.1) and dominated the other categories (30.2 points, 5.0 assists and .554 shooting percentage). Also, the Bucks won more games than the Celtics.