May 22, 2000

Triumphant Tetrad Trophy Trick
by Steve Lombardi

Professional baseball players are just like everyone else - in the sense that most of them like to win trophies. And, obviously, more trophies are better than fewer trophies. If one were to imagine themselves being a big league player, what trophies would you think are most desired? Those that often comes to mind are the Big Four - the serious "gotta-show-it-off" hardware: Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, Gold Glove, and, of course, a World Series’ Championship Ring.

If memory and some epigrammatic research serves correct, ONLY SIX Major League Players have "won" a Rookie of the Year (ROY), Most Valuable Player (MVP), Gold Glove, and a Series’ Ring in their careers (1). They are:

  1. Willie Mays
  2. Frank Robinson
  3. Pete Rose
  4. Johnny Bench
  5. Thurman Munson
  6. Cal Ripken Jr.

Any time that you make a selection of a positive nature, and use all the players in big league history as your criterion, and you come up with a final result of a half-dozen, that’s an impressive list of which to be a member.

There is one great big caveat to this discussion: These Big Four Awards have not been around since Day One in Major League History. Here’s the skinny on each:

MVP - From 1911 through 1914, it existed as the "Chalmers Award" (a car) given to the best player in each league. That only lasted four years. It was not until 1922 (AL) and 1924 (NL) that MVPs were again chosen on a regular basis.

ROY - The first one was not given until 1947. And, for the first two years, there was only one chosen from both the American League and National League combined.

Gold Glove - This distinction began in 1957. In that year, there was one "team" selected from all of the majors. Beginning in 1958, a squad was chosen for both leagues.

Nonetheless, do not allow the trophy histories to muffle the resounding achievement of Mays, Robinson, Rose, Bench, Munson and Ripken. Witness the following retrospective conjecture.

There are eight MVP Award winners that most likely would have won a Rookie of the Year Award, had the latter award existed when they debuted. They are:

Babe Ruth, George Burns, Rogers Hornsby, Paul Waner, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Phil Rizzuto, and Joe Medwick.

Of this group, the only player that won a World Series’ Ring and whom would have been a shoe-in for a Gold Glove (had it existed) is DiMaggio. (Ruth would have had to have contended with the Tris Speakers, Johnny Mostils, and Bob Meusels of his time. Rizzuto was up against Lou Boudreau and Luis Aparicio. Maybe they would have won a Gold Glove, if there was one? But, only DiMaggio, for sure, would have been a lock.)

In fact, if one were to consider the "pre-MVP" era, only two other players who were members of World Championship teams had both "MVP" and "Gold Glove" type seasons as well as a "Rookie of the Year" type debut: Christy Mathewson and Pete Alexander.

Therefore, there is some credence to augment the Mays, Robinson, Rose, Bench, Munson and Ripken group - expanding it to include Mathewson, Alexander, and DiMaggio.

Other than those already mentioned herein, who just missed? Among active players, Jeff Bagwell only needs the Ring to join. Had Andre Dawson hung on with the Marlins for 1997, and got a Ring, he would have made the cut. Fred Lynn rounds out the "Just the Ring Held Me Back" group.

How about only being a "Gold Glove" short? (Here, meaning they have the MVP, ROY and the Ring - but, no Glove.) There’s only three: Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Orlando Cepeda.

In summary, any way that you slice it, there are very few players whom:

  1. Were among the best performers of all players in their first full season in a given year, AND
  2. Were adept and acknowledged fielders at their position, AND
  3. Eventually, in one given year, put together a season in which they excelled above all peers in their respective league, AND
  4. Was a member of a World Championship club.

Therefore, the next time that someone attains these accomplishments (ROY, MVP, Gold Glove, and a Ring), remember, he is joining a very elite group - - one to which only six belong in fact - - and only a few others may have joined in theory.

Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Thurman Munson and Cal Ripken Jr. - at the least, it has the makings of a good trivia answer.

Lastly, some may wonder, what if one were to substitute the Cy Young Award for the MVP in this equation? What would be the result?

There is only one answer. In the history of the game, only ONE PITCHER has "officially" won a Cy Young Award, the ROY, a Gold Glove, and a Series’ Ring in his career: Fernando Valenzuela. (Perhaps that’s an even better trivia answer than Mays, Robby, Rose, Bench, Munson and Cal?)

Others have come close, although, not many. Don Newcombe, Tom Seaver, and Dwight Gooden each have the ROY, Cy Young, and Ring - but, no Gold Gloves. Rick Sutcliffe won a ROY and a Cy Young; however, he failed to get a Ring or Gold Glove.

Note: much like the other awards, the Cy Young has not been around forever. It started in 1956, going to one pitcher from both leagues combined. That lasted for eleven years. In 1967, and going forward, one pitcher from each league was chosen.

If one were to change history, and assume that a Cy Young was always chosen from both leagues, an argument could be made that ROY winners Warren Spahn and Herb Score would have won Cy Young Awards. (Score in 1956 and Spahn in 1949, 1953 or 1961.) But, neither Score or Spahn are locks for "should have won a Gold Glove." And, besides, Score was never on a Series winner.

It was previously mentioned that Ruth, Alexander and Mathewson probably would have won Rookie of the Year Awards (had it existed). Well, they probably would have won a Cy Young also - had there been one. To this "coulda" list (of Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards) you can add Larry Corcoran, Matt Kilroy, Jim Bagby, and Gene Bearden. Still, there’s not a Gold Glove "coulda" among Corcoran, Kilroy, Bagby, and Bearden. And, even if there was, only Bagby and Bearden played for Series winners.

In the end, the hardware heavyweights are an exclusive group: Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Thurman Munson, Cal Ripken Jr., and Fernando Valenzuela. And, we’re giving Christy Mathewson, Pete Alexander, and Joe DiMaggio honorary membership. Count ‘em. Ten players. Sure, timing has something to do with making this cut. Say that - say whatever you want; but, you cannot deny the fact that these players have trophy cabinets that can be duplicated by no other.

Rookie of the Year. Gold Glove. World Series Ring. And, an MVP or Cy Young Award. Quite a collection. By absolute percentages alone, an extraordinary accomplishment.

(1) To date, only 15 players have "officially" won both a Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Award. Of these, only 9 have also won a Gold Glove Award.

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