In the final weeks of the 2000 season, with the Giants closing in on a division title, manager Dusty Baker was asked by reporters about his two MVP candidates, Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent.
Who would get his vote if he had one? In one of the more unusual moments in major league managerial history, Baker picked: Kent.
That was said to ruffle the team’s superstar, though 16 years later Bonds said he doesn’t remember and was more concerned about winning, anyway.
Kent received 22 first-place votes and won the National League MVP that year; Bonds received six first-place votes and finished second – then won the next four MVPs.
“He may have [said that]; he may not have,” said Bonds, who’s in town this week as the hitting coach for the Miami Marlins. “That’s Dusty’s opinion. But I don’t even remember that. … We weren’t in competition with each other. We were on the same team going for the same goal.”
What’s certain is that teammates haven’t finished 1-2 in MVP voting in either league since then – only twice since the 1980s (Bonds and Bobby Bonilla finishing 1-2 in 1990 with the Pirates).
Fast-forward to the two biggest everyday reasons these Cubs this year are in position to take a shot at history this fall, and it looks like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant could make a run at the Kent-Bonds thing.
“I remember that. They fought in the dugout, right?” said Bryant, who was 8 when Kent and Bonds went 1-2 in MVP voting – two seasons before their caught-on-camera moment in the dugout in San Diego.
Though many seem to remember Bonds as the villain in that moment, it was Kent who was upset, screaming and cursing at teammate David Bell over a defensive play that wasn’t made moments earlier – with dozens of fans at the dugout listening to every four-letter word.
“All I told Jeff was, `Hey, dude, chill,’ because the people were right there,” Bonds said. “Jeff was already heated at that moment and refused to calm down, and he ‘MF’d’ the wrong person.”
If there’s a lesson in the story – other than don’t “MF” Barry Bonds – it might be that MVP caliber competition among teammates doesn’t require the feel-good, social-media-partner bromance that the Cubs’ MVP candidates share.
“When you start talking about stuff like that, it’s almost like a joint effort between us to get to that point,” said Bryant, who finished July with a .931 OPS and was one off the league home run lead.
He also has played all three outfield spots and first base in addition to third, underscoring his value in his second season.
“And he’s only going to get better,” said Rizzo, who has a .955 OPS and is one off the league RBI lead. “That’s the best part.”
Maybe things will heat up between the hardware rivals now that the calendar has turned to August, when things in baseball tend to separate themselves, or maybe in September, when races — team and individual — are won.
“We’ll feign a fight in the dugout,” Maddon joked.
A little friction’s not always a bad thing among teammate stars.
Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, who finished 1-2 in the MVP voting for the Yankees’ pennant winners in 1960 and ’61 weren’t exactly drinking buddies. And Kent and Bonds didn’t need to be Myspace pals to lead the Giants to the 2002 World Series.
“He had his way about him that was just a little bit different, and I had a way about myself that was different,” Bonds said. “But when it came to both of us on that baseball field, there was one thing: We were never out of sync on that.
“I don’t need to like Jeff Kent to say that he’s a great baseball player. But I don’t dislike him either. We had our differences, but I never disliked him.”
So what are the chances of that fight, Kris Bryant?
“Not at all,” Bryant said. “We’re the best of friends.”
Rizzo? You finished fourth last year; you don’t want the kid encroaching on your MVP race?
“If I’m in it, of course,” Rizzo said. “I’ll welcome anyone.”
Maybe it’s up to Maddon, like Baker 16 years ago, to spice up this MVP race. His pick?
“Bryzzo,” he said. “Absolutely. It’ll be the first time ever it’s going to end in a tie.”
Teammates have finished 1-2 in MVP voting only six times since division play began in 1969*:
- Year (Lg) Team First, second
- 1971 (AL) Oakland Vida Blue, Sal Bando
- 1976 (NL) Cincinnati** Joe Morgan, George Foster
- 1983 (AL) Baltimore** Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray
- 1989 (NL) S. Francisco Kevin Mitchell, Will Clark
- 1990 (NL) Pittsburgh Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla
- 2000 (NL) S. Francisco Jeff Kent, Barry Bonds
*-It happened 18 times from 1934-68 (including 1-2-3 finishes for the 1941 Dodgers, 1959 White Sox and 1966 Orioles). **-Won World Series.