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It's commonplace to say that the MVP will (or should) come from a contender. Are you wondering just how often it does?

Wonder no more.

How often? Well...pretty much all the time, essentially.

The modern MVP award begins in 1931. There have been 80 seasons since then, and 161 MVP awards handed out (the NL had a tie in 1979.) More than two-thirds of those awards (111) of them went to players on first-place teams, and another 31 went to players on second place teams. So let's see... 88% of the time, your MVP comes from a 1st or 2nd place team.

Further bad news for Jose Bautista: of the 161 winners, 154 of those men played on teams that had better records than the 2011 Blue Jays, who were a .500 team. Were Bautista to win the award, he would be the third player to win the award playing for a .500 team (Robin Yount in 1989 and Hank Sauer in 1952) were the others.  Only 5 times has the award gone to a player on a team with a losing record. Three Cubs managed this in the NL (Ernie Banks in 1958 and 1959, Andre Dawson in 1987). Two modern shortstops won the award in the AL (Cal Ripken in 1991 and Alex Rodriguez in 2003) despite playing for teams that lost more than 90 games. 

While I had the information in front of me, I thought it would be fun to find out how the awards were distributed by position. As you probably know, no Designated Hitter has ever won the award. Don Baylor is commonly cited as the exception, but he actually played LF more often than DH in 1979. Some other position notes: Stan Musial is generally regarded as one of the three greatest left fielders of all time (and if I actually had to form my Ideal Team, I'd prefer Musial in LF over anyone, Bonds and Williams included) - but Musial wasn't actually playing LF in any of the three seasons when he won the MVP.

And while I believe it's often been stated that Robin Yount was the first man to win the award at two different positions (a feat matched by Alex Rodriguez), this would overlook not just Musial but Hank Greenberg as well.

Anyway, MVPs by position:

Catchers (15) AL-8, C-7
First Base (29) AL-14, NL-15
Second Base (10) AL-4, NL-6
Third Base (15) AL-6, NL-9
Shortstop (15) AL-8, NL-7
Left Field (22) AL-9, NL-13
Centre Field (14) AL-9, NL-5
Right Field (21) AL-11, NL-10
Starting Pitcher (16) AL-8, NL-8
Relief Pitcher (4) AL-3, NL-1

I also wondered how often the MVP winner led the league in certain categories. Of the 141 hitters to win the award, here's how often they led the league in:

BAVG (27) AL-10, NL-17
HR (39) AL-19, NL-20
RBI (56) AL-30, NL-26
R (39) AL-24, NL-15
SLUG (56) AL-26, NL-30
OBP (34) AL-15, NL-19
OPS+ (49) AL-23, NL 26

Twice the MVP winner led the league in all seven of these categories. This involves winning the Triple Crown, which hasn't happened in a generation. Those players were Frank Robinson in 1966, and Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.  Two other men won the Triple Crown and led their league in six of these seven categories: Joe Medwick in 1937, Mickey Mantle in 1956 (both missed out on OBP.)  Jimmie Foxx, the 1933 MVP, who also had a Triple Crown season, led the league in five of these categories - he missed out on OBP and Runs.

In 1942, Ted Williams managed to lead the AL in all seven of these categories without winning the MVP, a feat unique in the annals of the game. He was the runner-up to Joe Gordon of the Yankees, a dangerous hitter and a superb defensive player, but still... While Williams did win the MVP twice, he didn't win the MVP in either of his two Triple Crown seasons (he was also the runner-up to Joe DiMaggio in 1947.)

Chuck Klein, who had won the MVP the previous season, also finished second during his Triple Crown season (Carl Hubbell won the award in 1934.) Klein led the NL in six of these seven categories (he missed out on Runs Scored.)

Most remarkably, Lou Gehrig came in fifth in MVP voting during his Triple Crown season in 1934. Like Klein, Gehrig led the league in six of these categories (he also missed out on Runs Scored), but the voters weren't sufficiently impressed. He placed behind three members of the pennant winning Tigers (MVP Mickey Cochrane, Charley Gehringer, and Schoolboy Rowe) and his own teammate, Lefty Gomez.

