Give Jeter the Irving Thalberg

September, 4, 2009
9/04/09
10:58
AM ET
I told you this would happen:
    Interesting question posed to Tim Kurkjian Thursday. Does Mariano Rivera have a shot at the Cy Young?

    The short answer is no. Zack Greinke-unless he completely and utterly implodes-is getting it. He all but wrapped it up with his amazing 15-strikeout performance.

    That said, why isn't Rivera in the conversation?

    I know, I know. Relievers have "the most overrated job in baseball,” blah, blah blah. And yes, that thought does trickle through to those who vote for the Cy Young. But it's not unheard of; Dennis Eckersley won it in 1992, Mark Davis won it in 1989, and Steve Bedrosian won it in 1987 (all of them with stats not as good as Rivera has right now).

    Add to that, the fact that Rivera got completely hosed in 2005 when voters gave the award to an undeserving Bartolo Colon over Rivera. Colon had a respectable 3.48 ERA and 122 ERA+ (neither of them his best numbers in those categories for his career). Rivera, on the other hand, had a 1.38 ERA and a preposterous 307 ERA+. Batters had a .177 BA on Rivera that season (compared to .254 for Colon.) Rivera didn't give up a run May 6th to July 8th - a span of 23 games.

Two things here.

One, it's not really enough to list other closers who have won Cy Young Awards. You have to demonstrate that all of those other closers really weren't as good as Rivera this year (which is arguable, considering that all of them pitched significantly more innings than Rivera will). And you have to at least ask whether or not those other closers deserved to win (probably not). As for Colon, no he shouldn't have won the Cy Young Award in 2005 but then, neither should Rivera. That one should have gone to Johan Santana.

Onward:

    And he hasn't gotten the Cy Young for any of this. He is without question one of the three most dominant pitchers of his generation (Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux -both of whom rightly received their awards), and each and every team in the league would gladly trade whomever the Yankees wanted for him, even at 39. His durability is remarkable; minor aches and pains aside, the man has been as consistent as the Northern, Southern and any other star you'd like. What else does Rivera have to do to get the reward he so obviously deserves?
Ah, the Cy Young as proxy for a Lifetime Achievement Award. My friend Allen Barra recently took the same tack in arguing for Derek Jeter's MVP candidacy. Barra even came up with a precedent: the Oscars:
    In the movie industry, many recipients get an Oscar years after they really ­deserve one, and often as a kind of lifetime achievement award. Paul Newman, for instance, took one home in 1987 for his performance in "The Color of Money," and Martin Scorsese in 2007 for directing "The Departed." Both could just as easily have been given the Academy Award several times earlier in their careers. Baseball's Most Valuable Player awards are no different, and the New York Yankees' Derek Jeter might well wind up as baseball's Paul Newman for the 2009 season.
Today I would like to wrestle this lifetime achievement meme to the ground and strangle the life out of it forever. For one thing, the Oscars are utterly subjective and if a voter wants to give Newman or Scorsese a few points of extra credit to balance past injustices, why not? I wouldn't do it, myself. But I don't have any real issue with the impulse because there would have been something wrong if Scorsese had never won.

Baseball's different, though. Award voting is (or should be) mostly objective, with little room for sentiment. Just give the thing to the best player, you know? More to the point, baseball has a Lifetime Achievement Award: it's called the Hall of Fame, and Derek Jeter will be there one day.

Just give the things to the best guys. Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are both enjoying wonderful seasons that rank among their very best. Neither of them really are the best guys this year.

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