Ivan Rodriguez had a fantastic 1999 season. He belted 35 home runs, smacked 199 hits, drove in 113 runs and scored 116 himself, and slashed .332/.356/.558. That, combined with the fact that he was a catcher — and a Gold Glove one at that — provided him with a very strong case when it came time to vote for the honor.
But, by definition, he wasn't the league's most valuable player if you go by the WAR metric. In fact, he wasn't even in the top three. That trio was made up of Roberto Alomar (7.4 WAR), Derek Jeter (8.0 WAR) and, standing high above the rest with a WAR of 9.8, Red Sox starter Pedro Martinez.
As it turned out, it was a really tight MVP race, with six players — the four mentioned above, plus Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro — garnering first place votes, and four of them earning over 200 vote points (via Baseball Reference).
As you can see, Martinez came up just short overall, though he had more first place votes than any other player on the ballot. Ultimately, what kept him from getting the MVP — one of two pieces of hardware he doesn't have on his shelf at home, as he explains, along with a World Series title with a National League team — was that two writers left him off the ballot. And though their reason for doing so is unknown, Martinez suggested that racism came into play (h/t Brandon Contes of Mediaite).
"You don't want to say you're racist, but sometimes you have to think, like, there are people that are racist," Martinez said on the "Call Him Papi" podcast, hosted by David Ortiz and Jared Carrabis. "Because how can you give votes to people that didn't belong in MVP contention just to harm someone individually?
"And I had nothing against those two guys. I've always been a professional, I've always been able to grant interviews, I've always been able to grant answers to your questions. And I don't know why two persons like that would just pick on one single person to just do that..."
According to MLB.com, "had Martinez received one more first-place vote or been voted fourth or higher by the pair," he would have come away with the 1999 Trophy. One of the writers that left him off the ballot was George King, who wrote an article dedicated to explain why he excluded that star pitcher. Part of his rationale is as follows:
In the past I have included hurlers on my MVP ballot. However, after listening to respected baseball people at last year’s Winter Meetings grouse about giving $105 million to a pitcher (Kevin Brown) who would work in about 25 percent of the Dodgers’ games, I adopted the philosophy that pitchers — especially starters — could never be included in the MVP race.
Furthermore, pitchers have their own award, the Cy Young, something position players aren’t eligible for. Martinez, the AL Cy Young winner, appeared in 29 games this year for the Red Sox. That’s 18 percent of Boston’s games. For all of Martinez’ brilliance, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was more valuable to the Red Sox. So, too, was manager Jimy Williams, the AL Manager of the Year.
For what it's worth, MLB.com writers did a re-vote in 2020 and had Martinez finishing first ahead of, in order, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Ivan Rodriguez and Roberto Alomar. However, that trophy won't magically appear in his house as a result, and he'll be left wondering why those two writers took it upon themselves to leave him out of contention.