If you're going to lead your league in just one of these offensive categories, only three of them seem to give you a chance at winning the MVP. You'll never guess which one gives you the best chance. Oh, you probably will. That's right - an RBI champ who led the league in none of the other categories has still managed to win the MVP 12 times. It's been a while since it actually happened (Juan Gonzalez 1998). The other hitting categories that put you into the MVP discussion are BAVG (9 times, but only twice in the last quarter-century - Terry Pendleton 1991, Ichiro Suzuki 2001.) The new favourite is Runs Scored, which has now produced an MVP 8 times, and half of those come from the current millennium - Vladimir Guerrero 2004, Albert Pujols 2005, Jimmy Rollins 2007, Dustin Pedroia 2008.)

On the other hand, you can win the MVP without leading your league in any of these categories. Of the 141 hitters to win the MVP,  35 of them didn't lead the league in any of these categories. Ten of those men, as you might expect, were catchers: (Cochrane 1934, Hartnett 1935, Berra 1951-1954-1955, Campanella 1951-1955, Howard 1963, Munson 1976, Rodriguez 1999.)  Catchers seldom manage to lead the league in any of the offensive categories, and most of these men were pretty good MVP choices.  Six of these MVPs were shortstops (Marion 1944, Boudreau 1948, Rizzuto 1950, Wills 1962, Ripken 1991, Tejada 2002) and three were second basemen (Frisch 1931, Gordon 1942, Fox 1959) which also sort of figures. Wills and Frisch both led the NL in Stolen bases the year they won their MVPs, but.. stolen bases? Really? Marion won the award almost entirely because of his glove, and while Rizzuto and Fox were good offensive players (in their MVP years) most of their value came from their glovework.

It's somewhat surprising to find that six first basemen (McCormick 1940, Powell 1970, Garvey 1974, Stargell 1979, Thomas 1993, Morneau 2006) and one left fielder (Gibson 1988)  were able to win the MVP without leading the league in any of these seven categories. I'm actually old enough to remember the Stargell and Gibson awards - they both won because of their "leadership" and, believe it or not, they probably deserved it. Each man had an enormous impact on what I like to call the team's culture...

The MVP has been given to a pitcher 20 times in these 80 seasons. For 25 years (1931-1955) there was an MVP award but no Cy Young Award. In those 25 years, pitchers (all but one of them starters - the one reliever was Jim Konstanty in 1950) won the MVP 11 times. For 11 years (156-1966) there was one Cy Young Award, for the best pitcher in the majors: twice the Cy Young winner was also his league's MVP (Newcombe 1956, Koufax 1963). Since 1967, of course, there has been a Cy Young Award for the best pitcher in each league. In the last 44 seasons since the dual Cy Youngs began to be awarded, just seven pitchers, four of them starters, have been able to add the MVP to their Cy Young Award (Gibson 1968, McLain 1968, Blue 1972, Clemens 1986). During the same period, three relief pitchers have won the MVP (Fingers 1981, Hernandez 1984, Eckersley 1992). Each also won the Cy Young, of course.

This year's contenders? Jose Bautista led the AL in three categories (HR, SLUG, OPS+), Miguel Cabrera in two (BAVG, OBP), and Curtis Granderson in two (R, RBI). Matt Kemp led the NL in four of these categories (R, RBI, HR, OPS+) while Ryan Braun (SLUG), Jose Reyes (BAVG) and Joey Votto (OBP) led the league in one category. Justin Verlander led the AL in all three starting pitcher categories, as did Clayton Kershaw in the NL. Verlander is probably the favourite to actually win the AL MVP, and Kershaw doesn't seem to be in the NL discussion.

Well, let's make a Data Table...

