By Connor Thomas
Last night, Bryce Harper took home the 2021 NL MVP, making him the first MVP in Philadelphia in any sport since Jimmy Rollins won the same award back in 2007. Harper had an unreal season to end the 14 year MVP drought in Philly, but unfortunately it was still not enough to carry the Phillies to a playoff berth. Now, neither of the other two NL MVP finalists – the Padres’ Fernando Tatis and the Nationals’ Juan Soto – were on playoff teams either, but the results still drew criticism for a certain crowd of award complainers that believe that the MVP needs to be on a playoff team in order to deserve the award. It is one of the most misguided arguments in all of sports, and the logic behind it does not make sense at any level. Before anyone dismisses this as a homer defense of Bryce Harper, the 2021 AL MVP was awarded to Shohei Ohtani, whose Los Angeles Angels also missed the postseason. It’s become a trend in baseball; below average teams have players that win MVP all the time, and there are some very simple arguments to defend it.
Here is the simplest way I’ve found to explain the reasoning behind awarding a player on a losing/non-playoff team an MVP trophy, especially in baseball. Let’s say that there are two wallets sitting on a table. One wallet has $150 worth of $5 bills in it. The other wallet has 10 $1 bills and one crisp Ben Franklin $100 bill. Which wallet is worth more money? Obviously, you’d rather have the wallet with $150 in it than the one with only $110. That $150 wallet is the more valuable TEAM, but what is the most valuable bill? Clearly it’s the $100 bill in the less valuable wallet. Having the most valuable piece, doesn’t automatically make you the best team, in the same way that having the best team doesn’t guarantee that you have the best individual piece. It is no fault of the $100 bill that he’s surrounded by $1s (no disrespect to the Phillies or Angels, who have other good players outside of Harper and Ohtani). The award is for the Most Valuable Player, and the reality is that even the best player in baseball cannot always create success for an organization.
This year’s results are not an anomaly either. In the past 6 years the AL MVP has been on a playoff roster 3 times, and on a team that missed the playoffs 3 times. In the same timeframe in the NL, the MVP has failed to make the playoffs 2 of the 6 years. Part of the issue is that baseball playoffs are very difficult to make compared to other sports’ postseasons, and another factor is the individual nature of baseball. It is the most individualized sport of the 4 major team sports in the USA, and due to that, it becomes even harder for a single player to make a huge impact. A QB in football can carry a team to the playoffs seemingly on their own, a great basketball player can drag bad teams to championship appearances, and a great goal scorer or goalie can propel a hockey team to a cup. In baseball, where you get one at bat out of 9 regardless of how good of a player you are, it’s much more difficult to do the same thing. So, all you Bryce Harper haters out there who complain about the Phillies’ record to try and diminish one of the better 2nd halves in the history of baseball, take your crying elsewhere. It’s the Most Valuable PLAYER award, not the Most Valuable Team award, and Bryce Harper was fully deserving of taking home the hardware this season, despite the shortcomings of others around him.