St. Louis Cardinals: Five Most Recent MVP Winners

St. Louis Cardinals

Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch presented Pujols with the MVP trophy. (Source: Christian Gooden)

The St. Louis Cardinals have a rich history of both postseason play and personal awards.  Over the course of the franchise twenty National League MVP awards have been won by a total of sixteen players.

With the announcement yesterday of Kris Bryant winning the MVP award, it brings up memories of past St. Louis Cardinals players to be honored.  Hats off to Bryant for a solid year, but there are high hopes that the award will be coming back to St. Louis very soon.

Being named MVP is no easy task.  Just by sheer numbers, it seems very daunting.  Between the eight hitters, assuming each team’s lineup remains consistent which it never does, and five starting pitchers for each of the fifteen NL teams, this puts 195 players in the running for MVP each season.

Admittedly, that number is a low estimate.  There are always players who can pop up early in the season and make a running.  Now, obviously not every player has an MVP-caliber season, but from day-one there is no telling what can happen.

The MVP award was first given out in 1911.  It’s first winners were Frank Schulte of the Chicago Cubs, and Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers.  In 1922 and 1923 there was no winner from the NL, and in 1929 there was no AL winner.

The player with the most MVP awards is Barry Bonds with seven.  That includes his stretch of winning four consecutive times from  2001-2004.  Three wins is the next closest after seven.  There are several players who have done that, including Yogi Berra, Mike Schmidt, and Mickey Mantle.

In the history of the award, ten National League pitchers have been named MVP.  Of those ten, three of them played for the St. Louis Cardinals.  That is tied for the highest number of winning pitchers with the Dodgers organization.

Winning the MVP award puts the player’s name in history with some of the greatest players to ever play the game.  Great hitters like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Roberto Clemente were MVP award winners.  Great pitchers, such as Roger Clemens, and two of the most dominant southpaws ever, Clayton Kershaw and Sandy Koufax are also included in the MVP listings.

The MVP award is a very prestigious honor to obtain.  And with good reason.  The winner of the MVP is the best of the best that year; playing half a season at a dominant level is hard enough, let alone going nearly 162 games at top performance.

This list won’t be including MVPs such as Stan Musial, Orlando Cepeda, or Dizzy Dean.  This will, in fact, leave off 11 players who had standout seasons but stay with me.  MVP seasons are a lot of fun to watch.  So without any further ado, these are five of the St. Louis Cardinal players to ever be honored as the best.  These are the five most recent MVPs to come from St. Louis.

St. Louis Cardinals

Oct 22, 2011; Arlington, TX, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols hits a solo home run in the ninth inning of game three of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark. The Cardinals won 16-7. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Albert Pujols-First Base

Albert Pujols is the most recent St. Louis Cardinal to be named MVP.  He accomplished this three times during his tenure in St. Louis.

The most recent MVP win came in 2009 where he played in 160 games, slashing .327/.443/.658.  He also brought home the Silver Slugger that year.  This was the best year of his career, as he led the league in seven categories, including runs (124), home runs (47), on base percentage (.443), and intentional walks (44).

Pujols was also honored with an MVP award in 2008 and 2005.  Statistically, 2008 was not as good for Albert numbers, but it was still impressive.  He finished with 37 homers, and led the league in five categories.  His batting average for the 2008 season was an astounding .357.

The first MVP win of his career came in 2005. Pujols had 41 homers and led the league in runs and intentional walks that season.  He also stole a career-high 16 bases during that season.  At 25 years of age, he slashed .330/.430/.609 in 161 games.

Pujols is tied with one other Cardinal for MVP wins.  And even with the way he left St. Louis Cardinals fans, he is one of the best to ever wear the uniform. In terms of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), MVPs are traditionally awarded to players receiving WARs above an eight.  Albert was ranked higher than an eight in seven of his seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.

WAR is the most-used sabermetric stat to show the value of a player.  So, for Pujols to consistently be posting the numbers he did is amazing.  In total, for his 11 seasons in St. Louis, Pujols had a WAR of 86.4.

With nine All-Star appearances, five Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, and a Rookie of the Year all won in St. Louis, Pujols is a player who will go down in St. Louis Cardinals history.  Since his move to LA, his career has gone downhill.  Whether it be because of age, or some other reason, his best years were undoubtedly in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

St. Louis Cardinals

Feb 18, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals former players Jim Edmonds (L) Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee chat during Spring Training workouts at Roger Dean Stadium. Image Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Willie McGee-Centerfield

Willie McGee won the MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985.  It was his only MVP for his career.  He played in St. Louis for 13 years from 1982-1990, then again from 1996-1999.

During his MVP campaign, McGee had 216 hits, 18 triples and a .353 batting average.  All of those numbers led the majors that year.  He had a successful year on the base paths, stealing 56 bases and only getting thrown out 16 times.  He was able to set a career high in total bases at 308 while also scoring 112 runs.

McGee ran away with this victory, taking an 83 percent share of the vote.  The runner up was Dave Parker from Cincinnati, who took  a 65 percent share.  Other notable names who that season received votes were Dwight Gooden, Ryne Sandberg and Tony Gwynn Sr.

1985 was overall a standout season for McGee.  He was by no means a bad player, and could make a run at being considered one of the better outfielders in St. Louis Cardinals history.  As far as WAR numbers, 1985 was his only season above eight.  The rest of his career was hovering around two– the expected number for a starter.

