Monday, January 12, 2015

Has There Been Racial Bias When Sports Illustrated Names A Baseball Player Its Sportsman Of The Year?

The magazine started giving out the award in 1954. Click here to see all the winners at Wikipedia.

Here are the winners among position players:

Stan Musial 1957
Carl Yastrzemski 1967
Pete Rose 1975
Willie Stargell 1979
Dale Murphy 1987
Cal Ripken, Jr. 1995
Sammy Sosa 1998
Mark McGwire 1998
Derek Jeter 2009

It looks like  only Stargell, Sosa and Jeter are non-white. So 33%. Now for pitchers

Johnny Podres 1955
Sandy Koufax 1965
Tom Seaver 1969
Orel Hershiser 1988
Curt Schilling 2001
Randy Johnson 2001
Madison Bumgarner 2014

As far as I can tell, they are all white. So 0%. Podres is of Polish descent, as far as I can tell, since several sites say he is in the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.

55.75% of MVP awards that went to position players since 1954 went to non-whites. 58.1% of the MLB leaders in WAR were non-white (if both the AL & NL leader had the same WAR they were both in the mix). So the 33% of non-whites winning the SI Sportsman of the Year Award seems pretty low. Also, 9 of the top 14 seasons in WAR were by non-whites.

16.67% of the Cy Young Awards went to non-whites. 19% of the WAR leaders were non-whites. 5 of the top 13 seasons in WAR were by non-whites. Yet never has a non-white pitcher gotten the SI award.

Now some discussion of individual years where I look at viable non-white candidates.

1955-Podres did shutout the Yankees in game 7 of the World Series and he did give up only 1 run in winning another complete game. But he was just 9-10 in 159 IP that year, not even making the top 10 in WAR. His teammate, catcher Roy Campanella won his 3rd MVP award, although he was just 10th in WAR. He did hit 2 HRs with an OPS of .926 in the series. Willie Mays led the league with a WAR of 9.0, hitting 51 HRs. So there were a couple of very good non-white candidates.

1957-Musial did lead the NL in batting average. But Hank Aaron led the league in HRs, RBI and TBs while his team won the series.  He batted .393 with 3 HRs and 7 RBIs. He was also the MVP for the season.

1959-Boxer Ingemar Johansson was the winner. He did become heavyweight champ, but someone always is champion. His Wikipedia page does not seem to show anything remarkable about his beating Patterson by TKO. His girl friend did work for SI. A couple of baseball players who could have been considered were Aaron, whose Braves tied for 1st place (3rd year in a row in 1st). He led the league with a .355 avg and had 400 TBs and won a Gold Glove. Ernie Banks won his 2nd straight MVP award. He had a WAR of 10.2, hit 45 HRs with a .304 avg and 143 RBIs as a shortstop (he did win a Gold Glove the next year, so he was well regarded as a fielder). And he led the league in fielding WAR (3.5), which is in the top 100 seasons all-time.

1965-Koufax did set a strikeout record (382). He also won 26 games, the Cy Young Award and his team won the World Series. But Willie Mays was a viable candidate. He was MVP with 52 HRs and a .317 avg. He won his 9th straight Gold Glove and it was the 4th straight year he led the league in WAR (at least 10 each year). He beat Koufax 11.2-8.6.

1966-Jim Ryun won and set the world record in the mile (no record breaker in the mile has since won). Frank Robinson was AL MVP (1st guy to win in both leagues) and won the triple crown. His team also won the World Series. He hit 2 HRs in a 4-game sweep with an OPS of 1.232. Yastrzemski won the next year for winning the triple crown.

1973 & 1974-Muhammad Ali won in 1974. He regained the heavyweight boxing championship, so perhaps that eclipsed Hank Aaron breaking the HR record. But Aaron got to 713 HRs in 1973, hitting 40 at age 39. But race car driver Jackie Stewart won. He did have several racing victories that year. But he had done that before and not won.

1975-Rose did bat .317 that year and .357 in the series (he may have been willing to move to 3rd base to allow George Foster to get into the lineup in LF). His team, the Reds, won the series. But teammate Joe Morgan hit 17 HRs with a .327 avg, .466 OBP and 67 SBs (just 10 CS). He won his 3rd Gold Glove. In 1976, tennis player Chris Evert won (she won 2 Grand Slam events). But Morgan won the MVP again with a similar season. The Reds won the series again.

1993-Don Shula won for becoming the winningest coach in NFL history. But Barry Bonds won his 3rd MVP award in 4 years, leading the league in HRs and RBIs (46, 123). His avg was .336. He also stole 29 bases and won his 4th Gold Glove in a row. His team, the Giants, won 103 games but finished 1 game behind the Braves in the NL West.

2001-Bonds sets the HR record with 73 yet he loses to Schilling and Johnson. Yes, they helped the Diamondbacks keep the Yankees from winning a 4th straight series and Johnson won 3 games. But Sosa and McGwire won in 1998 when they broke the HR record.

The guys who won in the years I discussed were deserving. But many times a non-white seems to have been very deserving, too.


Anonymous said...

Out of the 15 years you list, they chose a team or player that appeared in the World Series 11 of those years. Glancing at the Wikipedia page, I'm noticing this is a common theme for the award given to non-baseball players too. There could be a racial bias involved, but this has me wondering if there's also a bias towards players/teams that appearanced in a championship game/series during the given year.

Cyril Morong said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. But what about Aaron (1957), Robinson (1966) and Morgan (1975-6)? They all had great seasons on championship teams. Reggie Jackson in 1977 could have won when the Yankees won the World Series. 3 HRs in game 6 and 5 for the series? Only Ruth had hit 3 in a series game before.