                                      Team                    Led the League in...
Year   Lg     MVP       Team  Pos  Finish HR    RBI    BAVG    R    SLUG    OBP    OPS+    W    ERA    K    SV

1931    AL    Grove    PHA    sp    1                                W    ERA    K
1931    NL    Frisch    STL    2b    1
1932    AL    Foxx    PHA    1b    2    HR    RBI        R    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1932    NL    Klein    PHI    rf    4    HR            R    SLUG
1933    AL    Foxx    PHA    1b    3    HR    RBI   BAVG        SLUG        OPS+
1933    NL    Hubbell    NYG    sp    1                                W    ERA
1934    AL    Cochrane    DET    c    1  
1934    NL    Dean    STL    sp    1                                W      K 
1935    AL    Greenberg    DET    1b    1    HR    RBI
1935    NL    Hartnett    CHC    c    1 
1936    AL    Gehrig    NYY    1b    1        RBI
1936    NL    Hubbell    NYG    sp    1                                W    ERA
1937    AL    Gehringer    DET    2b    2            BAVG
1937    NL    Medwick    STL    lf    4    HR    RBI   BAVG    R    SLUG        OPS+
1938    AL    Foxx    BOS    1b    2        RBI            SLUG    OBP    OPS+ 
1938    NL    Lombardi    CIN    c    4            BAVG
1939    AL    DiMaggio    NYY    cf    1            BAVG
1939    NL    Walters    CIN    sp    1                                W    ERA    K
1940    AL    Greenberg    DET    lf    1    HR    RBI            SLUG
1940    NL    McCormick    CIN    1b    1 
1941    AL    DiMaggio    NYY    cf    1        RBI
1941    NL    Camilli    BRO    1b    1    HR    RBI
1942    AL    Gordon    NYY    2b    1 
1942    NL    Cooper    STL    sp    1                                W    ERA
1943    AL    Chandler    NYY    sp    1                                W    ERA           
1943    NL    Musial    STL    rf    1            BAVG        SLUG    OBP    OPS+           
1944    AL    Newhouser    DET    sp    2                                W           K
1944    NL    Marion    STL    ss    1
1945    AL    Newhouser    DET    sp    1                                W    ERA    K
1945    NL    Cavarretta  CHC    1b    1            BAVG            OBP
1946    AL    Williams    BOS    lf    1                R    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1946    NL    Musial    STL    1b    1            BAVG    R    SLUG        OPS+
1947    AL    DiMaggio    NYY    cf    1
1947    NL    Elliott    BSN    3b    3
1948    AL    Boudreau    CLE    ss    1
1948    NL    Musial    STL    rf    2        RBI        R    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1949    AL    Williams    BOS    lf    2    HR    RBI        R    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1949    NL    Robinson    BRO    2b    1            BAVG
1950    AL    Rizzuto    NYY    ss    1
1950    NL    Konstanty    PHI    rp    1                                    SV  
1951    AL    Berra    NYY     c    1
1951    NL    Campanella   BRO     c    2
1952    AL    Shantz    PHA    sp    4                                W
1952    NL    Sauer    CHC    lf    5    HR    RBI
1953    AL    Rosen    CLE    3b    2    HR    RBI        R    SLUG        OPS+
1953    NL    Campanella   BRO     c    1        RBI
1954    AL    Berra    NYY    c    2
1954    NL    Mays    NYG    cf    1            BAVG        SLUG        OPS+
1955    AL    Berra    NYY     c    1
1955    NL    Campanella   BRO     c    1
1956    AL    Mantle    NYY    cf    1    HR    RBI   BAVG    R    SLUG        OPS+
1956    NL    Newcombe    BRO    sp    1                                W
1957    AL    Mantle    NYY    cf    1                R
1957    NL    Aaron    MLN    rf    1    HR    RBI        R
