The 1997 season brought about many changes. With more expansion looming for the 1998 season, acting commissioner Bud Selig proposed a 'radical realignment', which would assign teams to leagues based on geographical location. So all the East Coast teams in one division, west coast teams in one division, and so on, and without regard for previous designations.
One version of the realignment had fifteen teams switching leagues. The prospect of having one league being on the west coast didn't sit well with the players, fans or the media, so it was scrapped.
This would have put the Mets and Yankees in the same division, or the Cubs and the White Sox, Dodgers and Angels...yada, yada, yada. The owners were very much opposed to this plan, and voted it down.
The preparations were caused by the addition of the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise, which was promised to be in the National League, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, which was promised to be an American League team.
Tampa Bay's ownership was banking on a big following from retired New Yorkers, and a built in fan base with the Yankee farm system based in Tampa. Arizona's ownership was banking on the same with the Dodger fan base.
On paper, assigning one team to each league would be simple enough, except that would bring each league to a total of fifteen teams each. An odd number, which would cause the need for either one team from each league taking a series off every week, or the allowance of inter-league play.
Inter-league play made the most sense, and the novelty of it was certainly getting attention. It was decided that there would be two sets of inter-league play periods, where teams would play teams in their rival division. So AL East plays NL East, AL Central plays NL Central and AL West plays NL West.
The games would follow the league rules for the home team...designated hitter in the AL parks, none in the NL parks.
It was designed with the fans in mind...so they told us. The American League fans getting to see the National League players, and vice-versa. However, that wasn't exactly the case. In my mind, if you want to expose the AL fans to the NL players, use the NL rules. Let the pitchers bat for themselves in the AL parks, since the fans never got to see that.
Plus, too, the different style of play between the leagues, with the National League being a more pitching finesse type of league, with the fireballers in the American League.
And don't get me started on the different strike zones....
In hindsight, it's easy to see a greater plan in place...one that has been slowly erasing the delineation between the two leagues. There is one umpiring group, instead of AL and NL umps. There is no more League Offices, or League Presidents either.
If you look right now at the mlb.com website and look at the league leaders for any category, (go ahead, I'll wait) you will see the default is for MLB leaders, then leaders for each league. This may seem insignificant to some, but to me, it is further diluting the game.
In 1997 for example, Mark McGwire hit 58 home runs, but didn't lead the league. He played for Oakland in the American League, where he hit 34 homers. Then he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he hit another 24, giving him 58 total.
But, since this was the good old days, his stats are split.
Also, a couple of years earlier, in 1990, McGwire's teammate Willie McGee was traded from the Cardinals to Oakland late in the season. McGee hit .335 for the Cardinals, with enough at bats to qualify for the league lead. He struggled a little in Oakland, hitting just .274, which gave him a combined .324 batting average.
Eddie Murray of the Dodgers hit .330, which led the majors, but following the rules in play at the time, finished second to McGee, who was now playing the the American League.
But enough griping about the inter-league stuff. As we know now, the 1998 expansion happened, and instead of fifteen teams per league, the National League added a team from the American League. That team was the Milwaukee Brewers, which by sheer coincidence was owned by acting commissioner Bud Selig.
In actuality, the Kansas City Royals were first offered the opportunity to switch leagues, but decide against it. The Brewers were the next to have the offer, and they took it. So, for the 1988 season, the Milwaukee Brewers began play as the first team to switch leagues since the modern Major Leagues had been 'invented'.
But, back to 1997.
The inter-league play schedule succeeded. The national League teams actually gained the advantage over their American League counterparts, winning 20 more games.
This also led to many firsts..
The first inter-league game was the San Francisco Giants visiting the Texas Rangers, with Giants outfielder Darryl Hamilton getting the first ever hit in inter-league play.
The first Designated Hitters for each National League team were:
- BravesKeith LockhartCubsDave ClarkRedsEddie TaubenseeRockiesDante BichetteMarlinsJim EisenreichAstrosSean BerryDodgersMike PiazzaExposJose VidroMetsButch HuskeyPhilliesDarren DaultonPiratesMark SmithCardinalsDmitri YoungPadresRickey HendersonGiantsGlenallen Hill
Among other inter-league curiosities was this fact...when the Toronto Blue Jays played the Montreal Expos, it was the first time since World War II that the American National Anthem was not played before a major league baseball game.
Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Al Martin, in town to play the Minnesota Twins, got confused as to his whereabouts, and wound up at the Target Center, home of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves.
Another experiment was the “Aloha Series”, a three game set between the Cardinals and the Padres, played at Aloha Stadium, in Honolulu. They played a double-header on Saturday, April 19th, which the Cardinals swept, and an afternoon game on Sunday, won bu the Padres.
Logistically, it was a challenging trip for the Padres, who played a Wednesday night game in Pittsburgh, then flew back to San Diego for a layover, and then on to Hawaii.
Mercifully, they were given two days off to recover...and explore.
Padre's pitcher Joey Hamilton got badly sunburned,and third baseman Ken Caminiti showed up for batting practice wearing shorts.
By all accounts, the series was a success, but hasn't been tried again.
1997 also marked the fiftieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color line with the Dodgers. In commemoration, on the anniversary, the Dodgers were in New York to play the Mets at Shea Stadium.
Commissioner Bud Selig made the unprecedented move of retiring the number 42 in perpetuity throughout baseball. Those who were active players that wore that number were allowed to keep wearing it. (Mariano Rivera of the Yankees would be the last active player to wear that number)
Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners changed his number from 24 to 42 for that one game only. To this day, Jackie Robinson Day is celebrated by Major League baseball, and on that day, all uniformed personnel wear the number 42 jersey.
In July, with the Chicago trailing the Indians in the Central Division race, the White Sox made a critical trade with the Giants at the trade deadline. The Giants sent minor leaguers Lorenzo Barcelo, Mike Caruso, Bob Howry, Brian Manning and Ken Vining along with Keith Foulke to the Windy City, in exchange for pitchers Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin and Roberto Hernandez. The three Sox pitchers had combined for 18 wins and 27 saves.
But White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was quoted as saying that it would be 'crazy' for anyone to think that the Sox could catch Cleveland for the pennant. They finished six games behind. For the record, the three pitchers traded to San Francisco, helped them by recording a combined 10 wins and 4 saves.
Reinsdorf had already alienated his fellow owners somewhat, by announcing that he was taking a hard line on free agent signings, and then signing former Indians outfielder Albert Belle to a five year, fifty-five million dollar contract, making him (for a time) the highest payed player in the game.
The Florida Marlins became the first Wild Card team to win the World Series. In doing so, they also became the fastest expansion team to become Champions as well, doing so in just five years.
In the process, owner Wayne Huizenga turned a lot of heads by his all in approach, over spending on free agents that he, frankly, couldn't afford. Apparently, he was hoping for municipal funding to build a new baseball stadium in downtown Miami.
That deal fell through.
Huizenga couldn't bank on the revenue that he had projected from the new stadium, and made no secret that he was: a. losing money, and b. going to be selling off that high priced talent as soon as the season was over.
True to his word, he did both.
But it was an unusual post season, and followed by a relatively hum-drum World Series, until Game Seven. With Cleveland hoping for its first World Series win since 1948, it took an eleventh inning game-winning single by Edgar Renteria, scoring Greg Counsell for South Florida's first ever World Series victory.
The Atlanta Braves had won 101 games, but lost the National League Championship Series to the Marlins, who had won 92 games.
The Indians, who had just 86 wins, bettered the Orioles, who had won 98 games, in their LCS.
As for the team rankings, we have the following offensive leaders:
- NATIONAL LEAGUEAMERICAN LEAGUERockiesYankeesPadresMarinersBravesRed SoxAstrosIndiansMetsAngels
And then the top pitching teams were as follows:
- BravesOriolesDodgersYankeesMarlinsRangersMetsBlue JaysAstrosBrewers
And our final overall 'Power Rankings' were:
- Braves1st in NL East, lost in LCSYankeesAL Wild Card, lost in DivisionOrioles1st in AL East, lost in LCSMariners1st in AL West, lost in DivisionMets3rd in NL East
The Mets were the outliers on this list, winning 88 games, which would have won the NL Central. The Marlins and Indians rode hot streaks to carry them through their playoff series' and into the Fall Classic.
