Jim Konstanty: The Most Unlikely Baseball MVP Ever

Jim Konstanty may have been one of the most unlikely winners of Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player Awards of all time.  Konstanty didn’t even look like a baseball player of his era when he copped the National League award in 1950 for the Philadelphia Phillies.  Very few relief pitchers at the time wore glasses; very few pitchers at all wore spectacles.  Still, Konstanty was a hulking presence on the mound and if his career figures are hardly the stuff of the Hall of the Fame, for at least the 1950 season he put it all together. 

Jim Konstanty’s number one weapon was his palmball, which is an off-speed pitch that, when mastered, can leave even the most fearsome batters standing at the plate looking like the high school dork during P.E.  The relief pitcher in 1950 was hardly the glamour position it is now.  Barely over 10% of baseball games required saving in 1950.   As a result, Jim Konstanty’s nearest competitor for the best relief pitcher in the National League in 1950 saved a whopping 14 fewer games than he.  When you consider that Konstanty only had 22 saves that figure grows momentous.  So why would a relief pitcher with only 22 saves to go along with his 16-7 won-loss record be deserving of a Most Valuable Player award?   

Well, part of the reason had to do his complete dominance of his position.  It also certainly helped Konstanty’s case that the Phillies had finished in last place no less than 17 times.  In other words, Philadelphia was used to coming up last.  They might very well have finished well down toward the bottom in 1950 had it not been for Jim Konstanty.  1950 was one of those rare occasions when the baseball writers actually picked the most valuable player on a team rather than the most productive person.  By that standard, the obvious choice would have been Ralph Kiner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who knocked out 47 home runs and nearly 120 RBI.   Between his 16 wins and 22 saves, however, Konstanty played a significant role in over a third of Philadelphia’s victories in 1950.  While I am against a pitcher winning the MVP on the simple grounds that a batter cannot win the Cy Young Award, the unlikely choice of Jim Konstanty for MVP does not seem as ridiculous as it might.   

Another reason that Jim Konstanty’s Most Valuable Player Award is historically significant is because it was a blast over the bow bringing attention to the growing significance of the role of the relief pitcher.  Konstanty must be seen as the godfather to such future greats as Sparky Lyle, Rollie Ringers, and Goose Gossage.   He transformed the very concept of the relief pitcher from the disrespected little brother of the starting pitcher into a glamour position in the hierarchy of baseball.