Rod Carew named AL MVP

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Alex Coffey

What does it mean to valuable? How much value can one player have for a team? Can it be measured? These sorts of questions are asked every year, around MVP consideration time, and the responses are almost always varied.

At the heart of this debate lies a reoccurring question: Should players who aren’t on postseason-contending teams even be considered for the MVP award, no matter how successful they are?

Past BBWAA voters have shown that they are capable of seeing both sides of the argument. On Nov. 16, 1977, they proved that by naming Rod Carew the Most Valuable Player in the American League. Furthermore, George Foster won that year’s National League MVP Award, after coming from a Cincinnati Reds team that also did not win its division.

Carew, who recorded a .388 batting average that was the highest in baseball since Ted Williams in 1957, knew he had MVP-caliber numbers, but didn’t want to get his hopes up at first.

Rod Carew's .388 batting average in 1977 was the highest in baseball since Ted Williams in 1957. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“I didn’t want to be disappointed so I geared myself not to be disappointed if I didn’t get it,” he told United Press International. “I looked back at the years where some guys had great years and didn’t win it because their team didn’t win.”

Luckily for Carew, his numbers made a case for themselves. The 16th player who won the award from a non-playoff winning team, and just the third Twins player, he used his statistics to defy the odds stacked against him.

Aside from his baseball-leading average, Carew was on top of the American League leaderboards in hits (239), runs scored (128) and triples (16), to go along with 100 RBI and 23 steals. Even though his team lost 19 of its last 28 games, Carew batted .441 for those games. He finished off the season by winning his fifth batting title in the past six years, raising his career total to six.

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“He doesn’t have to prove anything,” said then-Twins manager Gene Mauch during the summer of 1977. “All he has to do is retire and wait for the Hall of Fame to call.”

The call from the Hall of Fame would come a few years later, in 1990. But Carew’s 1977 MVP Award validated all of the consistent hard work he had put in that season, even if his Twins didn’t make it to the postseason.

“I’m thrilled. The things I did [during the 1977 season] were taken into consideration and I’m very happy it came out that way,” he told the New York Times.

He doesn’t have to prove anything. All he has to do is retire and wait for the Hall of Fame to call.

Former Twins manager Gene Mauch

More greatness was to come, as the 32-year-old first baseman would finish his career with a .328 career average and 3,053 hits, along with 18 All-Star Game selections.

“The only thing I can do is go out and do the best I can,” Carew told the Times. “I’m just happy I won it. I finally did it.”

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series