As the author of a book about the most controversial MVP ballots of all time, I am often asked: "Which is the single worst MVP vote of all time?"
The answer really depends on how one defines "worst."
- If on-field performance is the criteria, Washington Senators shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh in 1925 makes a case for worst of the worst: The hobbled Senators shortstop appeared in 126 games, generating 2.6 WAR. That he was named MVP over teammate Goose Goslin (6.5 WAR) or Philadelphia's Al Simmons (.387/.419/.599; 6.5 WAR) defies imagination. Peck's reward for his MVP campaign? He was replaced at shortstop prior to the 1926 season.
- If production differential between the league’s best player and the player who was voted MVP is the criteria, then Mickey Cochrane’s 1934 selection might serve as a touchstone: Detroit's Cochrane was worth six-and-a-half wins less than Lou Gehrig (whose Triple Crown effort rated 10.4 WAR). Put another way, Gehrig in 1934 was as good Mickey Cochrane and Tigers teammate Hank Greenberg (6.2 WAR) combined.
- If (alleged) voter spite is the measuring stick, the 1947 ballot slithers to the top of the list. In the closest vote in MVP history, Ted Williams lost the award to Joe DiMaggio by a single point (202-201). Despite slugging his way to the Triple Crown and leading the league in essentially every meaningful offensive category save stolen bases, Williams was left off the ballot of one anonymous voter. Williams assumed for decades that it was one of the Boston writers with whom he had long sparred, but this was never proven.
- If it's the inexplicable selection of an unqualified player over a slew of seemingly superior candidates, then Juan Gonzalez in 1996 might be your cup of tea. As ranked by WAR, Gonzalez (3.8) wasn't one of the fifteen best players in the league (while runner-up Alex Rodriguez was arguably the best player in the league).
But if you rank your terrible MVP selections based on the level of dishonesty, hypocrisy, or bureaucratic incompetence attendant to a vote, there is only one choice for the worst MVP vote of all time.