1958    AL    Jensen    BOS    rf    3        RBI
1958    NL    Banks    CHC    ss    5    HR    RBI            SLUG
1959    AL    Fox    CHW    2b    1
1959    NL    Banks    CHC    ss    5        RBI  
1960    AL    Maris    NYY    rf    1        RBI           SLUG
1960    NL    Groat    PIT    ss    1            BAVG 
1961    AL    Maris    NYY    rf    1    HR    RBI        R
1961    NL    Robinson    CIN    rf    1                    SLUG        OPS+
1962    AL    Mantle    NYY    cf    1                    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1962    NL    Wills    LAD    ss    2
1963    AL    Howard    NYY     c    1
1963    NL    Koufax    LAD    sp    1                               W    ERA    K
1964    AL    Robinson    BAL    3b    1        RBI
1964    NL    Boyer    STL    3b    1        RBI
1965    AL    Versalles    MIN    ss    1                R
1965    NL    Mays    SFG    cf    2    HR                SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1966    AL    Robinson    BAL    rf    1    HR    RBI   BAVG    R    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1966    NL    Clemente    PIT    rf    3  
1967    AL    Yastrzemski  BOS    lf    1    HR    RBI   BAVG    R    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1967    NL    Cepeda    STL    1b    1        RBI
1968    AL    McLain    DET    sp    1                              W
1968    NL    Gibson    STL    sp    1                                     ERA    K
1969    AL    Killebrew    MIN    3b    1    HR    RBI                OBP
1969    NL    McCovey    SFG    1b    2    HR    RBI            SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1970    AL    Powell    BAL    1b    1
1970    NL    Bench    CIN     c    1    HR    RBI
1971    AL    Blue    OAK    sp    1                                         ERA
1971    NL    Torre    STL    3b    2        RBI   BAVG
1972    AL    Allen    CHW    1b    2    HR    RBI            SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1972    NL    Bench    CIN     c    1    HR    RBI
1973    AL    Jackson    OAK    rf    1    HR    RBI       R    SLUG        OPS+
1973    NL    Rose    CIN    lf    1            BAVG
1974    AL    Burroughs    TEX    rf    2        RBI
1974    NL    Garvey    LAD    1b    1
1975    AL    Lynn    BOS    cf    1                R    SLUG
1975    NL    Morgan    CIN    2b    1                        OBP    OPS+
1976    AL    Munson    NYY     c    1
1976    NL    Morgan    CIN    2b    1                    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1977    AL    Carew    MIN    1b    4            BAVG    R        OBP    OPS+
1977    NL    Foster    CIN    lf    2    HR    RBI        R    SLUG
1978    AL    Rice    BOS    lf    2    HR    RBI           SLUG        OPS+
1978    NL    Parker    PIT    rf    2            BAVG        SLUG        OPS+
1979    AL    Baylor    CAL    lf    1        RBI       R
1979    NL    Hernandez    STL    1b    3            BAVG    R
1979    NL    Stargell    PIT    1b    1
1980    AL    Brett    KCR    3b    1            BAVG        SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1980    NL    Schmidt    PHI    3b    1    HR    RBI            SLUG        OPS+
1981    AL    Fingers    MIL    rp    1                                     SV
1981    NL    Schmidt    PHI    3b    1    HR    RBI        R    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1982    AL    Yount    MIL    ss    1                R    SLUG        OPS+ 
1982    NL    Murphy    ATL    cf    1        RBI 
1983    AL    Ripken    BAL    ss    1                R 
1983    NL    Murphy    ATL    cf    2        RBI            SLUG        OPS+
