On November 8, 1951, Yankees catcher Yogi Berra (1925-2015) is voted the American League’s most valuable player for the first time in his career. St. Louis Browns’ ace pitcher and slugger Ned Garver almost won the award—in fact, a representative from the Baseball Writers Association of America phoned him and told him that he had won it—but after a recount it turned out that Berra had edged Garver out by a nose. “It’s great to be classed with fellows like DiMaggio and Rizzuto who have won the award,” Berra told reporters that night. “I sure hope I can win it a couple of more times, like Joe did.” He went on to be the league MVP twice more, in 1954 and 1955.
Berra had had a great season, for the most part—he’d been the Yanks’ leading slugger, with 27 homers and 88 RBI—but he’d had a dramatic slump near the end of the year. His teammate Allie Reynolds, meanwhile, had pitched two no-hitters in 1951, and Garver had won 20 games and batted .305 for the Browns, a “collection of old rags and tags” that had only managed to win 32 games that Garver wasn’t pitching. In the face of these performances, Berra was sure he wouldn’t win the award. “I was afraid I had blown it with the bad finish,” he said.
In fact, it was one of the closest MVP races ever. Each member of the baseball writers’ association voted by naming the league’s 10 best players and then ranking them. A first-place vote got a player 14 points; second place was worth nine, third place eight, and so on. When the votes were tallied, the player with the most points overall won the MVP. Berra, Garver and Reynolds actually had the same number of first-place votes—six each—but Yogi squeaked by on his second-, third- and fourth-place points. (His final score was 187; Garver’s was 157; and Reynolds’ was 125.)
Berra was only the second catcher to win the AL MVP prize. (Mickey Cochrane was the first.) That same year, another catcher—Roy Campanella of the Dodgers—was the NL MVP.