McGee played nineteen seasons for four different teams.  He ended his career with four All-Star selections, three Gold Gloves, and a Silver Slugger award.

The former MVP’s career can be summed in one word: consistency.  Even at the age of 38, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, McGee hit .300 over 122 games during the season.  While he had only the one standout year, he was a guy who got the job done year in and year out.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Keith Hernandez-First Base

The next St. Louis Cardinals player to win an MVP is Keith Hernandez.   He ended the voting tied with Willie Stargell, so they were Co-MVPs that year.

Stagell is not the worst guy with which to share an award like this but it does say a lot about the season Hernandez put together.  This happened in 1979 and it remains the only MVP race for either league to end with a tie.  Hernandez and Stargell both ended with 65 percent share of the vote.  Stargell had significantly more first place votes, but Hernandez caught up with other votes.

The peculiar thing about the shared award is that Stargell was 39 in 1979; Hernandez was 25.  While there is no age restriction for the award, skills usually decline by the age of Stargell’s award-winning season.  By every indication, Henandez had a much better season.  When it is all over, however, the votes are what matters.

As far as the WAR that season for both winners, Hernandez was better without any contest.  In fact, Stargell had a WAR of 2.5, which seems minuscule in comparison to the 7.6 that Hernandez posted.

Hernandez led the league with 116 runs, 48 doubles, and a  batting average of .344.  He showed a really good eye too, drawing 80 walks.  He drove in 105 runs, and hit 11 triples.  The triples reveal the true hitting ability that he had because he only stole 11 bases during the season.

Over the course of his 17-year career, Hernandez compiled eleven Gold Gloves, five All-Star selections, and two Silver Slugger Awards.  He was a great player for the St. Louis Cardinals to have on their roster for a decade.  He could be counted on every year he was there to provide value with his bat.

St. Louis Cardinals

Jul 27, 2014; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Hall of Fame inductee Joe Torre makes his acceptance speech during the class of 2014 national baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at National Baseball Hall of Fame. Image Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Torre-Third Base/Catcher

Probably better-known for managing the Yankees, or being a Professional Baseball Executive, Joe Torre put together an MVP season in 1971 as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

During the MVP season, Torre collected 230 hits, 137 RBIs, 352 total bases, and hit .363.  He led the league in all four categories.  Solid power was displayed by Torre during this season as he hit 24 home runs.  This was his best season, though his career was very good.

Torre ended his playing career with 2,342 hits, and he is the only man in history to record over 2,000 hits and win over 2,000 games as a manager.   He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014.  He retired from playing after eighteen seasons with nine All-Star selections and a Gold Glove.  He spent six of those seasons as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, but also played for the Braves and Mets.

In 1971, the year Torre was the MVP, he posted a WAR of 5.9.  That is the second highest of his career.  He topped out at 6.4 in 1966.  Until he was 30 years old, Torre would post a WAR of around four, but, after he turned 30, his numbers dropped to be around one year in and year out.

There are many Hall of Famers that Torre beat out to be named MVP.  Among these names are Hank Aaron, Bobby Bonds, and Roberto Clemente.  The runner up was Willie Stargell.  Torre ended up with 95 percent share of the vote, winning almost unanimously.  No one was even close to taking this honor from Torre in 1971.

He may never get remembered for being a player, or even winning the MVP, but he will go down in baseball history.  Torre will go down in baseball lore as one of the greatest managers in history.  With the trajectory of his career, who is to say what more he can bring to the game.

St. Louis Cardinals

Oct 27, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals former player Bob Gibson throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to game four of the MLB baseball World Series against the Boston Red Sox at Busch Stadium. Image Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Gibson-Pitcher

Intimidation and power is what can be expected from St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson.  He took home an MVP award in 1968 with numbers that are baffling to this day.

During this historic campaign, Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA and threw 13 shutouts.  To put that dominance in perspective, when Kershaw won his MVP he had a 1.77 ERA and threw 2 shutouts.  Gibson ended that season with a sub-one WHIP, and a league-leading 268 strikeouts.

That season is the only one that ended with an MVP for Gibson, but that wasn’t close to being the only accolade of his career.  In a 17-year career, Gibson was able to earn nine Gold Gloves, eight All-Star selections, and two Cy Young awards on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Some of his career statistics are truly mind-blowing.  Gibson threw 56 shutouts on his way to having a 2.71 ERA for his time as a player.  To add to his great numbers, he was able to strikeout over 3,000 hitters and win over 250 games.

Gibson was famous for being scary.  He was not afraid to throw inside and hitters knew that too.  Every hitter knew the power of his fastball. That meant if Gibson wanted the inside part of the plate, it was all his.  That is part of what led to all the success.  Considering his talent, Gibson was one of the best ever.

Gibson’s WAR from his MVP season is simply astonishing.  It is 11.2.  The following season he posted a 10.4 WAR.  That is dominance at its finest right there.  He had one other season above eight, but for the most part he hovered between four and six.

Without question, Bob Gibson has proven himself to be one of the most dominant pitchers of all time.  His live fastball has been talked about in the documentary called ‘Fastball’.  And while he only won an MVP once he will forever be considered one of(if not THE) best Cardinal pitchers of all time.

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The St. Louis Cardinals have had outstanding players, for sure, and look to continue this trend in the near future.  With young guns and veterans already on the squad, MVP honors could well be in the Cards.

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