Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Sophomore of the Year Award?

I came across this short-lived award when I was doing some research on the bizarre vote for the 1957 Rookie of the Year Award.  Let's look at two players that contended for the vote:

PLAYER A: .292/.323/.457, 15 home runs, 103 RBIs, 185 hits, 31 doubles, 82 runs, Gold Glove
PLAYER B: .297/.335/.381, 3 home runs, 39 RBIs, 128 hits, 21 doubles, 56 runs

So who would you vote for for Rookie of the Year?  I would think most people would take Player A.  That was Frank Malzone of the Red Sox.  Player B was Tony Kubek of the Yankees who won the Rookie of the Year.  Why?  Well I did some checking and it appears that the definition of a rookie changed during the season, and there is some evidence that the Yankees pushed for the change to disqualify Malzone.  Malzone had 136 plate appearances in the Majors prior to 1957, whereas Kubek had none.  It is important to note that under the current system, Malzone did not lose rookie status until the 1957 season.  So we had a bizarre situation in which the clearly superior choice was disqualified.
Well, in searching for information about this weird result, I found information about the Sophomore of the Year Award.  This award lasted from 1953-1962 and was given out by the Baseball Writers Association of America to honor the best second-year players.
Malzone did end up winning this award with his terrific 1957 season.  Jimmy Piersall also won the award in the first year it was given.  This was the season after he had the nervous breakdown that was the primary topic of his book Fear Strikes Out.  Piersall hit .272/.329/.354 with three home runs, 52 RBIs, and stole 11 bases while playing terrific defense.  Those were the only Red Sox to win the award.  Five future Hall of Famers won it (Al Kaline, Eddie Mathews, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda). 

The award was discontinued in 1963, probably because it was mostly unnecessary.  There is not much reason to give out so many awards, and making the distinction between rookies and second-year players, and pitchers, and overall players got to be a little too much.  It is just an interesting footnote that such an award once existed.


  1. Never heard of this award before this post - I learned something today!

  2. Same here, thanks for sharing this. Also.. is anyone surprised that the Yankees' dirty tricks date back to (at least) the 1950's?