A close race might be heating up for American League MVP, with Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, and Mookie Betts at the front of the pack statistically. Whether Trout cements his lead in Wins Above Average over the final six weeks of the season or Altuve or Betts help their cases by helping their teams make playoff runs remains to be seen.
Whatever happens, it wouldn’t be the first time an MVP race has come down to the wire. Here are five close instances:
1. 1947 American League, Joe DiMaggio 202 votes, Ted Williams 201: Maybe the most notorious MVP vote in baseball history. Williams won his second Triple Crown, but missed winning MVP by a single vote to DiMaggio. David Halberstam wrote in Summer of ’49 that a Boston writer failed to give Williams so much as a 10th place vote, which would have been enough.
2. 1955 National League, Roy Campanella 226 votes, Duke Snider 221: Extraordinarily close race that never gets talked about. The Brooklyn Dodgers won their first and only World Series in 1955, so someone from their team was going to be MVP. The only problem was figuring out who. Snider might win easily today thanks to sabermetrics. In 1955, though, Campanella’s numbers looked comparable with his veteran presence likely enough to put him over the top. He’d also campaigned since early in the season for the award, following a dismal 1954 campaign.
3. 1962 National League, Maury Wills 209 votes, Willie Mays 202: Mays led the San Francisco Giants to the World Series with 49 homers, 141 RBI, and 10.5 WAR. Wills played for the second place Los Angeles Dodgers and trailed Mays by 4.5 WAR, but broke Ty Cobb’s single season stolen base record to edge the Say Hey Kid. Wills told the Los Angeles Times he expected a three-way race between himself, Mays, and teammate Tommy Davis who hit .346 and finished a not-too-distant third.
4. 1995 American League, Mo Vaughn 308 votes, Albert Belle 300: Statistically, Belle should have been an easy choice, powering the Cleveland Indians to their first World Series appearance since 1954 with 50 home runs. But he was Albert Belle, so another honoree was located. “I feel sorry for Belle, and not just because his temper cost him the MVP award voted on by the baseball writers,” Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston wrote. “I feel sorry for a man who is so joyless, when he created so much happiness for this city. And I feel bad for a man who hears the music, but cannot dance.”
5. 1966 National League, Roberto Clemente 218 votes, Sandy Koufax 208: Clemente won his first and only MVP in 1966, a year where he led the National League in no offensive statistics and his team finished third. To do it, Clemente beat out the National League champion’s ace who’d just gone 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA and 317 strikeouts. Clemente’s manager Harry Walker began campaigning for him in midsummer. Koufax also waited until two days after the award came out to announce his retirement, which might have given him a boost in voting.