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What are the best MVP pairings of all time?

Sep 3, 2014, 2:11 PM EDT

While thinking about Clayton Kershaw as the leading NL MVP candidate and Mike Trout as the leading AL MVP candidate it occurred to me that this could be one of the best MVP “pairings” ever.

I’m talking about the players’ standing in baseball history, rather than in their specific MVP-winning season. So, in a purely hypothetical world the best possible MVP “pairing” would be whoever you happen to believe are the two greatest players of all time. It could be, say, Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. Or maybe Willie Mays and Ted Williams. Something like that. You get the idea, right?

Now, obviously Trout is only 23 years old and even Kershaw is only 26 years old, but few players their respective ages have ever accomplished what they have and in a couple decades it’s possible they’ll both be considered inner-circle Hall of Famers. But setting Kershaw and Trout aside, what are the best pairings ever to be named MVP in the same season?

After looking at the list of MVP winners here are my top five contenders for best MVP pairings ever:

1946: Ted Williams, Stan Musial

1957: Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron

1986: Roger Clemens, Mike Schmidt

1990: Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson

2003: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez

There are obviously a ton of other great pairings that could possibly crack the top five. Take a look at the full list and chime in with your choices.

  1. kingscourt25 - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    My top 5:
    1. Mays, Mantle 1962
    2. Bonds, A-Rod 2003
    3. Aaron-Mantle, 2957
    4. A-Rod,Pujols 2005
    5. Bonds, Thomas 1993

    Can’t really put anyone in there pre-1947 because no black and latino players.

    • Aaron Gleeman - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:22 PM

      Willie Mays didn’t win an MVP in 1962. He won in 1954 (paired with Yogi Berra) and in 1965 (paired with Zoilo Versalles).

      • kingscourt25 - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:24 PM

        Kinda a joke. He should’ve won in 1962, but it went Willis because steals.

      • asimonetti88 - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:44 PM

        Can we do this for Cy Young pairings as well? Obviously not as much history but still fun…

        68 Bob Gibson, Denny McLain
        73 and 75 Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer
        85 Dwight Gooden and Brett Saberhagen
        95 Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson
        97 Pedro and Clemens
        99 Big Unit and Pedro

    • SocraticGadfly - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:42 PM

      Can’t really put in anyone from the roiding era with a size-9 head and who had an orchidometer used on other body parts as part of a legal hearing.

      • SocraticGadfly - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:55 PM

        I’ll go with
        1997 Griffey/Walker 9.8/9.1 WAR
        1994 Bagwell/Thomas 8.2/6/3 in strike shortened year
        1980 Schmidt/Brett 8.8/9.4
        1977 Foster/Carew 8.4/9.7 (yes)
        1972 Bench/Allen 8.2/8.6
        1968 Gibson/McLain 11.2/7.4

        From your last 35 years, those are your years with both leagues fielding outstanding MVPs at the same time. Hat tips to 1994, 1980, and 1968 with both players from the same position.

      • 18thstreet - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:56 PM


      • davidpom50 - Sep 3, 2014 at 6:27 PM

        SocraticGadfly, I like the methodology but for one flaw: Aaron says in the article, “I’m talking about the players’ standing in baseball history.”

        So maybe career WAR instead of season WAR?

      • SocraticGadfly - Sep 3, 2014 at 11:16 PM

        True that I went on a bit different tangent, by going with single-season WAR for memorable years rather than careers. That said, 6 of the 12 are already HOFers, and slam dunks. Bags should be in there already; Junior will be. Dick Allen and Larry Walker are borderlines, which means that, in terms of careers, Foster and McLain are the only real outliers.

    • pauleee - Sep 3, 2014 at 5:41 PM

      Whether baseball really is dying or not, I highly doubt they’ll be playing baseball in 2957.

      • yahmule - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:26 PM

        By 2957, the age of the insects will have been in full swing for several millenia.

    • florida76 - Sep 3, 2014 at 7:06 PM

      Can’t possibly include Barry Bonds season of 2003, since it wasn’t legitimate.

      • DJ MC - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:02 PM

        Citation needed.

  2. Hard On For Harden - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:21 PM

    Once Bagwell finally gets into the HOF, 1994 with Frank Thomas is a good one for recent history. The fact they were born on the same and were both slugging first basemen only strengthens the bond.

