May 25, 2019

Was Clemente Really Slighted by MVP Voters in 1960?

April 24, 2008 by · 11 Comments 

Roberto Clemente called the 1960 N.L. MVP voting an “injustice,” but was it really?

The other night I was watching a documentary about Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente, which stated that Clemente was bitter about not being named N.L. MVP after the 1960 season, so much so that he refused to wear his World Series ring (what his ring had to do with the outcome of the MVP Award is beyond me, but I digress). Not only did Clemente feel snubbed by the voters, but he felt the outcome was racially biased, especially in light of the fact that Pirates shortstop Dick Groat, a singles-hitting white shortstop with a decent glove, won the award. Groat, the acknowledged leader of the Pirates, was said to be affable with the press, with whom he enjoyed a friendly relationship. Clemente, who finished eighth in the voting, was said to be misunderstood and moody, and he openly discussed his injuries, leading the writers to label him a hypochondriac.

One of the historians interviewed for the documentary insisted that there was no way there were seven National Leaguers better than Clemente in 1960. I knew Groat had won the award and I remembered that Clemente hit .351 in 1961, but I wasn’t aware of their 1960 numbers, and I was curious to see how many Win Shares each had produced that season. What I found was interesting.

Not only was Clemente not the most valuable player in the National League in 1960 (at least in terms of Win Shares), it can be argued that there were at least five Pirates who were as valuable, if not more so.

Player Team Pos. Win Shares
Dick Groat Pittsburgh SS 25
Don Hoak Pittsburgh 3B 23
Bill Mazeroski Pittsburgh 2B 21
Roberto Clemente Pittsburgh OF 20
Bob Friend Pittsburgh SP 20
Vern Law Pittsburgh SP 20

Now I realize that Win Shares are not the only way to measure value and I also understand that everyone has a different definition of “most valuable.” Some feel the most valuable player is the one who posts the gaudiest numbers, especially in the triple crown categories, regardless of his team’s performance, while others insist that the MVP should be the best player on a winning team. This disparity was no more evident than in 1987 and ’88. Andre Dawson was named the National League’s MVP in ’87 after hitting 49 homers and driving in 137 runs for a Cubs team that finished in last place in the N.L. East with a 76-85 record. The very next season, Kirk Gibson copped the award despite hitting only 25 homers and driving in 76 runs because he was widely considered to be the catalyst of a Dodgers team that improved its record by 21 wins over its 1987 total and won the World Series.

But it’s clear that Clemente neither posted gaudy stats—he batted .314 with 16 homers and 94 RBIs and posted an .815 OPS (121 OPS+)—nor was he the best player on his team. According to Win Shares and the baseball writers, that title belonged to Groat.

Sticking with Win Shares for a moment, here is a list of all National Leaguers who earned at least 20 in 1960:

RK Player Team Pos. Win Shares
1. Eddie Mathews Milwaukee 3B 38
  Willie Mays San Francisco OF 38
3. Hank Aaron Milwaukee OF 35
4. Ken Boyer St. Louis 3B 31
5. Ernie Banks Chicago SS 29
6. Orlando Cepeda San Francisco OF/1B 26
7. Joe Adcock Milwaukee 1B 25
  Don Drysdale Los Angeles SP 25
  Dick Groat Pittsburgh SS 25
  Lindy McDaniel St. Louis RP 25
11. Ernie Broglio St. Louis RP 24
  Bill Bruton Milwaukee OF 24
13. Del Crandall Milwaukee C 23
  Don Hoak Pittsburgh 3B 23
  Frank Robinson Cincinnati OF 23
16. Richie Ashburn Chicago OF 22
17. Larry Jackson St. Louis SP 21
  Bill Mazeroski Pittsburgh 2B 21
  Vada Pinson Cincinnati OF 21
20. Roberto Clemente Pittsburgh OF 20
  Bob Friend Pittsburgh SP 20
  Vern Law Pittsburgh SP 20

By this measure, not only were there seven National Leaguers better than Clemente in 1960, but there were 19. Even if the pitchers are removed, there are still 15 players who earned more Win Shares than Clemente in 1960.

