Mattingly V. Henderson: Is the Table Setter or the RBI Man More Valuable?

It isn’t mentioned much because the New York Yankees didn’t make the playoff series, but the 1985 season produced an unanswerable question. So has almost every season in baseball history.

Which type of player has greater value to his team, the one that gets on base and sets the table to start a rally or the player who drives in the table setter?

The 1985 Yankees finished two games behind the Toronto Blue Jays. They won 97 games, which was six games more than the Western Division Kansas Royals won.

Don Mattingly had a tremendous season. He hit .324/.371/.567 with 35 home runs and 145 RBIs.

Rickey Henderson had a tremendous season. He hit .314/.419/.516 with 99 walks and 146 runs scored. Henderson stole 80 bases, hit 24 home runs, but batted in only 72 runs.

Many believed that Mattingly was the MVP. Others supported Henderson.

When Yankees manager Billy Martin was asked if the table setter or the RBI man were more important, Martin demonstrated why he was one of the great managers ever.

”They’re both very important,” he said. ”You have to have both – the guy to get on and the guy to drive them in.”

”Everybody can’t drive in runs,” Don Bayor said. ”But a lot depends on where you put a guy in the lineup. Tommy Herr never drove in a lot of runs before this year, but now he’s in a spot where he can drive them in.”

In 1985, Tommy Herr hit eight home runs He drove in 110 runs. The reason? Herr batted third, behind Vince Coleman and Willie McGee.

Baylor continued.

”You get the first guy or two on and it generates so much on the bench,” Baylor said. ”It filters down to everyone else. The guy who gets on is a more valuable asset. You get that guy on and it starts the flow of everything else.”

Future New York Mets manager Willie Randolph Willie Randolph agreed with Baylor. Of course, Randolph usually batted lead off.

”Without a doubt, the catalyst sets the tempo,” Randolph said. ”Without him, the big men can go up there and swing all they want and nothing happens. You have to have somebody to drive him in, but you can create a run with a leadoff man who’s aggressive.”

Reggie Jackson didn’t say it directly, but he thinks there is more pressure on the player who must drive in the runs.

”I’d rather be a guy where all I had to do was get on base,” Jackson said. ”It’s different driving in that guy.”

The “experts” don’t have any problems with the question. Mattingly received 367 votes, including 23 for first place and easily won the MVP.

Henderson received 174 votes to finish third, behind George Brett. Henderson did not receive a single first place vote.

Baseball-Reference lists each players WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

Henderson’s WAR was 10.0, Brett’s was 8.0 and MVP Mattingly’s was 6.4.

Would Henderson have won if the vote were taken today?

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