It is called the Most Valuable Player award for a reason, as it is given out to the player that is most valuable to their franchise. On this day in 1979, for the first time in MLB history, the vote ended in a tie.
Even on those occasions where there is not a clear cut MVP, it is strange to imagine that there would be a tie in any vote. The race may well be close, and the best candidate may not win, but an actual tie? Until this day in 1979, such a result was unprecedented in MLB history.
However, during the 1979 season, there was not a clear cut favorite. St. Louis Cardinals Keith Hernandez had the numbers, leading the league with a .344 batting average, 42 doubles, and 116 runs. His 210 hits were second in the league, and with his stellar defense, few could argue what Hernandez meant to the Cardinals.
Meanwhile, there was the old veteran and leader of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Willie Stargell. Considered one of the nicest people in the game, “Pops” was the heart and soul of a Pirates team that won the World Series. Even though his numbers were not at the same level as Hernandez, Stargell still produced a .281/.352/.552 batting line with 32 home runs. However, with only 126 games, Stargell’s candidacy rested primarily on his worth to the “We Are Family” Pirates.
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As it turned out, the voters could not determine who deserved the award either. Hernandez had the numbers, but Stargell, even in a reduced role, was still valuable due to the intangibles he provided to the Pirates. Although Hernandez got more first place votes, with ten compared to Stargell’s four, they ended up tied with 216 points. Dave Winfield, who tied Stargell with four first place votes, was a distant third.
For the first time in MLB history, there was a tie in the MVP vote. It was certainly controversial in that Stargell, based on the numbers, did not have any business getting the award, but sometimes, a player’s value is in more than the statistics.
And that was exactly what the voters looked at. Yes, Hernandez deserved the award, and had the best numbers of anyone in the National League. But if Stargell’s influence was taken away from the Pirates, would they win the World Series? As he ended up being the NLCS and World Series MVP, it is fair to say that may not have been the case.
Sometimes, the Most Valuable Player is not the one that puts up the best numbers. On this day in 1979, the voters helped illustrate that point with the first tie for MVP in MLB history.