Of course nobody knew what a win share was in 1960 and even if they did, there’s no guarantee the voters would have considered them while voting. Eddie Mathews and Willie Mays earned the most Win Shares (38), and both played for teams with winning records, yet Mathews finished 10th in MVP balloting while playing for a second-place team that won 88 games, while Mays finished third while playing for a fifth-place team that won 79 games. Mathews’ teammate, Hank Aaron, finished second in Win Shares, but was 11th in MVP voting.

Clemente finished 20th in Win Shares, but placed eighth in MVP balloting. Clemente’s teammate, Don Hoak, was 13th in Win Shares, but finished second in MVP balloting, and Vern Law, who tied Clemente’s Win Shares total, finished tied for sixth in MVP balloting. So, not only did the writers believe that Groat was more valuable than Clemente, but they also believed three of his teammates were more valuable.

Player Team Pts. Win Shares WS RK
Dick Groat Pittsburgh 276 25 7
Don Hoak Pittsburgh 162 23 13
Willie Mays San Francisco 155 38 1
Ernie Banks Chicago 100 29 5
Lindy McDaniel St. Louis 95 25 7
Ken Boyer St. Louis 80 31 4
Vern Law Pittsburgh 80 20 20
Roberto Clemente Pittsburgh 62 20 20
Ernie Broglio St. Louis 58 24 11
Eddie Mathews Milwaukee 52 38 1

Frankly, had the Pirates not won the World Series, it’s not inconceivable to believe that neither Hoak nor Clemente would have finished in the top 10. Vern Law won the Cy Young Award that year (and maybe he wouldn’t have otherwise), so he probably still would have earned the votes needed for a top-10 finish, and Groat won the batting title and, based on his Win Shares, was certainly good enough to earn votes. But had the Braves finished in first place instead of the Pirates, Mathews, Aaron, Joe Adcock, and Del Crandall (and maybe even Bill Bruton) would have dominated the list instead of the Pittsburgh players (Crandall finished 13th in the voting and Adcock 19th).

It’s also difficult to prove racial bias was at play, considering two of the top four N.L. MVP candidates in 1960 were black, and between 1953 and 1959, black players copped all seven MVP Awards. Until 1960 when Groat won the award, the last white player to win the award in the N.L. was Hank Sauer in 1952. In fact, since Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947, nine of the 14 National League MVP Awards handed out between 1947 and 1960 went to black players. That Clemente was also Latino may have worked against him, but Cuban-born White Sox star Minnie Minoso finished fourth in American League MVP voting that same year while playing for a team that finished in third place.

If there was any bias to overcome, it appears that it had more to do with the defensive spectrum than the color of Clemente’s skin or the tone of his accent.

From 1911 to 1960, there were 40 MVP Awards handed out to National Leaguers and 41 to American Leaguers (as usual the leagues followed their own rules, which explains the discrepancy; the N.L. didn’t honor an MVP in 1922 or 1923, but the A.L. did; the N.L. honored an MVP in 1929, but the A.L. didn’t). Of the 81 MVPs, 15 were pitchers and 66 were everyday players. Of those 66 everyday players, 36 played positions located on the left half of the spectrum:

11 7 10 8 2 6 7 13
36 30
55% 45%

Ten percent isn’t much of a discrepancy, but when team success is considered, the disparity jumps considerably. Forty two of the 66 MVPs played on pennant winners and 65% of them played positions located on the left half of the spectrum.

