Let's begin with the premise that the American League's MVP should come from what was not only the winningest team in the league this year but also the winningest team in the history of the league. Then we have to ask: Who's the MVP of the Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki or Bret Boone?
Start, as Seattle does, with the leadoff hitter. Suzuki won the batting title (.350), set a rookie record for hits (242), finished first in stolen bases (56) and second in runs (127), and deserves a Gold Glove for his defense in rightfield. So, just as Barry Bonds is the obvious pick in the National League, Suzuki must be his league's MVP, right? Wrong.
Suzuki's primary value is as a catalyst, a table setter. In this role he isn't extraordinary, as evidenced by his .381 on-base percentage, 14th in the league, including a poor .307 with none out and no one on. Rickey Henderson, the last leadoff hitter to win an MVP award, for the A's in 1990, had a .441 on-base percentage that year. As for slugging percentage, Suzuki ranks a lowly 39th. How many outfielders have won the MVP without placing in the top 10 in either category? Zero.
So the MVP must be Boone. The Mariners were worried about their offense this spring after losing Alex Rodriguez, but Boone picked up where A-Rod left off. Batting mostly third or fifth, he drove in 141 runs, tops in the league, while hitting .331. Upon closer inspection, though, Boone had a whopping 202 at bats with runners in scoring position and hit a bit worse in those situations (.302). A great season, but a serendipitous one, too.
Maybe our premise was wrong. After all, no Yankee finished first or second in MVP voting in any of New York's four recent world-championship seasons. That opens the door for a lot of candidates.
The Indians have three. Jim Thome led Cleveland in homers, slugging and on-base percentage—but he was a nonfactor in the first two months of the season (.247 average), was neutralized by lefthanders (.232, four home runs) and far too often failed to make contact (185 whiffs). Juan Gonzalez had 140 RBIs, but he batted .271 in the late innings of close games, missed 22 games and DH'd in 21 others. "He takes days off," says one scout. " Robbie Alomar is the glue of that team." Indeed, Alomar played his usual incomparable defense at second base, hit .424 with runners in scoring position and had a .415 on-base percentage. He'd be a terrific choice for MVP—were it not for As first baseman Jason Giambi.
Giambi led the league in slugging and on-base percentage. Since the MVP award was instituted in 1931, 10 of the 15 players who did that for a postseason-bound team have won it Giambi got on base 32 more times man Suzuki. He had 89 fewer at bats than Boone with runners in scoring position but had only 21 fewer RBIs. He had 21 more extra-base hits and 20 more RBIs than Alomar.
Giambi hit in the clutch (.354 with runners in scoring position, .355 late in close games) and hit consistently (19 homers, 60 RBIs before the All-Star break; 19 and 60 after). He's also the spiritual leader of a team that adopted his hang-loose philosophy while rescuing its season with a 58-17 record after the All-Star break. No player contributed more to a playoff-bound team. That's why the search for the American League MVP isn't really that difficult It leads right back to where it ended last year: with Giambi as the winner.