But other things of note from the 1997 season:
The Colorado Rockies became the first team to amass both 200 home runs and 200 double plays in a season.
They were the first team with three batters to hit 40 homers in 1997: Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga and Vinny Castilla.
Joined in this picture by Dante Bichette
Larry Walker, who won the NL MVP Award made 409 Total Bases, the highest amount in the National League since the immortal Stan Musial in 1948.
Walker is the only player to have 30 homers and 30 stolen bases while hitting over .350 in a season.
For the Anaheim Angels, outfielder Tim Salmon hit 30 homers for the fourth time in his career, the first Angels player to do that.
First baseman Eddie Murray, who is the all-time leader in hitting Sacrifice Flies, plays in his 3,000th game. He is the all-time record holder for games played at first base with 2,413.
The Baltimore Orioles became just the third team in American League history to be in first place all season long, and the first to do so since the 1984 Tigers.
Manager Davey Johnson won the Manager of the Year Award, and resigned the same day.
In Boston, Rookie of the Year winner Nomar Garciaparra became the first American League rookie to have a thirty game hitting streak.
The Cleveland Indians became the first American League team to hit 200 home runs in three consecutive seasons.
They hit eight homers in a game against the Brewers.
Cleveland hosted the All-Star Game, and catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr. homered in the game (he also homered in the World Series, becoming one of a handful who have done both in the same season).
Alomar also was voted the All-Star Game MVP, becoming the first hometown player to win that award.
The Atlanta Braves, playing their first season in Ted Turner Field, won a record 19 games in April.
Outfielder Kenny Lofton became just the third Atlanta Brave to hit a lead-off homer in consecutive games, joining Dennis Menke and Felipe Alou.
Florida Marlins catcher Charles Johnson, known for his defensive prowess, went the entire season without committing an error.
For the Houston Astros, Jeff Bagwell became the first first-baseman to reach the 30 Homer/30 Stolen base club.
Reliever Billy Wagner averaged 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest total for pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched.
Craig Biggio scored 146 runs, the highest National League total since Chuck Klein's 152 in 1932. He also set the record for the most plate appearances (744) without hitting into a double play.
For the Dodgers, they had four players hit thirty or more homers for the second time (1977 was the first). Mike Piazza, Eric Karros, Todd Zeile and Raul Mondesi all did the trick.
Mike Piazza established records for catcher for hits with 201. He is the only catcher to reach 200 hits and 40 homers in a season.
In Montreal, Expos shortstop Mark Grudzielanek hits 54 doubles, setting a new National League record.
The Expos scored an NL record 13 runs in the 6th inning of a game against the Giants. Second baseman Mike Lansing homered twice in the inning, becoming the first National League second baseman to homer twice in an inning since 1894.
Philadelphia Phillies rookie catcher Bobby Estalella became the first Phillies rookie to homer tree times in a game.
Mets first baseman John Olerud became the second player to hit for the cycle in both leagues. Bob Watson was the first, in 1979.
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roger Clemens won the pitching Triple Crown.
Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Tony Womack stole 32 consecutive bases, breaking the team record set by Max Carey in 1931.
San Diego Padres legend Tony Gwynn won is fourth straight batting title, his eighth overall. The eight titles tied Honus Wagner for the National League record.
Now to the statistical recap, beginning with the pitching in the American League. The American League pitching was not stellar as a whole. There were some outstanding performances, but as a whole, the league Earned Run Average was 4.57, compared to the National League's 4.20.
Overall, the National League performed 7% better than the American League when looking at the pitching and hitting combined.
