Marty Marion of the Cardinals was the first shortstop to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award _ and he did it by the narrowest of margins.
Marion won the MVP Award by one point over Bill Nicholson of the Cubs in 1944. It was the tighest finish since the system of voting by three sports reporters from each of the eight NL cities was adopted in 1938, according to the Associated Press.
Marion, who died March 15, 2011, at 93, started at shortstop for four Cardinals pennant winners (1942, ’43, ’44 and ’46) and led the NL in fielding percentage four times (1944, ’47, ’48 and ’50).
In 1944, Marion batted .267 with 63 RBI and helped the Cardinals to their second World Series title in three years. Marion played 55 errorless innings at shortstop in the World Series against the Browns.
“To me, a highlight of the Series was the superiority our shortstop, Marty Marion, displayed over Vern Stephens, the Browns’ shortstop,” Cardinals outfielder Stan Musial wrote in his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story” (1964, Doubleday). “There had been some static during the regular season in St. Louis about which was the better. Marty didn’t have Stephens’ power, of course, but his edge afield, as he proved in the Series, was decisive.”
Marion received 190 points to Nicholson’s 189 in the MVP voting by 24 sports reporters.
Nicholson, a left-handed-batting outfielder, had a magnificent season for the Cubs: 33 home runs, 122 RBI and 116 runs scored. He led the NL that season in all three categories.
But the Cubs finished fourth at 75-79, 30 games behind the first-place Cardinals (105-49).
“Marty Marion, as far as I was concerned, if it was an important game, the most important game you have, and you need a base hit, I would take Marty over anybody I ever played with,” Danny Litwhiler, an 11-year big-league veteran and a Cardinals outfielder from 1943-46, said in the book “The Spirit of St. Louis” (2000, Avon). “He had something about him in a clutch _ he was tough. He was not a real good hitter, but in a clutch he was tough.
“He was also the best shortstop I ever saw … I didn’t realize how good he was until I played left field behind him. Balls would be hit that I just knew were going to be base hits … and his arm would come over and grab it and give it the flip to first base. He just had fantastic hands.”
The top points producers in the 1944 NL MVP balloting were:
_ Marty Marion, shortstop, Cardinals, 190 points.
_ Bill Nicholson, outfielder, Cubs, 189 points.
_ Dixie Walker, outfielder, Dodgers, 145 points.
_ Stan Musial, outfielder, Cardinals, 136 points.
_ Bucky Walters, pitcher, Reds, 107 points.
_ Bill Voiselle, pitcher, Giants, 107 points.
MVP voters could list up to 10 players on a ballot. Players were given 14 points for a first-place vote, 9 points for a second-place vote, 8 points for a third-place vote and so forth, ending with 1 point for a 10th-place vote.
Of the 24 first-place votes, Marion received seven and Nicholson, four.
“I think this was the greatest tribute to defensive play in the history of the MVP Award,” Musial wrote.
Marion told Peter Golenbock, author of “The Spirit of St. Louis,” that when he received a phone call informing him he had won the MVP Award “I didn’t know what … it was. I never was impressed with it at all. That’s right. I didn’t think about things like that too much. Now, after years passed, that’s pretty nice. But back then, it didn’t mean a thing to me.”