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The Mystery of John Wathan's 1980 MVP Vote

I may need to create a "Notes & Queries" section on this site...

I was working on a post discussing the worst catchers in Royals history (this came up in the game thread today) and I discovered that in 1980, someone gave John Wathan a tenth place vote for AL MVP. (George Brett, of course, won the award that year in a landslide.)

Wathan was not a bad player, in fact, he's the 41st best Royal of All-Time, which surely should count for something in this world. It's just that, I can't find a single reason why someone would have thought he was one of the top players in the American League that year.

In 1980 Wathan hit .305/.377/.406, which was a solid year in 1980, but hardly spectacular, given that his OPS+ was just 115 for this line. (Before steroids destroyed our national innocence all games were 2-1 pitchers duels that everyone loved because the game was played the RIGHT WAY!!!) Wathan's batting average and on-base percentage are nice, certainly so for a catcher, and he did have 17 steals, which was his forte as a player.

Still, tenth best in the American League? Let's start with the fact that Wathan only played in 126 games and only caught in 76 games (a huge part of his value). Wathan played a number of games at first and in the outfield corners, where his hitting numbers were much less impactful. Darrell Porter actually logged more innings at catcher for the '80 Royals than Wathan did. I can't speak to his defensive value, but I'll give Wathan the benefit of the doubt and say he was good, he was a good athlete and a fast runner, but he was also a catcher. His somewhat limited playing time and the fact that huge chunks of it did not come at catcher is a huge mark against seriously considering Wathan as a top player in the league. This is especially true given that, unlike today, pitchers were a part of the MVP discussion. Neither Wathan's BA or OBP were in the top 10 in the American League, and his .406 slugging was sixth best on his own team.

In defense of whomever voted for Wathan, his inclusion on someone's ballot may not have even been the weirdest vote that year. The perenially overrated Tony Perez and his .320 OBP snagged 2 points for some reason. Two batting average and nothing else guys -- Mickey Rivers and Miguel Dilone -- enjoyed sizable support. All evidence suggests this was a pretty bad era for baseball awards voting, given that it was the height of the attitudes that guys like Bill James were so annoyed by that they were compelled to start writing about it.

Nevertheless, it was a great year for Wathan, who had an up and down career, both as a player and a manager. Moreover, it was a great year for the Royals and a number of individuals on the team. In addition to Brett's MVP win, Quiz finished 8th in the MVP voting and 5th in the Cy Young. For good measure, somewhat forgotten Royal Larry Gura finished 6th.