That Cal Ripken suffered a batting average loss of 72 points, a power shortage of 42 runs batted in and 20 fewer home runs, compared to last year's Most Valuable Player season, doesn't mean he stands alone when it comes to experiencing a below par performance after winning baseball's most illustrious individual award.
Ripken concluded 1991 with .323, 34 home runs and 114 RBI. Yesterday ended a dismal overall showing when the numbers are compared. In 1992, he batted .251, had 14 home runs and accounted for 72 runs batted in for the otherwise surprising Orioles.
In back-tracking through history, the records show that numerous Most Valuable Players, superior to Ripken in overall ability, regressed the following year. As a for instance, take Charley Gehringer, considered by many the most accomplished second baseman of all time.
Gehringer, who may have had the smoothest swing any player brought to the game, batted .371 in 1937 but the next time around, 1938, plummeted to .306 -- a loss of 65 points. Joe Gordon, another second baseman and the MVP in 1942, was minus-73 points in 1943.
Lou Boudreau dipped 71 points after his MVP showing of 1948 when he finished with .355. Joe DiMaggio went down 52 points in 1942 after coming off an MVP season. George Brett tumbled 86 points but, of course, that was after batting .390 in 1980.
In the National League, Stan Musial fell from .376 to .338 in 1948. Joe Medwick, in a similar pattern, lost 52 points by batting .322 in 1938. For other examples, there's Willie McGee, who was minus-97; Joe Torre, minus-74; Ernie Lombardi and Johnny Bench, minus-55; Pete Rose, minus-54; Dick Groat, minus-50; the list goes on. All came after MVP showings.
Maybe there's an MVP correlation for what occurs the next year. For an immediate contradiction, though, contrast Ripken's MVP counterpart, Terry Pendleton, who is only eight points off his .319 of a year ago. Pendleton also hit 21 homers and improved his RBI to 105.
For a more in-depth review of the subject, we turn to Jeff Kreafle of the Orioles public relations department. His research offers an enlightening look back at what happened to every player the season after he was voted MVP. From a positive aspect, the most productive of all former MVPs, the year following the honor, was Jimmie Foxx, who won the first two American League awards in 1932 and 1933.
Take a look at Foxx's marvelous credentials in those years. He averaged .364 in 1932 with 58 home runs and 169 RBI. The next season he batted .356, had 48 homers and 163 RBI. There was little argument he was worthy. But, in this hypothesis, we're putting the focus on the year that follows. So what happened to Foxx in 1934? He had a serious slump (for him) when he only hit .334, had 44 homers and 130 RBI.
Foxx came back in 1938 to win the MVP for the third time. He checked in with a batting mark of .349, 50 HRs, 175 RBI. Then in 1939, when DiMaggio won, Foxx raised his average to .360 but his home runs dropped to 35 and he logged 105 RBI, which is why DiMaggio prevailed with .381, 30 HRs and 126 RBI.
Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, three New York Yankees MVPs of later vintage, also produced in an outstanding way following award-winning seasons. So an "off year" does not always evolve.
National League records over the last 61 years don't have any MVP producing with the potency of Foxx. Yet, in their own way, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt and Dale Murphy put together strong back-to-back performances after becoming MVPs.
Injuries can scuttle a player. What stronger evidence than Roy Campanella, who won three MVP citations? But, in subsequent seasons, he suffered serious accidents in games. First he damaged his elbow and then broke both hands, which explains why his average tumbled 56 points, 105 points and then 99 points after being MVP in 1951, 1953 and 1955. Just maybe, without the physical problems, Campanella would have won five in a row.
To have an MVP year is to achieve the ultimate. Clemente batted .317 to win in 1966 but didn't repeat despite batting .357. Orlando Cepeda hit 32 points less, had only two more home runs and one additional RBI. Even at this late date, there should be an MVP recount for 1967.
Ted Williams and Hank Greenberg, premier power hitters, followed MVP years by getting only partial opportunities to play. The military called, Williams serving in Korea and Greenberg in World War II. So, since they had more important responsibilities, they made only token baseball appearances: Greenberg in 1941 and Williams in 1950 to defend their MVP laurels.
Back to Ripken, the "$30 million man," who, incidentally, was chastised by Murray Chass in yesterday's New York Times. Chass wrote Ripken "... singlehandedly kept the Orioles from winning the championship by having the worst season of his life." It was, indeed, a bad time for Ripken. Could he have been hurt?
In checking the Ripken batting line, it's significant to note even though he had 637 plate appearances, he struck out only 50 times. That means his vision and reflexes have not deteriorated. He was putting bat on the ball, even though he lacked power.
The Orioles should take encouragement from what the record shows: An enormous number of MVPs follow banner seasons with poor production the next time around. Because Ripken didn't "play back" to 1991 is no reason, from a factual and precedent standpoint, to believe he can't again become consistent and be a continuing source of long-range capabilities.