1984    AL    Hernandez    DET    rp    1  
1984    NL    Sandberg    CHC    2b    1                R
1985    AL    Mattingly    NYY    1b    2        RBI 
1985    NL    McGee    STL    cf    1            BAVG
1986    AL    Clemens    BOS    sp    1                               W    ERA
1986    NL    Schmidt    PHI    3b    2    HR    RBI            SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1987    AL    Bell    TOR    lf    2        RBI
1987    NL    Dawson    CHC    rf    6    HR    RBI
1988    AL    Canseco    OAK    rf    1    HR    RBI            SLUG        OPS+
1988    NL    Gibson    LAD    lf    1
1989    AL    Yount    MIL    cf    4
1989    NL    Mitchell    SFG    lf    1    HR    RBI           SLUG        OPS+
1990    AL    Henderson    OAK    lf    1                R        OBP    OPS+
1990    NL    Bonds    PIT    lf    1                    SLUG        OPS+
1991    AL    Ripken    BAL    ss    5
1991    NL    Pendleton    ATL    3b    1            BAVG
1992    AL    Eckersley    OAK    rp    1                                    SV
1992    NL    Bonds    PIT    lf    1                R    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1993    AL    Thomas    CHW    1b    1
1993    NL    Bonds    SFG    lf    2    HR    RBI            SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1994    AL    Thomas    CHW    1b    1                R    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1994    NL    Bagwell    HOU    1b    2        RBI        R    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
1995    AL    Vaughn    BOS    1b    1        RBI
1995    NL    Larkin    CIN    ss    1
1996    AL    Gonzalez    TEX    rf    1
1996    NL    Caminiti    SDP    3b    1
1997    AL    Griffey    SEA    cf    1    HR    RBI        R    SLUG
1997    NL    Walker    COL    rf    3    HR                SLUG    OBP
1998    AL    Gonzalez    TEX    rf    1        RBI
1998    NL    Sosa    CHC    rf    2        RBI        R
1999    AL    Rodriguez    TEX     c    1
1999    NL    C.Jones  ATL    3b    1
2000    AL    Giambi    OAK    1b    1        RBI                OBP    OPS+
2000    NL    Kent    SFG    2b    1
2001    AL    Suzuki    SEA    rf    1            BAVG
2001    NL    Bonds    SFG    lf    2                    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
2002    AL    Tejada    OAK    ss    1
2002    NL    Bonds    SFG    lf    2            BAVG        SLUG    OBP    OPS+
2003    AL    Rodriguez    TEX    ss    4    HR            R    SLUG
2003    NL    Bonds    SFG    lf    1                    SLUG    OBP    OPS+
2004    AL    Guerrero    ANA    rf    1                R
2004    NL    Bonds    SFG    lf    2            BAVG        SLUG    OBP    OPS+
2005    AL    Rodriguez    NYY    3b    1    HR            R    SLUG        OPS+
2005    NL    Pujols    STL    1b    1                R
2006    AL    Morneau    MIN    1b    1
2006    NL    Howard    PHI    1b  2 HR RBI
2007 AL Rodriguez NYY 3b 2 HR RBI R SLUG OPS+
2007 NL Rollins PHI ss 1 R
2008 AL Pedroia BOS 2b 2 R
2008 NL Pujols STL 1b 4 SLUG OPS+
2009 AL Mauer MIN c 1 BAVG SLUG OBP OPS+
2009 NL Pujols STL 1b 1 HR R SLUG OBP OPS+
2010 AL Hamilton TEX lf 1 BAVG SLUG
2010 NL Votto CIN 1b 1 SLUG OBP
As I said a few weeks back, I'd vote for Bautista and Kemp. But I think Bautista has close to zero chance of actually winning, unless the vote is somehow split between Cabrera, Granderson, and Verlander.  Anyway, a narrative in support of Justin Verlander seems to have taken shape. Believe the narrative. Kemp has a much better chance in the NL, but I rather think Braun will edge him out.
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scottt - Monday, October 03 2011 @ 07:11 AM EDT (#245207) #

