He was an early favorite because of his position and his RBIs, but because the Mets won 11 of 14 after he injured his thumb, the tide has turned against him. He has thrown out only 30 of 115 runners; he has had Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman and Hernandez on base in front of him all season; and his .243 average would be the lowest of any nonpitching MVP by 24 points. In fact, there are those around the Mets who feel that Keith Hernandez should have won in 1984 because of his leadership and that he should win again this year.
"It's got to be the player you can't do without, and we can't do without Mex," says the very valuable Backman. "Gary's having a good year, but he's not having his best year. Gary went down, and we had a guy right here from the organization who fit right in [Ed Hearn]. If we ever lost Mex, we'd be in trouble. He takes control of everything. He talks to the pitcher. He runs the infield. He tells you what to expect when you go to the plate. He's always thinking of what it's going to take for you to succeed, and he tells you. And everyone relates to him in a positive way."
With his 26 homers, no small feat in the Astrodome, Davis gave the Astros the power that they've built around. But he, too, will suffer from split votes. Chuck Tanner sees Astros second baseman Billy Doran as the MVP, and there are a number of players who feel that as good as Davis has been, outfielder Kevin Bass has meant just as much to the team. "People jumped on the Davis bandwagon because they thought the Astros were a fluke," says one National League scout. "They're finally finding out they're a damned good team with the best pitching staff this side of the Mets."
Pete Rose, MVP class of '73, maintains that Parker should have won the award last year and definitely should this year. "No one has meant as much to one team as Parker, there's no question about it," says Rose. "He was the only guy we had in the middle last year, and we almost won it. He's carried us right back in this season." Parker bears the stigma of the Pittsburgh drug trials, which he feels will again prevent him from winning. But if the Reds were to make a late-season run at the Astros, then Parker could be proved wrong and end up the MVP.
If the season had ended on Labor Day, then Schmidt would be the logical choice. "He's the dominant player in our league," says Cub centerfielder Bob Dernier. Schmidt, who won the award in '80 and '81, leads the league in homers (29) and is tied with Parker in RBIs (95). He has missed only one game—and that because of a death in the family—despite playing third base on artificial turf with knees that are so painful that he is talking of retiring after next season. The argument against him is that the Phillies never were in the race, but the Phillies were lowly regarded this spring and lived down to expectations in the early part of the season. Since May 25 they have had the second-best record in the league, behind the Mets. It is because of Schmidt that the young team has righted itself for 1987, which is something few dreamed possible on Memorial Day.
Don't think for a moment that the players involved don't care about the honor that follows Zoilo Versalles and Phil Cavarretta around wherever they go. For one thing, there is the money. More than 100 players have MVP incentives in their contracts, including Alan Wiggins, the Rochester Red Wings' second baseman, who stands to make $125,000 for finishing first in the voting, and $50,000 for anywhere between second and fifth. But the prestige of the MVP is extraordinary, and so is the controversy. Why else is Rose still lobbying for Tony Perez over Johnny Bench for the 1970 NL award, and Jackson pushing Cecil Cooper over Brett for the 1980 AL MVP? Years from now, people will still be arguing over the '86 MVPs.
The season doesn't end on Labor Day, of course. "In some ways," says Mattingly, the '85 AL winner, "this is when the season begins. September is when it really counts, and the MVP is the player who performs best when it counts." May the best men—from the better teams—win.