    • sportsfan18 - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:16 PM

      Not a bad choice Hard On… when Bagwell gets in…

      Thomas 212 OPS+
      Bagewll 213 OPS+

      Monster yrs by both men…

  3. Rich Stowe - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:22 PM

    unfortunately, with the way the MVP was handed out in MLB’s infancy, many great pairings aren’t possible

    • yahmule - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:30 PM

      Thank you. Whoever downvoted this should consider educating themselves.

      • Rich Stowe - Sep 4, 2014 at 6:30 AM

        thank you – they don’t realize that players couldn’t win the MVP in back to back years etc…

  4. Rich Stowe - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    Amazing that Berra and Campanella won in the same year a couple of times…

    • mkd - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:52 PM

      This was the heyday of the “up the middle” theory that said great baseball teams are built on the strength of C-SS-2B-CF with the catcher serving as the rock of the whole operation. Hence the disproportionate number of catcher MVPs in the 1950s.

      • Jack Glasscock's Cup - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:07 PM

        heyday nowaday

  5. asimonetti88 - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    on top of what you listed, would like to throw out…

    1951 was pretty solid, Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra… the year of the catchers..
    1966 Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson…
    69 with Willie McCovey and Harmon Killebrew
    73 Pete Rose and Reggie Jackson
    2004 Barry Bonds and Vlad Guerrero…

    And for the worst… any of the years Juan Gonzalez won.

    • Rich Stowe - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:31 PM

      the clemente/robinson year along with either of the campy/berra years are the ones I would throw into the discussion as well

      maybe even the year Schmidt/brett won as well

      • asimonetti88 - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:32 PM

        Skipped over the Schmidt/Brett year, that’s another pair of great players

      • Rich Stowe - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:36 PM

        especially if you just consider just the greatness at their position

        top 2 or 3 all-time at their position each winning the MVP in the same year…

        would be interesting to see a breakdown of same position MVPs from same year (like Clemente/Robinson, Campy/Berra etc as well)

  6. khar9 - Sep 3, 2014 at 2:42 PM


  7. otistaylor89 - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:00 PM

    Hard to beat Aaron/Mantle – so great they played each other in the WS too!

  8. philliesblow - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:00 PM

    Going the other way, what’s the worst pairing? 1952: Hank Sauer & Bobby Shantz, 1942: Mort Cooper & Joe Gordon? Or a more recent vintage: 1985 Willie McGee & Don Mattingly? 2000: Jeff Kent & Jason Giambi?

    • Joe - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:17 PM

      1996 Ken Caminiti/Juan Gonzalez

      • clemente2 - Sep 3, 2014 at 4:38 PM


    • nothanksimdriving123 - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:30 PM

      A reminder about 1942, and the succeeding couple of seasons: Some of the better players had, um, changed uniforms, due to certain vile and disgusting activities in Europe and Asia.

  9. nukeladouche - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    My Top 5 that aren’t on your list:

    Jackie Robinson & Ted Williams – 1949
    Roy Campanella & Yogi Berra – 1951 AND 1955
    Roberto Clemente & Frank Robinson – 1966
    Pete Rose & Reggie Jackson – 1973
    Mike Schmidt & George Brett – 1980

    How cool is it that 2 of the all-time great catchers (both of whom played in NYC) won it in their respective leagues, in the same year, TWICE?!?!

  10. padraighansen - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    A quick deviation from the thread –

    Molitor was not an MVP, but….

    Molitor and Yount are the only 2 members of the 3000 hit club that were teammates for 15+ seasons.

    Now, I realize that what I posted was not specifically germane to the spirit of the question posed by Gleeman (which was a good question), and there is no doubt that Kershaw / Trout are an amazing pair. But I think it’s often overlooked just how good the top of the Milwaukee lineup was with Molitor & Yount hitting 1-2 for all those years. 6,000 plus hits.

    With that, I’ll throw some love out to Big Poison & The Iron Horse in 1927, 1947 & 1957 mentioned above. In addition, with some apologies to Zoilo Versalles in 1965, the 1966 pairing of Clemente and Robinson, the first year with two african-american MVPs should not be dismissed, either.

  11. Jack Glasscock's Cup - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    I vote for the two 100+ WAR guys with normal-sized heads, Williams and Musial. Could you imagine if they were in the same lineup? Tony LaRussa would need 14 match-up lefties in the bullpen.

    On a side-note, anybody else with more than one thumb see 1981 and want to make a mustache joke besides this guy?

  12. indians131184 - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    so nobodys going to point out the Jackie Robinson/Ted Williams pairing?