You are however oversimplifying things with the category leading. A player could be the clear MVP by being second in all categories while the leaders might all do very poorly in some other category. Take Granderson's batting average for example.

It's been so long since the last batting triple crown winner that I would be shocked if the next one does not win the MVP.
Gerry - Monday, October 03 2011 @ 10:22 AM EDT (#245211) #

I too don't think that Jose will win the award.  The Verlander story has legs and Elsbury and Granderson are from the big media markets.

Great analysis Magpie.  I was surprised to see such a distribution by position, there were more second basemen, shortstops and catchers than I would have thought, particularly with the importance of RBI's and slugging in choosing a winner.

Mike Green - Monday, October 03 2011 @ 10:40 AM EDT (#245212) #
The Cy Young vote for Felix Hernandez suggests that the voters are perhaps somewhat less inclined to rely on the traditional markers than previously.  Nonetheless, Verlander has been a great pitcher for 3 years running and was in a knot with Ellsbury, Granderson, Bautista and Cabrera this year. 

By the end of the season, it was pretty clear to me that Ellsbury was the MVP even if you give him credit for being only a slightly above average defensive centerfielder.  It is pretty impressive that he dialed up his game in September while the team was collapsing around him. 

Richard S.S. - Monday, October 03 2011 @ 10:18 PM EDT (#245280) #
If Bautista has (June, July, August and September) his last 4 months stats occurring in his first 4 months, with his first 2 months (April and May) stats occurring in August and September is he now the MVP.   I think so.
smcs - Monday, October 03 2011 @ 11:44 PM EDT (#245281) #
Nah. Bautista won't be the MVP because he plays for the 4th place team. If he had been hot in September but not April, it would have just turned into people saying he is only hitting well because there is no pressure.
Magpie - Monday, October 03 2011 @ 11:47 PM EDT (#245282) #
it would have just turned into people saying he is only hitting well because there is no pressure.

Which is exactly what you hear people say about Matt Kemp. So, yeah.
Richard S.S. - Monday, October 03 2011 @ 11:48 PM EDT (#245283) #

After all, those Bautista stats would enter 1 August: .272 .419 .522 .941 345 AB,  94 H, 15-2B, 1-3B, 23-HR,   65 RBI,   86 BB,   82 SO.   This is a good to very good year at this point.

This would just pro-rate the stats to approximately:  .272 .419 .522 .941 516 AB,140 H, 22-2B, 1-3B, 34-HR,   97 RBI, 128 BB, 123 SO.  This is a very good year, worth MVP consideration some years.

But by adding the April and May stats now instead:  .363 .505 .786 1.291 168 AB,  61 H,  9-2B,  1-3B, 20-HR,   38 RBI,   46 BB,  29 SO.   This is a monster finish, better than anyone else

Now consider his actual stats in comparison:           .302 .447 .608 1.056 513 AB, 105 H, 24-2B, 2-3B, 43-HR, 103 RBI, 132 BB, 111 SO.   Only Verlander might beat him for MVP.

Magpie - Tuesday, October 04 2011 @ 12:05 AM EDT (#245284) #
Except for that pesky fourth place thing. History is not on its side. Which months he was most productive has absolutely nothing to do with it. Getting hot in September might help your MVP case if your work actually puts your team into the post-season (see Jason Giambi in 2000). But that doesn't apply here.
Ryan Day - Tuesday, October 04 2011 @ 01:04 AM EDT (#245285) #
I wonder, if the voters really waited until the season was over to make their choices, if Evan Longoria stands a chance. He was red-hot in September while the Rays clawed their way into contention, and then hit the winning home run in the must-win game.

Granted, his full-season numbers probably aren't MVP-calibre (the .244 average probably disqualifies him for many voters), but if you wanted to really ride the "His team wouldn't have made the playoffs without him" argument, Longoria would seem to be the guy.
Richard S.S. - Tuesday, October 04 2011 @ 02:03 AM EDT (#245286) #


Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997 MVP had   So after ignoring Bautista`s monster 2010, they will also ignore another huge year   Must be nice having a selective memory, and ``Buy America`` mentality that members of the Baseball writers thingee sometimes have.

Magpie - Tuesday, October 04 2011 @ 07:28 AM EDT (#245287) #
Colorado didn't dinish fourth, they were third; their record was better than .500; they were 7 games out of first place, not 15. And Walker didn't deserve the award anyway.
Mike Green - Tuesday, October 04 2011 @ 11:14 AM EDT (#245298) #
You are right.  It ought to have been Piazza's.  There were 4 very good candidates in the 1997 NL race- Piazza, Walker, Biggio and Bonds.  Piazza clearly had the best offensive season by quite a piece and the others don't make up enough on defence (even though Biggio does according to BBRef's single-season numbers). 

It is worth recalling how good Bonds was, even before the PED stuff.  In 1997, he was 32 and a little past his peak.  He posted a .291/.446/.585 line in a pitcher's park in a league which hit .263/.333/.410.  He went 37-8 stealing bases and was still a great defensive leftfielder.  If you look at it that way, he was probably between Frank Robinson and Ted Williams among the corner outfielders at that point in his career.  Actually, if you compare him apples to apples with Stan Musial (and ignore the X factor, contributions in the clubhouse, likeability etc), he is probably ahead. 

Mike Green - Tuesday, October 04 2011 @ 03:36 PM EDT (#245345) #
Matt Moore coming on to pitch is interesting.  Hellickson had given up the three homers, but not much else and had thrown 47 pitches after 4 innings.  We will see how long Moore pitches, but from here it looks like a classic (shh) tandem start.  You'd figure that it would be the Rays who would do it. 
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