The first Hispanic baseball player ever to win MVP, this trailblazer received the honor for his outstanding 1966 season. Clemente’s exceptionally balanced offensive output included 202 hits and a .317 batting average, as well as 29 home runs and 119 RBI. His rocket arm in right field won him one of his many Gold Glove awards and helped propel the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 92-win season.
Although the Cy Young award is given out each year to acknowledge excellence in pitching, an exceptionally special season requires further recognition. Roger Clemens had one of those rare seasons in 1986, when the flame-throwing right-hander posted an astonishing 24-4 record with a sparkling 2.48 ERA. Furthermore, “The Rocket” helped the Boston Red Sox win 95 games and eventually advance to the World Series.
Mark McGwire ultimately won the 1998 home run race that captured the attention of the country, but it was Sammy Sosa who took home the NL MVP award while leading his Chicago Cubs to the postseason. The astonishing offensive production from “Slammin’ Sammy” included 66 home runs—a record-setting 20 of which came in the month of June to keep the team in contention—158 RBI, and a .647 slugging percentage.
Although Kent was not the most high-profile player on the San Francisco Giants’ roster in 2000, he proved that his value was second to none. He was awarded the National League Most Valuable Player award after leading the team to the NL West title. Kent’s stats that year included impressive power numbers for a second baseman, including 33 home runs and 125 RBI, as well as a spectacular .334 batting average.
In his third full season in the majors, Sandberg had a magnificent year in leading the Chicago Cubs to their first playoff appearance in nearly 40 years. “Ryno” did it all for Chicago in ’84, collecting 200 hits, 19 home runs and triples, and 84 RBI, while posting a .314 batting average, and stealing 32 bases. The second baseman also anchored the middle of the team’s infield, earning one of his nine Gold Gloves in the process.
This longtime New York Yankee put up some of his best numbers in ’85 en route to winning the American League MVP and helping his team reach 97 wins in the regular season. Mattingly led the league in doubles with 48 and achieved career bests in home runs (35) and RBI (145), opening up a massive 21-RBI lead in the AL by season’s end.
The legend goes that Cooper decided to switch his jersey number, which began as No. 13, as a superstitious way of trying to earn more wins after claiming his 13th of the year. He was successful, and by the time the season was said and done, he was wearing No. 24, and had earned NL MVP honors after leading the league with 22 wins and helping the St. Louis Cardinals secure a World Series title.
As perhaps the greatest example of a five-tool player in baseball history, Willie Mays demonstrated all of his skills in his two MVP seasons. His first came in 1954, when the versatile outfielder found his power stroke and hit 41 home runs and 13 triples, while also posting an impressive .345 batting average. Eleven years later, “The Say Hey Kid” received the honor again, this time hitting 52 homers while earning one of his 12 Gold Gloves for his consistently spectacular play in center field.
Bonds’ first two MVP honors came with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where the left fielder established himself as one of the most complete players in the game. The first time Bonds received the honor was in 1990, when he put his many talents on display, hitting for average (.301 BA) and power (33 home runs, .565 slugging percentage) while also stealing a career-best 52 bases and earning a Gold Glove for his outstanding range in the outfield.
Mostly remembered for his prowess on the base paths, Henderson was actually one of the most complete players to ever lace up a pair of cleats. His best overall season came in 1990, when the speedy outfielder won MVP and led the Oakland Athletics to the best record in the MLB by swiping 65 bases and posting a .325 batting average, .439 on-base percentage, and 28 home runs.
One of the greatest natural talents to ever don a baseball uniform, Griffey, Jr. was the key component to a dominant 1997 Seattle Mariners lineup that shattered offensive records. The sweet-swinging lefty had a .304 batting average and belted 56 homers, driving in 147 runs in the process. Griffey’s defensive play was equally mesmerizing, as the Gold Glove-winning outfielder made a habit out of making highlight-reel plays in center field.
Miguel Cabrera earned MVP honors along with a place in the history books with his outstanding 2012 season, which saw the slugger win baseball’s first Triple Crown in 45 years. Besides his league-leading statistics in the categories of batting average (.330), home runs (44), and RBI (139), Cabrera demonstrated his ability to lead his team when it mattered most, posting a .318 average and .673 slugging percentage in the last month of the season alone to help his team come from behind and win the AL Central.
Though his number changed upon moving to San Francisco, his ability to collect MVP awards did not. As Bonds’ speed decreased upon entering the latter part of his career, he adapted by transforming into the most prolific home run hitter in the history of baseball. Beginning with his record-breaking 73-home run season in 2001, Bonds won a record four consecutive MVP accolades, averaging unthinkable numbers over that timespan—52 home runs, .350 batting average, and .559 on-base percentage.
After a gruesome leg injury abruptly ended his 2011 season, Posey came back stronger than ever in 2012, including achieving a .408 on-base percentage and hitting at a league-high .336 clip. Posey also saw his power numbers increase, as his 24 home runs and 103 RBI were both career highs. The young catcher also showed his leadership behind the plate on defense, guiding one of the league’s best pitching staffs to a 94-win regular season and a World Series title.