7 5 8 7 0 4 3 8
27 15
65% 35%

Twenty two of the MVPs played on World Series winners and the disparity grows even more:

3 4 2 6 0 2 1 4
15 7
68% 32%

Clemente wasn’t facing racial bias in 1960, he was facing positional bias. Voters clearly regarded strength up the middle more highly than the corner positions, especially on pennant and World Series winning teams. Had he played shortstop for Pittsburgh in 1960, there’s a very good chance he would have won the award over Groat (assuming Clemente could have handled the position). Had he shifted over to center and played there instead of Bill Virdon, it appears he would have had an even better chance to win the award. But he was a right fielder (and a marvelous one at that), playing a position not as respected as most of the others and that seems to have hurt him more than anything else.

Postscript: Clemente finally won an MVP Award in 1966 when he batted .317 with career highs in homers (29) and RBIs (119). Allegedly he felt that the ’66 award made up for the “injustice” of the 1960 voting. According to Win Shares, he didn’t deserve the award in 1966, either, but the writers acquiesced and he edged Sandy Koufax by 10 points. During the decade of the sixties, seven more black players won the MVP Award in the National League.


11 Responses to “Was Clemente Really Slighted by MVP Voters in 1960?”
  1. vinnie says:

    This points out exactly the problem with him at that time. Clemente wasn’t seen as the dominant hitter he’d become, nor the humanitarian that his untimely death has emerged as his legacy.
    The Bobby Clemente of that day wss perceived as a rather surly, uncommunicative and bitter ball player who’d sit out for imaginary injuries and was less than a team player. These perceptions were believed and thought to be holding him back from reaching the potential that he’d shown brief glimpses of in previous seasons. And he was never thought of as being a franchise player.
    Looing back on his life and his career, we can more accurately judge the body of work but we shouldn’t forget that along the way, there were many bumps in the road and many unpleasant stop overs. Clemente the legend and Clemente the whining slacker are both the same person.

  2. John Lease says:

    Clemente had a point when it came to the sportswriters. They weren’t exactly impartial, to say the least. Racist? Not to the degree of burning crosses, but yeah, racist. It was a different time back then, that’s for sure.

  3. Ivan says:

    Clemente’s story is being interpreted here by sheer numbers beind one man’s eyes and imagination who in turn never met the man. Very few will ever understand the great persona and skills of Roberto. Most of the folks who once ridiculed him would serve history best if they took the time to understand Clemente’s culture and his up-bringing and try to understand him. Clemente’s biggest fall was not absorb/assume the American Culture of his era. It is hilarious how the article uses the word Acquiese when referring to Clemente winning the MVP in 66′. Given the source I’ll let it be one man’s opinion. I am sure the writer would use the same word on other Clemente Achievements. If baseball had at least 10% of players today that were slackers like Clemente, it would be worth watching. Yet most folks idolized the prima-donna players of today. I don’t believe he lost the 60: MVP due to Racism, but also don’t believe the 66′ MVP was given to him to shut him up.

  4. Mike Lynch says:


    Thanks for taking time to read the article and leave your comments. You’re absolutely right when you say I “never met the man;” I was only five when he died. Your statement, “I am sure the writer would use the same word [Acquiesce] on other Clemente achievements is incorrect, however. Though I never saw him play, I have a great deal of respect for Roberto Clemente and his accomplishments on and off the field. Clearly the writers felt he deserved the MVP award in 1966 and perhaps the word “acquiesce” was too harsh. And perhaps he brought so many intangibles to the table that he deserved the MVP award in 1960 as well. Since I didn’t see him play it’s impossible for me to know.

    My goal here was to look at the numbers and determine whether Clemente had a reason (statistically) to be so upset by the ’60 MVP snub that he’d call it an “injustice” and refuse to wear his World Series ring. Statistically the answer is no, he didn’t, at least based on Win Shares, which is just one of many ways in which to measure a player’s contributions to his team. Again, I wasn’t there (the 1960 season was played seven years before I was born), so I can’t speak to Clemente’s intangibles.

    My intent wasn’t to understand Clemente’s upbringing and culture, it was to analyze the numbers, and those aren’t a figment of my imagination.

