Top of the Crops in Rookie of the Year Awards
“In baseball, you don’t know nothing.”
-- Yogi Berra
The other day, a co-worker who is an astute baseball man stated that this year’s National League Rookie of the Year race could be one of the best ever.
It's going to come down to Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins and Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and at this point, they could both end up with the award and deservedly so.
If there was a clear front runner in the American League, he may have a point, but it's tough to say if Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays will become a superstar like some of the experts think he will. Nick Franklin of the Seattle Mariners is making a strong case, too.
This led me to thinking about some of the past winners of the award, and while Puig and Fernandez may go on to have notable careers, it will be tough for them to surpass some of the previous winners in terms of star power or even one-hit wonders.
After hours of exhaustive research and staring blankly at the computer screen, I have compiled the top five Rookie of the Year combos in baseball history. It would’ve been easier to present the five worst combos, but I’m trying to stay positive, much like the President talking about our economy!
- 1967: Rod Carew and Tom Seaver. When you have two Hall-of-Famers voted Rooke of the Year in the same season, it’s a no brainer. In fact, this has only happened two other times in history. Seaver has the distinction of receiving the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes in history at 98.8%; apparently five writers decided he wasn’t worthy of the Hall. What were they thinking? Carew gets mad props for being mentioned in a Beastie Boys song!
- 2001: Albert Pujols & Ichiro Suzuki. Talk about two players who came out of nowhere! The Mariners knew exactly what they were getting when they pried Ichiro away from the Orix Blue Wave. Right! It was a huge risk at the time and they came up trumps. Ichiro was also voted AL MVP that season, joining Fred Lynn as the only player in history to receive both awards in the same season. Pujols, on the other hand, was drafted in the 13th roundout of a junior college near Kansas City. Even though he's fallen off a cliff this season and his contract may lead to a salary cap in baseball, Pujols has made a strong case to become known the greatest right-handed hitter ever. (Apologies to Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, and Rogers Hornsby, who also spent his prime as a Cardinal.)
- 1956: Frank Robinson and Luis Aparicio. Remember, I stated only three times in history have Hall-of-Famers been voted Rookie of the Year in the same season. This was the first pair, and the last will be discussed later. Bonus trivia points if you can name the other pair! Frank Robinson makes another list as the player who got away in one of the worst trades in baseball history when the Reds traded him to the Baltimore Orioles for Milt Pappas in 1965. Robinson rubbed salt in the wound by winning the AL Triple Crown in 1966. Can we get a mulligan? Aparicio was known more for speed and defense, leading the AL in stolen bases in nine straight years beginning in his rookie season. Again, both Hall-of-Famers starting off their careers winning Rookie of the Year is quite a feat!
- 1977: Andre Dawson and Eddie Murray. Did you answer the trivia question correctly? Congrats for winning self-esteem points! Murray became one of the greatest switch-hitters in history and was a first ballot Hall-of-Famer in 2003. Dawson has the dubious distinction of winning the 1987 NL MVP award for the last-place Chicago Cubs and waited an eternity to get voted into the Hall, but it was deserved at the end of the day, or actually, nine years! Future generations of Cooperstown visitors may not recognize the Montréal Expos logo on his plaque.
- 1997: Scott Rolen and Nomar Garciaparra. Neither player may end up making the Hall of Fame, but both were tremendous players, displaying a terrific combination of hitting and defense. In fact, some experts think Rolen may be the best defensive third baseman in history. Mike Schmidt may disagree! Nomar had a relatively short career, but had a five-year stretch of offensive production by a shortstop that may never be matched. He can now enjoy retirement and make super-babies with Mia Hamm!
2012: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Something tells me they will crack the top five when the history books are rewritten. I really wanted to put them in there, but it’s just too early. Will Bryce Harper find a way to wear those awful gold Nike shoes on his Hall of Fame plaque?
2007: Ryan Braun and Dustin Pedroia. Only the suspension of Ryan Braun for PED’s will keep this combo from ever cracking the top five. Pedroia won the AL MVP the following year, which is another rare baseball feat.
2006: Justin Verlander and Hanley Ramirez. If Ramirez would pull his head out and play up to his potential, this combo also may crack the top five! Don't look now, but he may just be realizing that point these days in LA.
1964: Dick Allen and Tony Oliva. Many baseball pundits believe both players should be in the Hall of Fame but have never garnered much support based on their vote totals. Allen posted a 1.023 OPS in 1972, which was dominated by starting pitching. Wow! Oliva played his entire but brief career with the Minnesota Twins, winning three batting titles, including in 1964 as a rookie and again in 1965.
So there you have it. Some terrific players started their careers out with a bang, and while the 2013 Rookie of the Year class may shape up to be one of the best ever, we’ll reserve judgment and biased opinions for future water cooler discussions.
Next time the Dodgers are in Miami, José Fernandez should take Puig out for a night on the town. He's already taken him out of the Dodger offense! Then they can debate over dinner just who this year's top rook is going to be.