Three former Boston Red Sox players were included on MLB.com’s list of the best players in major league history who never won an MVP award.
The Most Valuable Player award is the highest individual achievement that an MLB player can earn. There have only been 12 MVP award-winners in the storied history of the Boston Red Sox and Ted Williams is the only one among them to receive the honor multiple times. There are many other great players who have worn a Red Sox uniform over the years who didn’t earn the hardware though.
MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince recently published a list of the 15 best players in major league history who never won an MVP. Three of those players produced some of the best seasons of their careers with the Red Sox.
The highest-rated former Red Sox player on the list is Wade Boggs, who lands at No. 6. Boggs was in the top 10 on the AL MVP ballot in four consecutive seasons but never finished higher than fourth.
His best season was in 1985 when he won the batting title with a .368 average and collected a staggering 240 hits. His career-high 9.1 WAR ranked second in the league behind Rickey Henderson (9.9 WAR), who finished third on the ballot that year behind his Yankees teammate Don Mattingly and Kansas City’s George Brett.
Boggs was one of the best pure hitters of his time. The career .328 hitter won five batting titles and led the league in on-base percentage six times. His ability to get on base was an underappreciated skill in those days and voters for the MVP award leaned toward power hitters who drove in runs.
It’s not that Boggs was incapable of hitting home runs, as he proved with his career-high 24 homers in 1987. He simply wasn’t trying to be a home run hitter since it would have come at the expense of his lofty batting average.
Manny Ramirez checks in at No. 12 on the list. His best season was in 1999 when he was with the Cleveland Indians. Ramirez led the league with 165 RBI to finish third on the ballot.
Ramirez remained among the game’s best hitters when he was lured to Boston with a lucrative free agent contract, finishing in the top 10 in the MVP race in each of his first five seasons with the Red Sox.
That includes another third place finish in 2004 when he led the league with 43 home runs, a .613 SLG, and 1.009 OPS. Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield finished ahead of Manny in the MVP race and while Ramirez led in most offensive categories, his 4.1 WAR trailed both of them.
Therein lies the problem with Manny’s MVP candidacy. There is more to baseball than what you can do at the plate. Ramirez was never much of a threat on the bases and his defense varied from sub-par to a liability. Despite his many offensive accolades, Ramirez never produced more than 6.0 WAR in any season with the Red Sox because his negative defensive value was constantly dragging his rating down.
Ramirez never won a regular season MVP award but he was named the MVP of the 2004 World Series. Being honored as the best player from a team that broke an 86-year curse on the game’s biggest stage tops any season award.
Last, but certainly not least, among the Red Sox players on MLB.com’s list is David Ortiz, who finished top-five on the ballot in each of his first five seasons with the club.
The closest that Ortiz came to winning an MVP was when he was the runner-up to Alex Rodriguez in 2005. Ortiz hit .300 with 47 home runs and a league-leading 148 RBI but he couldn’t match A-Rod’s all-around performance. Rodriguez owned a 9.4 WAR that nearly doubled Ortiz’s 5.2 WAR that season.
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Big Papi set the single-season franchise record with 54 home runs in 2006 while leading the league again with 137 RBI. That still only earned him a third-place finish, although this time Ortiz had a case for deserving the hardware. His 5.8 WAR topped the award-winning Justin Morneau (4.3) and runner-up Derek Jeter (5.6). Ortiz had Morneau beat in most offensive categories, with batting average being the only significant edge in favor of the Twins first baseman.
The MVP has never been awarded to a player whose primary position was designated hitter and Ortiz is the best example of voter bias against players who provide no defensive value. Ortiz produced a slightly higher WAR than his teammate Ramirez during their peak years together in Boston. His limited defensive skills didn’t hurt him like it did with Manny but being a DH also prevented Ortiz from boosting his WAR with his glove the way other MVP-caliber players do.
The increasing emphasis on WAR and other advanced metrics has hindered players like Ramirez and Ortiz in the MVP discussion. Their elite power production would have given them a better chance to win if they played in a previous era while Boggs would have fared better with the way the game is evaluated today.
None of these three players have an MVP trophy on their mantle but Boggs is in the Hall of Fame and won a championship later in his career with the Yankees. Manny has two rings and his World Series MVP. Ortiz was a part of three championship teams and earned a World Series MVP of his own in 2013. These are highly decorated stars who were at times considered to be among the best in the game, even if they fell short of ever being considered the very best.