    Having said that, I’d be more than happy to learn more about Clemente and whether or not you feel he deserved the MVP award in 1960 or in ’66 and why.

  5. Robert Porter says:

    The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates were an exciting group of never say die players that electrified a city with their grit and blue collar style. All of the ’60 Bucs are embedded in my memory as my favorite Pirate team. Groat did deserve the MVP award that year, as did Hoak and a number of others. In 60 Clemente was a young blooming star who had not matured into the superstar and leader he eventual became. Roberto was an irreplaceable member of that World Championship squad but so were Skinner, Virdon, Law, Face, Haddix, Smith, and the others. My appreciation and awe of Clemente came in the ’61 season when the true talent of the man started to become evident, dominating NL batting for the next 10 years. He was, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the ’66 MVP when his leadership nearly led the weak pitching Pirates to a pennant. I feel truly privileged that I had the opportunity to see him play and for me, he was The Greatest.

  6. gdh says:

    I was just watching the PBS show about Roberto and the part about him being snubbed in 1960. If finishing in 5th place in the voting instead of 8th is being snubbed, then I feel he was. I wouldn’t have had him finishing any higher than that, behind Mays, Banks, Boyer and Law.

  7. Widds says:

    Roberto Clemente is the most watchable player of all time…the greatest hitter vs. hall of fame pitching and greatest defensive outfielder ever! When baseball started building ballparks around the turn of the century they added outfield walls to the equation(the fans stood in the outfield just prior).Unfortunately, they didn’t amend the rules to accomodate line drives as they would no longer be the typical home run(the wall now stopped them).Less solid batted balls became MORE valuable ’cause they had higher trajectory which translated to what we now know as a home run …they carried OVER the wall. Historically, Roberto hit the ball harder more frequently than anyone and combined with baseball’s strongest most accurate arm he possessed the ingredients to be the most valuable player of all time.Instead, because he played in the most home run unfriendly park ever his real talent was hidden by baseball’s oversight to continue to properly ‘value’ the frightening line drives he delivered and of course the new walls denied him to play deeper defensivley to utilize that unearthly throwing arm. HE WAS THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME IN SPITE OF THIS GLARING OVERSIGHT.

  8. Oscar the Grouch says:

    From a statistical point of view (no one had heard of Win Shares at that time), Clemente led the pennant-winning Pirates in RBI in 1960 with 94, and hit .314 to Groat’s .325. He also outscored Groat, 89 runs to 85 runs (Groat had 50 RBI’s) and hit 16 home runs in the impossible home run park that was Forbes Field, while Groat had little power. Clemente’s slugging average was much higher than Groat’s. Groat wasn’t an outstanding shortstop defensively; he was a little above average.

    To the writers of that era, who didn’t understand the value of a walk, Clemente would have looked like the best offensive performer on that team. He was already recognized as an outstanding defensive outfielder. He did make the all-star team that year.

    He wasn’t yet a team leader, and there certainly was prejudice in that era, both by the general public and the writers, who saw him as a a black Puerto Rican who talked funny and was considered to be a grouch. Even after he became better-known, he was refused service in restaurants, and a furniture store kept taking him to the Puerto Rican furniture on the 8th floor until Clemente pulled $5,000 in cash out of his wallet, and asked if that would be enough to enable him to buy the furniture on the first floor.

    Manager Danny Murtaugh said that the team MVP that year was gritty Don Hoak (and that comment irritated Clemente as well).

    The Pirates were pretty balanced, with offense being spread out amongst Clemente, Groat, Hoak, Bob Skinner, Dick Stuart (whose attitude and horrid fielding – he was perhaps the worst defensive first baseman of all time – may have counterbalanced his offensive contribution), and Mazeroski.

    If the MVP goes to the best player on the pennant-winning team, then Clemente could have staked a claim to it, and should have finished higher than 8th. If it goes to the best player in the league, none of the Pirates would have qualified.


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