That being said, here is our initial top ten American League pitching performances:
- PITCHERTEAMW-LERASVRandy JohnsonMariners20-42.280Roger ClemensBlue Jays21-72.050Randy MyersOrioles2-31.5145Mariano RiveraYankees6-41.8843Andy PettitteYankees18-72.880John WettelandRangers7-21.9431Justin ThompsonTigers15-113.020Doug JonesBrewers6-62.0236David ConeYankees12-62.820Brad RadkeTwins20-103.870
And then as compared to their team's performances, we get this list:
- Randy JohnsonAboveBrad RadkeAboveRoger ClemensAboveJustin ThompsonAboveJohn WettelandAboveRoberto Hernandez*White Sox (ONLY)5-12.4427Doug JonesAboveJamie MoyerMariners17-53.860Wilson Alvarez*White Sox (ONLY)9-83.030Willie BlairTigers16-84.170
This brings our official combined top ten list to the following:
- Randy Johnson2nd in Cy Young, 11th in MVPRoger ClemensCy Young Winner, 10th in MVPBrad Radke3rd in Cy Young, 25th in MVP (tied)Randy Myers4th in Cy Young, 4th in MVPJohn WettelandNo votesJustin ThompsonNo votesDoug Jones20th in MVP (tied)Mariano Rivera25th in MVP (tied)Andy Pettitte5th in Cy YoungRoberto HernandezNo votes
Looking at the National League, where the pitchers out performed the hitters by 6.2%, and out performed the American league pitchers by 9.8%, we get the following initial ranking:
- Pedro MartinezExpos17-81.900Greg MadduxBraves19-42.200Darryl KileAstros19-72.570Denny NeagleBraves20-52.970Shawn EstesGiants19-53.180Kevin BrownMarlins16-82.690Curt SchillingPhillies17-112.970Alex FernandezMarlins17-123.590Tom GlavineBraves14-72.960Rick ReedMets13-92.890
Then compared to their team, we get this list:
- Curt SchillingAbovePedro MartinezAboveShawn EstesAboveGarret StephensonPhillies8-63.150Darryl KileAboveTrevor HoffmanPadres6-42.6637Greg MadduxAboveBrett TomkoReds11-73.430Kevin BrownAboveAlan BenesCardinals9-92.890
That brings the final overall ranking to this:
- Pedro MartinezCy Young Winner, 16th in MVP (tied)Greg Maddux2nd in Cy Young, 12th in MVPCurt Schilling4th in Cy Young, 14th in MVPDarryl Kile5th in Cy Young, 22nd in MVPShawn EstesNo votesDenny Neagle3rd in Cy YoungKevin BrownNo votesGarret StephensonNo votesBrett TomkoNo votesAlex FernandezNo votes
Switching to the offensive side, with some very garish numbers, due in part to the dawning of the performance enhancing era. The American League batters had a 9.6% advantage over their pitching adversaries, and a 5.9% advantage over the National League hitters. This is important, considering that the National League played more games at Coors Field, which seems to inflate offensive numbers.
But more on that in a moment. For now, the top ten American League performers, initially are as such:
- PLAYERTEAMHRRBIAVGRCGFrank ThomasWhite Sox35125.3471.37Ken Griffey Jr.Mariners56147.3041.38Bernie WilliamsYankees21100.3281.44Juan GonzalezRangers42131.2961.32Edgar MartinezMariners28108.3301.19Tino MartinezYankees44141.2961.22Paul O'NeillYankees21117.3241.24Jim ThomeIndians40102.2861.13Tim SalmonAngels33129.2961.22Nomar GarciaparraRed Sox3098.3061.24
And then compared to their teams, we get this list:
- Frank ThomasAboveJuan GonzalezAboveCarlos DelgadoBlue Jays3091.2620.92Ken Griffey Jr.AboveJeromy BurnitzBrewers2785.2810.93Tony ClarkTigers32117.2761.19Bernie WilliamsAboveBobby HigginsonTigers27101.2991.15Mark McGwireA's (ONLY)3481.2840.90Tim SalmonAbove
Combining and crunching brings us this top ten list:
- Frank Thomas3rd in MVPKen Griffey Jr.MVP Award WinnerBernie Williams17th in MVPJuan Gonzalez9th in MVPEdgar Martinez14th in MVP (tie)Tino Martinez2nd in MVPTim Salmon7th in MVPJim Thome6th in MVPPaul O'Neill12th in MVPTony Clark18th in MVP
Over in the National League, where the Rockies, playing at Coors Field, scored 140 more runs than their nearest competitor, hit 65 more home runs, an hit 17 points higher than any other NL team. Their pitching, however, suffered in that rarefied air. The Rockies hit 124 homers there, but their opponents hit 121, That helped the Rockies staff to amass a season ERA of 5.25, a quarter a run per game higher than the next lowest team.