    In terms of sheer numbers, maybe not top-5, but meaningful baseball careers, definitely deserving

    • indians131184 - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:18 PM

      whoops. beat me to it nuke

  13. jeffchadwick - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:41 PM

    Some great ones on there for fans of baseball history not mentioned by the author: Hartnett-Greenberg, Waner-Gehrig, Hubbell, Gehrig. Gehringer-Medwick is a pretty fun combination as well. The crown has to go to Williams-Musial.

    • clemente2 - Sep 3, 2014 at 4:40 PM

      You so sure over Mantle-Mays?

  14. bajamex - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:48 PM

    I won’t consider MVPs before blacks played in the majors again (until 1947) nor anybody after metamphetamines were introduced as the daily drug in the majors during the second world war, which means: there is not a single MVP winner whose career has not been close to ideal.

    Be it players having amazing seasons in leagues with no hispanos nor black players (the few hispanos before Jackie were white or at most lightly dark skinned like a few mexicans who played in the majors), or players who maybe had a shot at being great but couldn’t hit or pitch their potential becase were facing roided players and others on speed delivering a bif F-You uppercut to those who didn’t use… and still happens in the form of doped players passing of as having attention deficit and or hyperactivity.

    • SocraticGadfly - Sep 3, 2014 at 5:01 PM

      Greenies didn’t have the same effect as roids. Jim Bouton, among players, is strong on that statement.

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - Sep 3, 2014 at 5:28 PM

        And Bouton got his degree in chemistry from where, again?

      • stercuilus65 - Sep 3, 2014 at 8:18 PM

        Same place you got your degree in history Capo.

  15. buccan33rz1976 - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:49 PM

    1951- Camp and Berra

  16. baberuthslegs - Sep 3, 2014 at 3:59 PM

    Williams and Musial

  17. tearlw - Sep 3, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    I know there aren’t a lot of pre-1947 fans here, but the 1927 pairing is pretty incredible.

    Paul Waner PIT 155 G .380/.437/.549
    Lou Gehrig NYY 155 G .373/.474/.765

    • padraighansen - Sep 3, 2014 at 5:19 PM

      I agree. Mentioned that one, too, above.

  18. gatorprof - Sep 3, 2014 at 5:17 PM

    Trout and Clayton don’t stack up at all historically as one of the best.

    Trout’s season isn’t all that great given what he did in the past two years. He is still amongst the offensive leaders, but this season isn’t historically great.

    Clayton is having a great year, but it doesn’t compare to what Guidry did in 78 in terms of dominance and endurance. Yes, similar ERA+, but Guidry had 9 shut outs (that is Clayton’s total in his 7 year career) and 16 complete games (1 less than Clayton’s career total). 25-3 was a beast year, but Guidry didn’t win the MVP…Rice did. If you go back to 68, Gibson had an even better year.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Sep 3, 2014 at 5:31 PM

      If it was voted by rWAR, how about these two pitchers in ’99:

      Pedro: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 243 ERA+, 213.1 IP, 313 K, 37 BB; 9.7 rWAR
      RJ: 17-9, 2.48 ERA, 184 ERA+, 271.2 IP, 364 K, 70 BB; 9.2 rWAR

      • gatorprof - Sep 4, 2014 at 9:46 AM

        Forgot Pedro’s 99…great call.

    • kingscourt25 - Sep 3, 2014 at 5:33 PM

      Can’t compare pitchers from this era to others in the 60s, 50s, 70s, 80s, in early to mid 90s in IPs, CG, SHO. There was no pitch count back then.

      On a per rate basis, Kershaw’s 2014 has definitely been a top pitching season in the modern era.

      • gatorprof - Sep 4, 2014 at 9:57 AM

        What do you consider the modern era? Clayton is having a great season, but not the best in the modern era.

        Pedro’s 99 season destroys Clayton’s 2014.

        ERA+: Clayton: 210 / Pedro: 243
        FIP: Clayton: 189 / Pedro: 139
        K/9: Clayton: 10.7 / Pedro: 13.2

        Keep in mind, this was the height of the steroid era and Pedro was mowing everyone down with ease. You could even make an argument that Pedro’s 2000 season was better than Clayton’s 2014.

    • asimonetti88 - Sep 3, 2014 at 7:02 PM

      This is based on careers, rather than the individual year.

      Of course, we have no idea where Trout and Clayton’s careers will go from here, so anything about them stacking up historically career-wise would be complete conjecture.

  19. yahmule - Sep 3, 2014 at 10:36 PM

    1984 Ryno and Willie Hernandez is a pretty weak offering.

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