With that, herewith is the initial top ten National League hitters:
- Larry WalkerRockies49130.3661.46Mike PiazzaDodgers40124.3621.24Andres GalarragaRockies41140.3181.42Tony GwynnPadres17119.3721.34Jeff BagwellAstros43135.2861.24Ray LankfordCardinals3198.2851.21Barry BondsGiants40101.2911.16Craig BiggioAstros2281.3091.27Todd HundleyMets3086.2731.02Ellis BurksRockies3282.2901.18
And then as compared to their team's statistics, we get this list:
- Mike PiazzaAboveRay LankfordAboveLarry WalkerAboveJeff BagwellAboveTony GwynnAboveBarry BondsAboveScott RolenPhillies2192.2831.05Craig BiggioAboveTodd HundleyAboveMoises AlouMarlins23115.2921.20
This brings our National League finalized top ten list to:
- Mike Piazza2nd in MVPLarry WalkerMVP Award WinnerAndres Galarraga7th in MVPRay Lankford16th in MVP (tied)Tony Gwynn6th in MVPJeff Bagwell3rd in MVPBarry Bonds5th in MVPCraig Biggio4th in MVPTodd HundleyNo votesMoises Alou10th in MVP
Before we go further, we'll revisit the term 'Valuable' when it comes to picking the player with the most value. When one votes for the Most Valuable Player, is one looking at the entire league, or just looking for the most valuable player on his team, and then as compared to the league?
A player, as I have mentioned several times, that may receive votes as the Most Valuable Player, in my mind, is the player that far exceeds the standard set by his team. He carries his team when needed. The poorer the team around him, the batter that player has to be.
Looking at the American League hitters above, for example, which has three players on the list...how much of an impact did that lineup have with those three players in it have on a given day? Compare that with Tony Clark from above, without a lot of other help in that lineup, yet he was able to create more than one run per game.
And on the pitching side, strikeouts are nice. And they are glamorous. But they re not essential. If you'll notice. In my highlighted statistics, I never mention strikeout totals. Because they don't win games.
The formula that I use doesn't factor strikeouts at all. More important in my formula is base runners. Or rather, lack of base runners. The fewer runners you allow, the fewer that can score. The fewer that score, the better your chance of winning a game. That is where the importance is.
To quote former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game.”
From there, I weigh each statistic, but not evenly. Wins are worth a lot more than saves. Runs more than homers. Sacrifice hits as even with hits. Then I compare all the stats, which is where I get my final results.
Also, there is always talk about how a player from a low finishing team can win any of the post season awards, which I don't agree with. If the player was the best in the league, he should be awarded for that.
The initial lists for each category are flat out the best straight up performers for that season. That is based on raw, black and white statistics.
The finalized rankings have been filtered to factor in other things, including how strong their team was, and how they compared to teammates and other peers.
Most times, the top players from the initial list were the top players for the league. This particular season was an anomaly, where Larry Walker was the top National League hitter, but was beaten out by Mike Piazza for the top overall ranking. A good part of that reasoning was Walker's home ballpark. But also taken into account was that Piazza was putting those numbers up while being the catcher. He caught in 139 games, which is a little tougher on the body .
My Cy Young winner in the AL would be Randy Johnson, who finished 2nd to Roger Clemens in the actual voting. Johnson and the Mariners won the AL West Division, while Clemens and the Blue Jays finished in last place in the AL East, 22 games behind the Orioles.
Neither one of my MVP, or offensive Player of the Year, were on playoff teams either.
So my top five American League players were:
Ken Griffey Jr.
And in the National League:
So my updated post-season award winners would be:
National League Most Valuable Player
National League Cy Young Award
American League Most Valuable Player
Cy Young Award
Offensive Player of the Year